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by Emily

As college costs continue to rise, the percentage of students receiving financial aid also continues to grow.  As of the 2007-2008 academic year, a full two-thirds of undergraduate students received some form of student financial aid, with 47 percent receiving federal aid. This is according to the "First Look" report on the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study published by the National Center for Education Statistics yesterday.

The First Look report shows that the percentage of students receiving aid has continued to increase, from 63 percent in 2003-2004, and 55 percent in 1999-2000.  It also provides a breakdown of the percentage of students receiving different forms of financial aid, such as grants and scholarships, federal student loans, federal work-study, and federal PLUS loans.  According to the report, 52 percent of students received college scholarships and grants, while 38 percent of students borrowed federal student loans.  Relatively few students took advantage of work-study and PLUS loans.

NCES collects and publishes data on financial aid every three years and the First Look report is typically followed by a more in-depth analysis.  The National Postsecondary Student Aid Study draws from a sizable sample of students:  114,000 undergraduates and 14,000 graduates at 1,600 colleges and universities. Additional information is available on the NCES website.


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by Emily

While an increasing number of college students received financial aid in the 2007-2008 academic year, that calendar year students also ran up more credit card debt.  The average college student owed $3,173 on credit cards in March 2008, compared to $2,169 in 2004.  This information comes from the student lender Sallie Mae, which has been tracking students' credit card debt since 1998.

The study also found that student credit card debt increases with grade level.  The average freshman owed $2,038 on credit cards, while the average senior owed $4,138.  The money is not just being spent on beer and pizza, either.  According to a supplemental survey by Sallie Mae, the vast majority of students (92 percent) report charging at least one educational expense, such as books, to a credit card.  This figure is also higher than in 2004, as is the percentage of students charging tuition to a credit card, which now stands at nearly 30 percent.  Students reported charging an average of $2,000 in educational expenses to credit cards.

Higher tuition, a poor economy, and difficulty finding private loans may have already pushed these numbers higher for 2009.  With high interest rates and the need to begin repayment immediately, credit cards are one of the worst ways to pay for school.  Scholarship opportunities and federal student financial aid should definitely be explored before students resort to charging tuition to a card.  A variety of grants and scholarships, as well as low interest student loans, can help students avoid credit card debt while in college, and keep their debt from consuming their entire salary when they graduate.  Before you reach for the plastic to pay your campus bills, spend a few minutes doing a free scholarship search.  You may be very glad you did.


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by Emily

There was an interesting article in The New York Times today offering a rare behind-the-scenes look at a university financial aid office.  If you're still baffled by your financial aid award letter, or you just are curious to find out how it was created, this article is a good read.  While it focuses on Boston University, an elite and expensive private college, many of the processes discussed carry over to other schools, both public and private.

The article does an especially good job of explaining how financial need is determined, using the FAFSA, the CSS profile and an institution's policies.  It also includes a couple of concrete examples of financial aid packages and family circumstances that provide a valuable window into the logic behind determining financial aid awards, especially for families who may have received markedly different offers from different institutions.  While I'm not sure how universal the process of weighing aid so heavily in the favor of the top tier of students is, it definitely provides support for the idea of broadening your college search and applying to a wide range of colleges and comparing financial aid offers.

The complex nature of college financial aid awards, as well as the common practice of "gapping," where the school does not cover a student's entire financial need, also make a compelling argument for doing a thorough scholarship search.  While some of the largest college scholarships and grants come from universities, there's no guarantee you'll land a full-tuition scholarship anywhere you apply.  Winning scholarships from other organizations gives you more flexibility in where you attend college, as well as a greater level of certainty about how much help you'll receive.


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by Emily

Analyses of the data published last week by the National Center for Education Statistics are already starting to emerge.  The Project on Student Debt has announced that a significantly larger portion of students borrowed private loans in the 2007-2008 academic year than in 2003-2004, according to the NCES survey.

Private loan borrowing increased by 9 percentage points, with 14 percent of students now relying on private loans, as opposed to 5 percent in 2003-2004.  Not surprisingly, more expensive schools saw the biggest increase in private student loans.  At for-profit colleges, the percentage of students borrowing private loans increased from 14 percent to 43 percent, while private non-profit colleges also saw a substantial increase.  Overall, 32 percent of students at schools charging more than $10,000 per year in tuition wound up borrowing private loans in 2007-2008.

While the credit crunch may slow the rate of private borrowing in the near future, these student loans still are regarded as the best or only option by some students.  According to the Project on Student Debt's analysis, 26 percent of private loan borrowers did not take out any Stafford Loans first, and 14 percent did not even complete the FAFSA.

