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49 States Receive Failing Grades in College Affordability

December 3, 2008

by Staff

Every two years, the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education releases a report entitled "Measuring Up," which grades states in six categories related to higher education.  This year's results were published today and many states are probably wishing they had been graded on a curve.  Out of 50 states, only California received a passing grade in terms of affordability, squeaking by with a C-.  Grades were higher in terms of preparation, participation, completion, and benefits, and all states received an incomplete in learning due to insufficient data.

A state's higher education affordability grade was arrived at by considering the following: family ability to pay at community colleges, state universities, and 4-year private colleges (based on percentage of income after financial aid is taken into account); the level of investment in need-based state financial aid programs (as compared to federal investment in Pell Grants); the presence of low-cost college options; and the average amount students borrowed per year in student loans.  Failing grades suggest that states are not doing enough to make college affordable for their students, especially those from poor and working class families.

If you're a student, you might be wondering what this means for you.  The answer?  Many students in most states may find it difficult to pay for college using their family income and state and federal student financial aid.  And since affordability grades are actually lower this year than two years ago, it may be even tougher now to attend college debt-free.  Be sure to explore student financial aid options beyond state and federal programs early, rather than waiting for your award letter and finding you've come up short.  You can start by doing a free college scholarship search right here at

Scores in other categories were not nearly as bleak as in affordability.  However, even though the majority of states received passing scores in four of the five categories in which grades were given, the distribution looks more like a required high school course than, say, a graduate seminar.  Statements that accompany the report further stress that in the center's opinion, states need to improve their contributions to higher education.  You can view the report card for your state on the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education's website.  The Chronicle of Higher Education also provides a chart listing each state's grade in each category.

Alternatives to Alternative Loans

December 2, 2008

by Staff

As you've probably noticed, the current student loan market is not so great.  Between lenders backing out of the Federal Family Education Loan Program and temporarily or permanently suspending private loan operations, finding a loan has gotten tougher.  Family financial troubles and lenders' increased credit requirements for private student loans have made qualifying for a loan more challenging, as well.  While scholarship opportunities remain available, and many colleges and universities are even implementing new plans to help students cover college costs, many students and families are still coming up short on their tuition bills.

New models for student lending have surfaced in recent years, but have gained media attention as the troubles with student loans have continued throughout 2008.  One idea, which we've blogged about previously, is peer-to-peer lending, where students set up deals with friends, family members, or other interested parties to borrow money for college.  These deals are brokered through a lending company, and since the parties involved typically know each other, interest rates and default rates are expected to be low.

Another lending model that has succeeded in other countries and is now being tested in the United States, is more akin to investing than lending.  Investors, such as individuals or companies, agree to pay for a student's college education.  In return, the student agrees to repay a portion of their income to the investor for an agreed upon period of time.  In some ways, this resembles the income-contingent repayment plans available for federalconsolidation loans.  These contracts are also meeting criticism, including comparisons to indentured servitude.  Others worry that students with prospects for high income will not be interested and that few people will want to invest in humanities students, who are likely to provide low returns on their investments.  Nevertheless, such "human capital" contracts are expected to be well-received by many students and investors.  As reported by The Boston Globe, one company is already piloting a human capital contract program with a handful of business school students pursuing MBA degrees.

While human capital contracts and peer-to-peer lending are unlikely to wholly replace private student loans, they may provide students with more alternatives to the current forms of "alternative loans."  While college scholarships, institutional aid, and federal student financial aid should always come first, some families do need to borrow significantly to pay for school, and many are likely to welcome a wider range of options for doing so.

Posted Under:

Financial Aid , Student Loans College Law Scholarship

December 1, 2008

by Staff

Though a career in law may sound promising, the cost of law school will not. About 80 percent of law school students borrow money to pay for school, and, depending on the university they attend, graduate with an average student loan debt of $49,000 to $77,000. To encourage future law school students to follow their goals—regardless of tuition prices—we have created a scholarship especially for them.

Students who apply for the Law Scholarship, this week's Scholarship of the Week, will have the chance to earn $1,000 towards their college education—and it couldn’t be easier. Just respond to the following question in a 250 to 350 word scholarship essay:

"What has influenced your decision to pursue a career in law?"

Prize: $1000


U.S. citizen Registered user. Creating an account is simple and free of charge.  After you have created an account, conduct a free scholarship search to view and apply for this award. Undergraduate student currently enrolled or a high school senior who plans to enroll in a college or university in the coming academic year Applicant must have indicated an interest in one of the following majors:

  • Criminal Justice
  • Government
  • History
  • Justice/Legal Studies
  • Law/Pre-Law
  • Paralegal
  • Political Science


    January 30, 2009

    Required Material:

    A 250-350 word response to the following question: “What has influenced your decision to pursue a career in law?”

