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Obama Transitional Website Seeks Comments on College Affordability

January 7, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Barack Obama became known for his web presence during his Presidential campaign.  He and his transition team have kept up this reputation through YouTube addresses and websites such as Change.gov, the official transitional website.  Now the Obama transition team is asking for public comments--or at least blog comments--on issues related to paying for school.  A post on the Change.gov blog is currently soliciting feedback about college affordability.  While there's no guarantee that the President-elect himself will read your post, if you would like to weigh in on educational policy at least in a small way, you can view and comment on the January 5 Change.gov blog post "Keeping College Affordable." 

The blog post, along with many other recent discussions of college costs, makes a nod to former Rhode Island senator Clairborne Pell, who passed away on January 1.  Pell was instrumental in shaping the current federal student financial aid system by helping create the Federal Pell Grant, which was named after him.  Pell Grants continue to make up an important part of the financial aid packages of many students, covering up to the full cost of tuition at some state and community colleges

However, as tuition costs rise, Pell Grants and other sources of federal aid are not enough to make college affordable for an increasingly large number of students.  During his campaign, Obama proposed a few substantial changes to the way college financial aid is structured, and hopefully his administration will do more to seek out and act upon feedback from those who are struggling with the costs associated with higher education.  However, if you're skeptical, or just looking for more immediate ways to make college affordable, there are resources available.  Start with a free college scholarship search on Scholarships.com.  Many scholarship application deadlines are approaching in the coming months, but there is still abundant scholarship money for those who take the time to apply.

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State Higher Ed Spending Growth Slows Significantly

January 9, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

The Illinois State University Center for the Study of Education Policy released its annual report on state tax support for higher education today.  According to the Grapevine report, the best case scenario is that for fiscal year 2008-2009 (July 1, 2008-June 30, 2009), state higher education spending grew by an average of 0.9 percent across the country.  The report acknowledges this figure is likely rather optimistic, as many states are still in the process of trimming budgets for the current fiscal year, and some are requesting that colleges not spend appropriations they've already received.

While almost flat growth in state spending nationwide is bad enough, the picture looks even worse compared to last year's growth of 7.5 percent, the largest year-to-year increase in higher education spending since 1985.  Some states have cut education spending significantly, such as South Carolina and Alabama, whose state education budgets have seen decreases of 17.7 percent and 10.5 percent respectively.  Some states still are showing substantial increases in higher ed spending for the current year.  The two biggest increases, in Wyoming and Hawaii, are 10.9 and 10.6 percent.

Coupled with shrinking endowments and more student requests for financial aid, this news isn't good for state colleges and universities.  Tuition increases, including some substantial ones, are becoming increasingly likely for 2009-2010, despite families' increasing inability to pay for school out of pocket or access lines of credit such as private student loans.  This is yet another reason to fill out a FAFSA and do a scholarship search today.

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Paying Tuition on Time Getting Tougher in Recession

January 13, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

While the focus for many students right now is planning for and paying for the next year of college, some students are still struggling with bills from the current or previous semester.  An e-mail survey by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers reports a perceived increase in unpaid tuition bills in the 2008-2009 academic year.  While being caught short on one semester's tuition can seem stressful enough, it can carry serious consequences for college students.

For students with the funds to easily cover tuition, either through family income, college savings plans, or financial aid awards, the figure on their bursar bill may be unpleasant, but it is soon forgotten.  However, carrying a bursar balance--in some cases, even a small one--can cut off your ability to register for classes, request transcripts, and even graduate, among other consequences.  Students who are unable to pay for a semester by the school's deadline may even find themselves dropped from their classes and kicked off campus.  These consequences can essentially derail your education, and many students who take a semester off from college to save money and pay off bills never go back to finish.

Luckily, as Kim Clark stresses in an article on the subject in U.S. News and World Report, universities are willing to work with students to keep them enrolled and get their bills paid, especially in the current economic climate.  Many schools are establishing or adding to emergency loan and grant funds to help students stay in school.  Federal student financial aid is also still available mid-term.  You can still complete the FAFSA for 2008-2009 anytime before June 30.  Even if you've already applied for the current year, talking to the financial aid office could still come through big time, especially if your circumstances have changed. Federal grants, as well as some campus-based programs may be available to students whose family contributions have significantly dipped.  While Clark's article emphasizes the surprising success networking and asking family for donations can bring, conducting a scholarship search may be a safer bet. Most importantly, be sure to stay in communication with your school. You may have to deal with three different offices on campus, but don't get discouraged.  The process may be more streamlined than you'd expect.  It is possible to stay enrolled regardless of the financial troubles you're facing.

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Plans for Free Global Online University Unveiled

January 28, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Israeli entrepreneur Shai Reshef announced his plans for a new online university that will use free online course material, volunteer professors, and social networking to instruct students worldwide.  The University of the People will not charge tuition, but will charge some small fees for enrollment and testing, likely to range between $10 and $100, with students from poor countries paying the least and students from rich countries paying the most.