Private loans generally carry the highest interest rates and least flexible repayment terms out of all student loans and most experts encourage students to avoid them if possible.  Explore other options for financial aid first, especially grants and scholarships.  You will also want to consider your potential debt loand when choosing a college.  Since students at more expensive schools are more likely to have to borrow private loans, students with limited financial resources should think carefully about the relative merits of a private college as opposed to a state college or community college before committing themselves to private loan debt.


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by Emily

Student loan default rates are rising for both federal and private loans as more recent grads struggle to find work.  The Wall Street Journal reports that the federal default rate is nearing 6.9 percent, the highest it's been since 1998.  Similarly, some private lenders are experiencing default rates that have already nearly doubled in just a year or two.

Loan repayment woes are expected to get worse as tuition continues to rise and the job market remains depressed.  Since student loans cannot be discharged through bankruptcy, borrowers are stuck with their debt no matter what happens.  Add in continued increases in the number of students borrowing to pay for school and the amount they borrow, and student loan defaults are poised to be a serious long-term problem whether or not the economy recovers quickly.

Borrowers do have some flexibility in negotiating their loan repayment terms, especially with federal Stafford Loans.  Borrowers of federal and private loans are also able to apply for a temporary forbearance, halting payments but not the accrual of interest, if they find themselves unable to pay.  However, reduced monthly payments now will mean either larger payments or more payments in the long run.

If you are looking at ways to pay for college, the best strategy is still to avoid student loans to the greatest extent possible.  Do a free college scholarship search and be sure to factor cost and available financial aid into your college search, as well.


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by Emily

As Congress moves forward with a federal budget plan for 2010, rhetoric is ramping up on both sides of what is proving to be one of the most contentious budget debates so far:  whether or not to eliminate the Federal Family Education Loan Program.  President Obama initially proposed this move in his budget outline, saying that a move to Direct Loans would result in a savings of $48 billion, money that could be put towards expanding the Federal Pell Grant program.

After the Congressional Budget Office revised the estimated savings to $94 billion over 10 years, many members of Congress and several higher education professional organizations have been offering up tentative support for the plan.  Democrats on the joint budget committee have even begun paving the way for this portion of the budget to be eligible for reconciliation, a filibuster-proof process that will allow portions of the budget to pass with a simple majority vote in the Senate.

However, lenders and other groups have begun suggesting and campaigning for alternatives that would allow the bank-based student loan program to continue to exist while still cutting costs to some extent.  Concerns have been raised that Direct Loans will not be as efficient or as kind to borrowers in the long run, though the credit crisis has made the program especially appealing as FFELP has required repeated government interventions to avoid grinding completely to a halt.  With many schools voluntarily making the switch to direct lending based on the program's current stability, concerns have also been raised about a rapid expansion in Direct Loans overwhelming the program as it currently stands.  Others worry that eliminating FFELP may speed lenders' exodus from private loans, ultimately leaving many students in a worse place financially than they find themselves in now.

What's emerging is a war of words between banks and the President.  In a speech on Friday, Obama characterized lenders as, "gearing up for battle," to which he responded, "So am I. . . And for those who care about America's future, this is a battle we can't afford to lose."  Considering the President's popularity and lenders' tarnished reputations from crisis after scandal after crisis over the last two years, we may see big changes happening soon in student loans.


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by Emily

A little over a week after announcing his plans to gear up for battle with student lenders over the future of the Federal Family Education Loan Program, President Obama has begun calling in the troops.  An e-mail message sent to young Obama supporters by the Democratic National Committee is urging students to speak up in favor of the President's proposal to switch all federal lending to the Direct Loans program and to use the savings to expand Federal Pell Grants.

Students have been asked to call, write, or e-mail their Representatives and Senators to let them know what they think of the proposal to eliminate FFELP for Stafford Loans and PLUS Loans.  The text of the e-mail, as reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education, urges students to stand against "special interests" and to help "fix a broken system."  Rhetoric on the other side has focused primarily on preserving jobs and preserving choice (technically, the choice is primarily left to schools, not students, as students aren't able to choose freely between DL and FFELP until they graduate and consider consolidation loans).

Regardless of whether you favor or oppose this plan, now is a good time to let your people in Congress know how you feel, since changes in federal student financial aid are likely to affect you directly.  So, what do you think?  What changes, if any, should Congress make to student loans? Do you plan on writing to Congress about this issue?


