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Obama Signs Student Loan Deal

by Kevin Ladd

There has been a lot of talk around student loan rates over the last few months, or even the last year or two, depending on how closely you've been listening. With the rising cost of higher education and the harsh reality that most students will need to take out loans to finance at least a portion of their education, federal student loan rates are a concern for many of us. Recently, President Obama signed a student loan deal to bring rates back down from the 6.8% to which they doubled on July 1st, when Congress failed to act before the deadline. Basically, the legislation is connecting student loan interest rates to the financial markets. This offers lower rates this fall because the government can borrow money relatively cheaply at this time and is far better than the 6.8% it has been for the last several weeks.

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by Suada Kolovic

With college on the horizon for high school seniors, students with political aspirations should understand that it's never too early to start making the right connections. And what better place is there to start than by attending the college that boasts 47 elected officials currently on Capitol Hill? (Curious as to which school I’m referring? None other than Harvard University, of course.)

With twice as many members of Congress counted as alumni, Harvard just might be the college for those with governmental ambitions. Georgetown University scores a distant second with 20 current members of Congress, followed by Yale University with 18. Check out the list below to see what other colleges might better your chances at making your political dream a reality:

For the complete list, head over to FindTheBest.


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Top Issues Millennials Want Discussed in State of the Union Address

by Suada Kolovic

For those of you that don’t closely follow politics, tonight President Barack Obama will deliver his fifth State of the Union address. If you aren’t familiar, the address not only reports on the condition of the nation but also allows the President to outline his legislative agenda and national priorities. And with potentially millions of young Americans watching, we wondered what issues mattered most to Millennials? Fortunately, Generation Progress asked them just that! Check out some of the top responses below: (For the full list, head over to Generation Progress.)

  • A solution to the student debt crisis. With 40 million Americans shouldering $1.2 trillion dollars in educational debt, Millennials want to see President Obama call for ways to address this crisis.
  • Create a fair economy that shrinks the income inequality gap by raising the minimum wage to $10, maintains federal government programs like unemployment benefits, expands the U.S. apprenticeship system, supports young entrepreneurs to create new business and reinvest in national service programs like AmeriCorps.
  • Every state needs to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), so young Americans can purchase affordable health care plans with subsidies Medicaid provides via the law.
  • Invest in green jobs while addressing the effects of climate change.
  • Enact common-sense gun legislation such as mandatory background checks.

What do you think of the top issues that Millennials want discussed? Any you would add? Let us know in the comments section.


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Colleges Accused of Misleading Students About Financial Aid Applications

by Suada Kolovic

Figuring out how you're going to pay for your college education can be daunting. And while no one would argue that filling out the FAFSA is an important piece of the financial aid puzzle, it seems that some colleges might be making the process more complicated...and costly.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland alleged this week that more than 100 universities – including dozens of elite and Ivy League institutions – may be violating the law by telling potential applicants that they have to spend money filling out an unnecessary form. In a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Cummings said 111 universities required a financial aid form developed by the College Board to be considered for any financial aid. Fifty-eight of the schools told applicants that they had to submit the $25 PROFILE form "in order to secure any type of financial aid, including federal student aid," Cummings wrote. The other 53 directed applicants to "submit both the FAFSA and the PROFILE to obtain federal financial aid, although they do not clarify what each form is used to assess." And while Cummings insists that these schools appear to be in violation of the Higher Education Act, some college officials have defended their use of PROFILE, stating that because it takes into account factors the FAFSA doesn't — like home equity and some business income — it allows universities to make fairer decisions on who needs aid the most. Meanwhile, Cummings has requested a meeting with Duncan to figure out what steps need to be taken to ensure that colleges are not creating unnecessary barriers to federal assistance. (For more on this story, click here.)

With all the outrageous fees students already must endure, what do you think of universities adding an additional one? Are you for filling out a form that costs you $25 if there is a chance you might get additional aid or against forking up more money than necessary? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.


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by Emily

During his confirmation hearing Tuesday, Arne Duncan, Obama's appointee for Education Secretary, disclosed broad ideas but few specific plans for education in America.  Much of the hearing before the U.S. Senate focused on elementary and secondary education, though questions related to paying for college did surface.  Duncan's primary focuses appear to be on college access and college affordability, moving away from the emphasis on accountability the nation has seen under Margaret Spellings, the current Secretary of Education.

According to coverage by The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed, Duncan's primary goal related to college aid is to guarantee access to student loans for everyone attending college.  Taking up one aspect of Spellings' policy, he also expressed an interest in simplifying the FAFSA to make applying for federal student financial aid more enticing for college students.  Additionally, Duncan pledged to work towards the goals of increasing Federal Pell Grants and instituting the $4,000 education tax credit that made up a major part of Obama's campaign platform.

Congress may already be taking steps towards some of these goals in drafting the next economic stimulus package.  Reports have abounded this week that plans are in the works to increase the maximum available Pell Grant by $500 and to consolidate two existing federal higher education tax options into one $3,000 tax credit for higher education expenses.


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by Emily

While many stories right now are focusing on financial aid programs finding themselves strapped for cash to award an increased of needy applicants, this is not universally the case. Data published by The Chronicle of Higher Education shows that two federal grant programs that were added in 2006 still have more awards than applicants.  The Academic Competitiveness Grant (ACG) and Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) Grant have gained some participation, but still they're still falling short of enrollment goals.

Both grants are intended to supplement Federal Pell Grants for students who are both academically talented and financially needy. The ACG is a grant of $750 to $1,300 for college freshmen and sophomores who have completed a rigorous high school curriculum and excelled academically, while the SMART Grant is an award of up to $4,000 per year designed to support college juniors and seniors who are enrolled in a science, math, engineering, technology, or critically needed language program.  Approximately 465,000 students received the ACG and SMART grants in the 2007-2008 academic year, up 95,000 from the first year they were offered.