The university will officially open in the fall of 2009 with an anticipated enrollment of 300 students in two degree programs:  business administration and computer science.  Reshef plans to soon apply for accreditation and to eventually build enrollment to over 10,000.

While there is some skepticism about the university's ultimate success, the groundwork on which its offerings are based is well-established.  The Massachusetts Institute of Technology launched its Open Courseware Consortium in 2001, and since then universities have made a wide range of course material accessible for free online, through that program and others.  Already, undefinedonline courses are widely popular, as are online degree programs.  Even without free tuition, attending college online can save money for many students, as it allows for a more flexible schedule and eliminates the need for an extensive commute or on-campus housing.

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Study Shows Extent of Endowment Losses

January 29, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

College and university endowments plunged an average of 23 percent between July 1 and November 30 in 2008, with many sustaining further losses since then.  While almost everyone who's been reading higher education news or attending college knows that endowments have dropped, the depth and the breadth of the damage has largely been left to the realm of speculation.

Endowment losses had become a hot topic at some schools, including the one my youngest sister attends, even before the release of this study.  Undergraduate students previously unaware that colleges even have investments are worrying about the (admittedly slim) chance of their schools' investment funds disappearing, taking their scholarships, their degree programs, or their favorite instructors with them.  While such drastic cuts have not been made, schools are facing very real struggles to preserve their staff, their services, and their endowments in the face of a still-deepening recession.

The extent of losses varies, as does the extent of reactions to losses.  Several universities have instituted hiring freezes, while others have resorted to layoffs or mandatory unpaid furloughs.  Brandeis University and the University of Pennsylvania have both made unpopular moves to cut budgets. Penn has done so by cutting 18 campus museum staff positions, and Brandeis has announced plans to close the institution's art museum entirely and sell its collection. Some state universities battling shrinking endowments and drastic cuts to state funds have been forced to look at double-digit tuition increases.

Still other schools are making almost opposite responses.  Some institutions are looking into freezing tuition or increasing it by small amounts, such as Princeton University, which has announced a tuition increase of only 2.9 percent for 2009-2010.  Others are hiring new faculty as planned or launching additional searches, hoping to attract stronger talent.  Many schools are also increasing student financial aid to help families hit hard by the recession.  Even schools making budget cuts are reluctant to touch financial aid, recognizing its importance.  However, fears remain that students who need money for college may be unable to find it from their schools.  Whether these fears are justified remains to be seen, though many hope that the proposed economic stimulus package will allow schools to continue to fully fund or even expand essential programs.

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College Seen as More Essential, Less Affordable

February 4, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

More Americans are regarding a college education as necessary, but fewer are regarding college as accessible for everyone according to survey results released today by Public Agenda and the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.  While the economy is likely a factor, these trends have been ongoing since at least 2000, even during times of relative economic strength.

In the latest survey, conducted in December 2008, 55 percent of Americans regard a college education as not only advantageous but essential for success in today's work world.  Meanwhile, 67 percent of respondents believed that many qualified people don't have the opportunity to go to college.   63 percent believed that college costs are going up faster than other costs, and 53 percent believe that colleges could reduce tuition while still offering a high-quality education.

While 74 percent believed that cost should not deter students from attending college, concern is growing about the availability of financial aid and the extent of students' reliance on student loans.   67 percent (up from 60 percent in 2007) believed that students were borrowing too much to pay for school, while 22 percent (up from 15 percent in 2007) believed that sufficient financial aid was not available to everyone who needed it.

While public perception does not always accurately reflect reality, these survey results do suggest that more needs to be done to make college affordable or to inform the public about grants, scholarships, and campus-based and federal student financial aid.  College scholarships and grants are still out there, and they're not just for A students or the exceptionally needy.  Complete a FAFSA (a free application for federal student aid) and conduct a free scholarship search to see what's available for you.

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Report Shows Long-Term Effects of State Cuts to Higher Ed

February 11, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

The loss in funding faced by state and community colleges this year may not be a one-time thing.  A report issued this week by the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) indicates that state budget cuts to higher education made during recessions tend to become permanent.  With many attempting to eliminate multi-billion dollar budget shortfalls, cuts to education are almost certain to happen across the country, and based on data collected by SHEEO, they are likely to continue into the future.

Per-student state higher education spending peaked in 2001, when it hit the highest level in inflation-adjusted dollars since data was first collected in 1983.  A recession in 2001 prompted drops in education spending that continued until 2006, when spending began to grow again until 2008, though per-student funding did not return to 2001 levels before another recession interfered.