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by Emily

The Obama administration recently announced steps that will be taken to make it easier for unemployed Americans to return to college and pay for school. Through a national effort to revise unemployment benefits and financial aid packaging, the administration hopes to make it possible for more displaced workers to return to school.

Currently, many states reduce or cancel unemployment benefits for students who are enrolled in college part-time or full-time, removing the possibility of a financial cushion that could enable more people to afford to enroll in school. In addition, financial aid is calculated based on previous year income, so lost wages are still included when estimating a student’s ability to pay. Even after financial aid is adjusted to reflect a job loss, income from earlier that year is still included and can disqualify a student from receiving a Pell Grant or other need-based aid their first year of school. In some cases, unemployment benefits also are currently counted as income, further compounding the problem.

To help alleviate these problems and encourage the unemployed to enroll in college, financial aid administrators are being given more leeway in using professional judgment to determine unemployed students’ ability to pay, and states are being encouraged to revise their policies to encourage college as an option. In addition, many community colleges nationwide are offering financial incentive to unemployed students who enroll, such as free or reduced tuition. If you’re unemployed and thinking of college, complete the FAFSA, talk to schools in your area, and finally, do a scholarship search to find additional money for college.


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by Emily

Yesterday, Congress held a hearing to begin the process of determining the fate of the Federal Family Education Loan Program, the bank-based federal student loan program that President Obama has proposed eliminating in the 2010 federal budget. Voices from both sides of the debate chimed in, with one clear theme emerging: in 2010, student loans are definitely going to change. The questions at this point are to what extent federal student lending will change and whether the banks currently involved in FFEL will still have a place in the new system.

The Obama administration proposes switching all federal Stafford and PLUS loans to the federal Direct Loans program, then using the savings from eliminating lender subsidies to increase Federal Pell Grants and make funding mandatory, while also greatly expanding the federal Perkins Loan program and spending more on college completion. Opponents of this plan, primarily consisting of FFEL lenders and representatives of schools that participate in FFEL, have suggested alternatives that would restructure student lending, but still leave a place for lenders to service the loans. Not one witness at the hearing advocated keeping the system as it is, though, and it seems that a shakeup in student lending is inevitable. Hopefully, this will result in more available financial aid for students.  Inside Higher Ed has more information on the hearing.


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by Emily

As we mentioned yesterday, the 2008-2009 school year is winding down, and people are preparing to flip over to a new academic calendar and a new college application cycle.  However, that doesn't mean that students still seeking admission or financial aid for 2009-2010 are completely out of luck.  There are still colleges and scholarships accepting applications right now.  In fact, there are some substantial scholarship awards that you can still win this summer, and to prove it, we're listing a few of them below.  To learn more about these awards and others with upcoming deadlines, you can do a free college scholarship search on Scholarships.com.

HANDS Essay Contest

Hands Along the Nile is accepting applications until July 4 for its $5,000 scholarship essay contest. To apply, students are asked to compose an essay of no more than 2,500 words in response to the question, "How is community development in the Middle East important to the U.S.? Why is it particularly crucial to focus on Egypt?" This scholarship is open to high school seniors and full-time undergraduate and graduate students at colleges in the United States.

Blade Your Ride Scholarship Program

Through June 30, current undergraduate and graduate students who are passionate about the environment are invited to create a video webcast for a chance to win up to $9,000 towards their college education.  Videos should focus on the global climate crisis and creativity is encouraged.  Applicants must maintain a 3.0 GPA and must be attending college in the United States, but citizenship is not required.

SPENDonLIFE Credit Challenged Scholarship

High school and college students who have been declined for student loans due to the credit crunch have until June 15 to apply for a scholarship of up to $5,000 to help cover their college costs.  To apply, students are asked to write a 500-word essay describing the impact of the economic downturn on their lives. This contest is open to U.S. residents between the ages of 17 and 25.

The Calm-a-Sutra of Tea $15,000 Scholarship Competition

The Tea Council of the USA is looking for videos about the health benefits of tea, and you have until August 2 to create one.  Applicants ages 16 and older who are legal residents of the United States or Puerto Rico are invited to upload a video about tea to YouTube, then share the link with the Tea Council.  One winner will receive a $15,000 college scholarship.

Scholarships.com College Scholarships

Scholarships.com is also accepting applications for three of our scholarship awards.  For a chance to win $1,000, you can apply for the Resolve to Evolve Essay contest, the College Culinary Arts Scholarship, or the College Design Scholarship.  Other Scholarships.com college scholarships are available throughout the year, as well.


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