In order to attract more applicants and meet their goal of doubling participation by the 2011-2012 academic year, the department is pushing financial aid administrators to become more aware of award criteria and to make sure the grants are being fully awarded.  In addition, requirements have also been loosened and students enrolled in eligible five-year programs will be able to receive a SMART grant in their fifth year of school beginning in July.


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by Emily

While it's still a long way from becoming law, the first published draft of the economic stimulus legislation created by the House of Representatives includes billions of dollars for higher education, including several provisions designed to make paying for school easier.  The bill still has to be approved by both the House and the Senate (which is drafting its own stimulus legislation) then signed by the President, so it remains to be seen how many of the following appropriations will make it into the final version of the stimulus package.

The stimulus bill would increase funding to several federal student financial aid programs, as well as providing emergency funds to states to prevent further drastic budget cuts, and designating money to help colleges, especially ones affected by disasters, make needed improvements and repairs.  If the bill is passed, federal work-study will receive a boost in funding, as will Pell Grants, eliminating a projected budget shortfall for the program.  Unsubsidized Stafford Loans will increase by $2,000 per year, bringing the loan limit to $7,500 or more for undergraduate students.  The maximum Pell Grant award will also increase to $5,350.  In addition, lender subsidies will also increase, hopefully enticing more banks to remain in the FFEL program.  The Hope tax credit and a provision that allowed families to deduct up to $4,000 in educational expenses will also be combined into a new $2,500 tax credit, through which families with too little income to file taxes could still receive $1,000.

As Congress hammers out the details of the stimulus bill in coming weeks, these numbers will likely change.  A more detailed breakdown of these and other proposals affecting colleges and universities is available from Inside Higher Ed.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

It's looking like federal student financial aid will be increased in the forthcoming economic stimulus package, at least based on the legislation presented in each house of Congress in its current form.  While the House stimulus bill contains more aid for education, the Senate bill also proposes higher education tax benefits and increases in Federal Pell Grant funding.

The House bill promises:

  • $15.6 billion to increase the Pell Grant by $500 to $5,350 and fully fund the increase
  • $490 million to Federal Work-Study
  • $12.5 billion over the course of 10 years to offer a $2,500 tax credit that will be 40% refundable for those who would otherwise make too little to qualify
  • $6 billion to higher education infrastructure
  • $1.5 billion to improve energy efficiency for colleges, schools, and local governments
  • $39 billion to school districts and state colleges
  • $25 billion to states for "high priority needs" which can include education
  • a $2,000 increase in loan limits on federal Stafford Loans

The Senate bill appropriates:

  • $13.9 billion to increase the Pell Grant by $281 in 2009-2010 and $400 in 2010-2011 and fully fund the increase
  • $12.9 billion to create a 30% refundable $2,500 tax credit
  • $61 million to Perkins Loans
  • $3.5 billion to improve energy efficiency and infrastructure on college campuses
  • $39 billion to school districts and public colleges
  • $25 billion to states for "high priority" needs which may include education

The House bill also includes money to improve financial aid administration and further assist student loan lenders, while the Senate bill will allow computers to be counted as education expenses towards which 529 plans can be used.  The bills are facing some Republican opposition, especially regarding education spending, as it's been argued that construction projects and increases to student financial aid will not directly and immediately benefit the economy.  As Congress and the White House continue to hash out the details of these bills, amounts are likely to change.  But for now, it appears that colleges and college students may receive a little extra financial aid from the government this year.


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by Emily

The student loan rescue plan that will allow the Department of Education to buy up student loans issued since 2003 will begin operating in February.  The plan will set up a bank to act as a "conduit" for purchasing older student loan assets and will also allow the Treasury to become the buyer of last resort for assets the conduit bank is unable to refinance.  The Treasury will buy up student loans through this program for the first 90 days, after which the Department of Education will take over.  The Bank of New York Mellon is currently the only authorized conduit, though more could be added later.

This plan will hopefully allow banks that have had to leave the FFEL program to find the capital to reenter it through selling some of their older student loans to the conduit bank.  While students borrowing Stafford Loans through the FFELP had few problems finding loans in 2008, this program should help the student loan marketplace continue to stabilize and should help prevent potential problems down the road.

Another $200 billion program announced by the Treasury in November is also set to begin operations in February.  This one targets consumer credit in general, but also includes private student loans.  Between these two programs and the proposals contained in the economic stimulus package currently working its way through Congress, students entering college in 2009 may have an easier time finding financial aid.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

The Senate passed their version of the economic stimulus bill Tuesday, and by late afternoon yesterday it was announced that a compromise had been reached between the House and the Senate. The compromise bill includes less funding than either version--$789 billion as compared to $820 or $838 billion, and one of the areas that faced cuts was education.

While the final draft of the stimulus bill has not been released--or necessarily written--yet, some details are emerging in media coverage. It appears that a Pell Grant increase has made it into the final draft, though the exact amount is still unknown. Federal Work-Study also receives a funding boost, though it's also unclear whether it's the full $490 million appropriated by the House. The $2,500 tuition tax credit has also survived, as have several other tax credits not related to education. Proposed increases to Perkins Loans and unsubsidized Stafford Loans appear to have been axed from the conference committee's version of the bill. States will receive some money to offset educational expenses and aid in school construction and renovation, though not as much as the House had appropriated.

More details will likely emerge over the next couple days as the bill makes its way back through the House and Senate for final approval. The stimulus package could be signed by President Obama as soon as Monday. While the stimulus will provide some help to most people attending college, it's not too late to find other ways to boost the funding to your own college education. Conduct a free college scholarship search to see what financial aid is out there.


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