    Further details about the application process can be found by conducting a free college scholarship search. Once the search is completed, students eligible for the award will find it in their scholarship list.

    Treasury to Aid Private Student Lenders

    November 26, 2008

    by Staff

    Yesterday, the Federal Reserve and Treasury announced a new program to further shore up the banking industry in the face of a recession that appears to still be worsening.  The program would devote $200 billion to shoring up consumer credit markets, including credit cards, car loans, and student loans.  The hope is that this new program will make these forms of credit more widely available to people who need them, including students who depend on private loans to help pay for school.

    The New York Times explains that this is the first time the federal government has intervened to finance consumer debt and describes the program as " com[ing] close to being a government bank."  Coupled with recent efforts to expand and sustain federal student financial aid programs, namely the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP), the federal government has expended a fairly vast amount of resources on student financial aid.  However, some are questioning how the money is being spent.

    The Project on Student Debt is one organization that has encouraged the federal government to exclude private student loans from rescue packages.  While the lending industry has been hit hard in the last year, this organization is one of several voices urging that students be steered towards more affordable means of financing their educations.  The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, while supporting the Treasury's decision, also called for a reevaluation of the role of private loans in paying for college.  Private student loans, which carry higher interest rates than federal loans, are intended to be used as a last resort after Federal Stafford Loans, campus-based aid programs, and scholarship money have been exhausted and students are still coming up short on their education expenses.


    Thanksgiving Week Checklist

    November 25, 2008

    by Staff

    It's hard to believe, but next week it will be December.  While it's tempting to train your eyes on the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday and the accompanying problem of consuming enough homecooked food to sustain you through finals, the next few months will be busy, especially if you're planning to apply for any sort of financial aid.  Between your high school or college coursework and adjusting your schedule and budget to accommodate winter holidays, December and January tend to fly by.  Since many scholarship application deadlines happen in December and January, now is the perfect time to do a quick scholarship search and double check that you don't miss out on applying for scholarships while you're in Thursday night's turkey-induced coma.

    A Thanksgiving week scholarship application checklist:

    • Search for available scholarships. See if anything new has come up since you last looked.  Many scholarship providers post new information in November, so if it's been a few weeks, now is the time to go back!
    • Make note of approaching deadlines. While January deadlines may seem a long way off now, consider how many free days you're likely to have between now and then.  Probably not many if you have finals, family, and friends all demanding a large chunk of your time.  Also, several scholarship awards have November/December deadlines, including our own College Health Scholarship, which closes November 30.
    • Take a hard look at your schedule. By now you should know what the rest of this semester looks like as well as how heavy your next semester will be.  Figure out times you'll be able to get those applications done.  Then take a look at your list of scholarship opportunities and prioritize accordingly.
    • Do some drafting. You're going to be spending an entire day in a house with your extended family.  Defeat awkward silences and make your relatives feel smart by asking them for input on your scholarship essays.  You don't have to staple your rough draft to the turkey or refuse to let anyone sit until they've proofread a paragraph, but usually there's some downtime where the topic can successfully be brought up.  If nothing else, saying that you have essay writing to do can give you an out when the topic turns to your great aunt's new medication.


    Posted Under:

    Scholarships , Tips

    Burger King Scholars Program

    November 24, 2008

    by Staff

    High school students, you know that part-time job you have?  It turns out it might be worth more than minimum wage and the very first line on your resume.  Through programs like this week's Scholarship of the Week, part-time student employees can find money for college beyond what they see in their paychecks.

    Burger King's Have It Your Way Foundation offers $1,000 college scholarships to high school seniors in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico who participate in co-curricular or volunteer activities (such as athletics or community service) and maintain their grades while working at least 15 hours a week.

    Prize: $1000

    Eligibility: Current high school seniors with a minimum GPA of 2.5 (out of 4.0) who work part-time and demonstrate community or extracurricular involvement and who plan to enroll in an accredited college or university the following fall.

    Deadline: February 2, 2009

    Required Materials: Completed online scholarship application, found on the Burger King website.

    Further details about the application process can be found by conducting a free college scholarship search on Once the search is completed, students eligible for this scholarship award will find it in their search results.


    Minnesota Colleges To Increase Online Course Offerings

    November 21, 2008

    by Staff

    Interested in online courses?  You may want to look into attending college in Minnesota.  Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and David Olson, the chair of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) board of trustees, announced a plan to make 25% of the university system's courses available online by 2015.  Other state universities, including the University of Minnesota campuses, are strongly encouraged to work towards this goal, as well.

    Online courses can benefit students in multiple ways, most notably by saving students living off-campus the cost of commuting and giving them a more flexible schedule so they can more easily juggle work and family commitments in addition to coursework.  Additionally, in the cold Minnesota winters, being able to attend class from the comfort of your home is a definite plus (though still having class on those rare snow days could also be seen as a drawback).  While online learning requires students to be more self-motivated than those in traditional classes, more and more students are finding such courses appealing.