In response to cuts in funding of around 7 percent between 1998 and 2008 and increases in enrollment of around 25 percent over the same period, tuition revenue has risen 20 percent.  The report suggests this trend is likely to continue, with funding potentially falling off permanently and tuition hikes continuing as a result of this year's budget cuts.  Thus, the burden is passed on to already cash-strapped students and families, who are already facing the prospect of needing more student loans due to losses of income and declines in college savings plans.

The SHEEO expressed hope that the stimulus package currently moving through Congress might mitigate this effect.  However, the version passed yesterday by the Senate eliminated billions of dollars that would have gone to offset state budget cuts, so the positive impact on higher education could be less than is hoped.  Additionally, members of Congress have expressed frustration with rising tuition rates, especially given tuition's likelihood to continue to outpace increases in Federal Pell Grants, such as the new funding currently included in the stimulus.

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Making College More Affordable

February 17, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Reducing college costs continues to be a hot topic of discussion, especially given survey results that show that college affordability is a growing public concern.  Recent congressional acts, including the education provisions in the stimulus bill President Obama will sign today, the Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act of 2008, and last year's reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, have kept the issue in focus, as have economic events, such as losses to 529 plans, rising unemployment, and new financial troubles for colleges.  A wide range of ideas have attracted the attention of lawmakers and the media, including several suggestions making the rounds this month.

Jesse Jackson recently wrote an article in the Chicago Sun-Times suggesting that Congress pass a law to offer a 1% interest rate on federal student loans, including Stafford Loans and PLUS Loans.  The Minneapolis Star-Tribune ran a column in January that went even further, suggesting that the federal government forgive all student loan debt.  Meanwhile, Lamar Alexander, a republican Senator from Tennessee, has gotten some publicity for suggesting that more colleges offer three-year paths to degrees, as one of many potential cost-saving measures.  Some states are looking into "no-frills" universities, and partnerships between state colleges and community colleges are also gaining traction as cost-saving options.

So we were wondering what people who are in the process of paying for college think.  What would you like to see happen to make college more affordable and reduce the burden of student loan debt on college graduates?

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Colleges in Three States Tackle Affordability

March 4, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

As college affordability continues to be a major issue for many Americans, more states and colleges are implementing policies to save students money.  Three recently unveiled programs tackle different aspects of the college cost dilemma confronting different groups of students, parents, and graduates.

A partnership between the University System of New Hampshire and businesses in the state could pay up to $8,000 of New Hampshire residents' student loan debt.  The program is set to take effect this fall and the University System of New Hampshire hopes to recruit at least 30-40 businesses to participate in its first year.  Students will be eligible to receive payments of $1,600 per year for the first two years of employment and $2,400 per year for the next two if they graduate from a New Hampshire college and remain in the state to work for four years.

Meanwhile, in New York, one college is formalizing a program to save students one year of loan debt by offering a clear three-year path to graduation.  Hartwick College has long offered students the option of taking more classes per semester and graduating in 3 years, but now the practice has been turned into an official academic program for high-performing students.  Students must have a strong high school GPA to qualify, and will be expected to take 18 credits in the fall and spring, plus four credits during a J-term each year, finishing with 120 credits in three years.

Three Nebraska state colleges are also trying to minimize student loan debt, but are targeting a group of low-income students to receive more university grant funding.  Wayne State College, Peru State College, and Chadron State College have announced plans to pay freshman year tuition and fees for all students eligible to receive Pell Grants.  Students would still be responsible for room, board, and books, but removing the worry of paying tuition and fees may encourage more low-income students to attend college in Nebraska, as well as enable them to stay enrolled past the first year.

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The Changing Face of Community Colleges

April 7, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

For current and future college students, April is a time for big, and potentially painful, decisions. Right now prospective college students are beginning to sort through their acceptance letters and financial aid offers and current students are starting to think about how to pay for school next year.  If the financial picture is much bleaker than you'd hoped, but you're hesitant to commit to the two-year school as a money-saving option, here's some information you may not have known about the community college experience.

Just like four-year schools, different community colleges offer vastly different experiences, and in fact, depending on your major and location, you can potentially get many of the things four-year schools offer for much less money.  For example, did you know that some community colleges offer on-campus housing, and others offer a selection of four-year degrees?  Other community colleges have articulation agreements with area universities, as well, so you can spend two years paying next to nothing for credits that can potentially transfer to some of the most expensive and prestigious schools in your area.

These programs can be a great deal, since community college tuition tends to be much lower than private colleges, or even four-year state colleges and universities.  With on-campus housing, international student classmates, innovative educational programs, numerous online courses, and challenging coursework, the right community college can start to feel a lot more like the "traditional" college experience, but at a fraction of the price.

So how do you find community colleges with sweet deals like fancy apartments or four-year nursing degrees? Just do a little research.  Start with a college search in your area and see what's available. You could land the educational deal of a lifetime.

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