    Online degree programs are gaining popularity across the country.  A recent study revealed that over 20 percent of American college students took at least one online course in 2007 and that distance learning enrollment continues to increase.  A number of colleges and universities are interested in increasing their online course offerings, and the MnSCU system hopes to beat them to the punch.


    Posted Under:

    College Costs , College News

    Fundraisers Focus on Financial Aid

    November 20, 2008

    by Staff

    Amid news of tightening budgets and declining endowments, several colleges and universities are putting a greater focus on shoring up financial aid programs and helping their students find money for college.  While reports of hiring freezes and halted construction plans has come from numerous institutions, keeping students in school has remained a priority.

    This focus on student financial aid is reflected in recent fund raising shifts, as reported in the Wall Street Journal.  Several schools are introducing or ramping up fund raising efforts directed at providing college scholarships and grants for their students.  Among the private colleges increasing fund raising efforts are Cornell University and Barnard CollegeState universities, such as the University of Texas at Austin, are also increasing effort to meet students' growing financial needs.

    College presidents at multiple institutions are even dipping into their own salaries and savings to help their schools.  A recent news post in the Chronicle of Higher Education reports that the chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis has taken a voluntary 10% pay cut to help reduce operating costs, and the president of the University of Pennsylvania has donated $100,000 to help fund undergraduate research at her university.

    All of this goes to show that despite economic trouble, scholarship opportunities are still out there.  Keep plugging away at your scholarship search and you can still afford a college education.


    Connecticut Announces Low-Interest Student Loan Program

    November 19, 2008

    by Staff

    A struggling economy, shrinking endowments, turmoil in the student loan marketplace, and state budget cuts have all raised questions about students' continued ability to pay for school.  However, despite economic troubles, at least one state has plans to launch a new program to help its students find money for college in the form of low-interest student loans.

    Connecticut students will soon have one more source of student financial aid, thanks to a new partnership between the state and its credit unions.  The loan program, announced yesterday by the governor's office, would provide up to $17.5 million in student loans for college students from Connecticut and students attending college in the state.

    Connecticut Governor M. Jodi Rell met with officials from the state's credit unions on Tuesday to discuss the partnership.  Under the proposed college loan program, students would borrow directly from the credit unions at interest rates of 5.75 or 6 percent.  Each credit union would be required to offer at least $100,000 in student loans to participate in the program.  The loans are designed to help families who don't have access to sufficient amounts of financial aid, such as federal Stafford loans, to cover their tuition bills.  The governor's press release did not make mention of borrowing limits or requirements.


    Posted Under:

    Financial Aid , Student Loans

    Financial Assistance for Public Service

    November 18, 2008

    by Staff

    Are you considering a career in public service, such as working for the government or a non-profit organization, but more than slightly overwhelmed by the thought of repaying your student loans with an often minuscule salary?  Realizing that you may actually be taking a pay cut to transition from your summer job to your "grown up" career can be demoralizing, and dealing with debt on top of that certainly doesn't help.  While many noble individuals certainly make this sacrifice, perhaps you were hoping to forget where the grocery store kept its "manager's special" items after you graduated.  And who can blame you?  The college budget diet, and the accompanying lifestyle of cramming half a dozen people into one run-down apartment, eventually does get old.  Luckily, there are forms of financial aid out there to minimize or relieve your debt and help you stretch that public servant salary a little further.

    Some of the most well-known career-based assistance programs are designed for teachers.  The TEACH grant contributes $4000 a year towards the tuition of students who agree to teach a high-need subject at a low-income school for four years. Other programs such as Teach for America offer teaching certification, a stipend, and assistance with student loan repayment to individuals agreeing to teach in certain schools.

    Teachers and other public servants can also qualify to have their Federal Perkins Loans canceled, saving up to $16,000.  Nursing students and other medical students can get in on this program, as well.  The federal government also launched a public service loan repayment program a year ago that will forgive qualifying federal student loan debt for those who commit ten years to public service.  In addition, a variety of government scholarships provide incentives for students in various majors to consider federal work.

    An article appearing in USA Today this week also mentions some university-specific programs to help steer students towards public service careers.  Harvard Law School will waive tuition for one year for students who commit to five years in government or non-profit fields, and Princeton University will provide free master's degrees to eight 2008 graduates who first put in two years in federal jobs.  Tufts University is also helping its undergraduate students pay down debt or pursue graduate degrees if they commit a few years to public service work.

    If you're leaning towards a career with a government agency or non-profit organization, be aware of the scholarships, grants, fellowships, internships, and loan repayment programs out there.  Include a free college scholarship search in your research to find out about many of your options for funding your education and minimizing your debt.


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