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by Emily

The benefits of a vegetarian diet are well-known, but did you know that in addition to benefiting your health and the environment, going vegetarian can also have a positive impact on your wallet?

If you're a high school student and a vegetarian, check out this week's Scholarship of the Week.  The Vegetarian Resource Group is offering two $5,000 college scholarships for high school seniors who are involved in promoting vegetarianism in their schools and communities.  If you've been actively engaged in pro-vegetarian activism or a community service project that involves raising awareness of the benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle, you can write a short essay explaining your experience, your views on vegetarianism, and your future plans and goals for a chance to win this scholarship award.

Prize:

Two $5,000 scholarships

Eligibility:

High school seniors who will be graduating in the spring of 2010.  Applicants must be planning to attend a college in the United States in the fall.  Applicants must have been actively engaged in promoting a vegetarian lifestyle in their schools or communities.

Deadline:

February 20, 2010

Required Material:

A completed scholarship application (found on the Vegetarian Resource Group website), a copy of your high school transcript, three or more letters of recommendation, and an essay (with supporting documentation wherever possible) addressing a number of topics, including your efforts promoting vegetarianism and your goals for the future.

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


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by Emily

High school juniors who took the PSAT this fall are likely beginning to notice a new phenomenon hitting their mailboxes at home: a wave of mailings from colleges across the country. To parents, the flood of viewbooks and application packets is likely reminiscent of the piles of credit card offers that often make up the bulk of their mail. Beyond sheer volume, there are other traits that college mailings share with credit card offers, and these were recently explored by The New York Times.

In recent years, colleges across the country have been sending out priority applications to entice students to apply and hopefully attend. The applications usually come in bright packaging, usually with some language that suggests the student has been singled out as someone of special interest to the college. Some examples the article gives are “Advantage Application,” Distinctive Candidate Application” and “Exclusive Scholar Application.”

Inside, students find a partially completed application and an announcement that the school has waived the application fee, and possibly some of the application requirements, for a select number of students, including the recipient of the application. In reality, most priority applications are sent out in batches of tens of thousands. The wording isn’t always strictly honest, either. One college, University of the Pacific, promised to waive application fees for its “Distinctive Candidate” applicants, but they don’t actually require an application fee from anyone.

Still, the applications are convenient for students interested in attending these institutions. Waived fees can save students $50 or more per application, and the option to substitute a graded high school paper for a freshly written college application essay can also be enticing. They can also provide an opportunity to learn about a college the student might have never considered otherwise. In fact, this is the reason many admission officials state for choosing to launch a priority application campaign.

However, some counselors are worried that the inundation of priority applications may encourage students to wind up only applying for college at schools that mail them priority applications. Students can also be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of mailings landing on their doorstep, especially when each application is a nearly identical, overly fluffy, and not necessarily true portrayal of the college and the applicant's chances of being admitted.  This can complicate the college search for students who, for whatever reason, aren’t able to visit or fully research each school that seems promising. Others in the higher education world worry that these applications represent a prioritization of selling the school, boosting enrollment, and increasing their U.S. News ranking (an increase in applications or in test scores of applicants can be a considerable boost) over their mission of recruiting and educating students who will thrive at their school.

What do you think of these applications? Did you receive any from colleges? Did they affect your college choice in any way?


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by Emily

As a college degree has become increasingly necessary in our global economy, career colleges have rapidly risen in popularity. Career colleges are run as businesses and their degree programs are substantially more expensive than the equivalent at community colleges. However, their course offerings appeal to students, with online classes, flexible scheduling, and accelerated programs. Now, a new study shows there are additional draws to for-profit career colleges: compared to community colleges, students who attend career colleges are more likely to graduate.

The Imagine America Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides research and support for career colleges, released a report this week analyzing the retention and program completion rates of career college students in two-year programs, compared to those attending community colleges and not-for-profit two-year colleges. The study found that career colleges have substantially higher rates of both retention and graduation compared to public community colleges, and slightly higher rates compared to other private schools.

Currently, only 57 percent of full-time students at community colleges return the next year, compared to 72 percent of full-time students at career colleges and 68 percent of students at private not-for-profit two-year schools. Part-time students, the group typically seen as most at risk of dropping out, also fared better in retention at career colleges, with 60 percent returning the next year, compared to 42 percent at public two-year schools and 56 percent at private institutions.

Degree completion rates were also significantly higher at for-profit colleges, compared to community colleges. At for-profit schools, 59 percent completed their degree programs, compared with only 23 percent at community colleges. At not-for-profit private schools, 55 percent of students graduated. The degree completion rates at for-profit and private two-year schools are comparable to graduation rates at four-year colleges.

However, there are still questions about whether attending a career college is the best choice. Many in the higher education community have raised concerns over career colleges’ ability to educate students and prepare them to land lucrative jobs, especially given the high rates of student borrowing and student loan default among career college attendees. Currently, the Department of Education is debating increased regulation of career college recruiting to prevent students from borrowing more than they can afford or enrolling in costly programs that don’t produce a measurable economic benefit.

If you’re considering an associate’s degree or certification program, be sure to explore your options. There are pros and cons of both community and career colleges, as well as a number of other factors to be weighed in your college search.


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by Emily

Immediately on the heels of an announcement that President Obama would be calling for additional assistance to college graduates struggling to repay student loans, the administration also unveiled a proposal to hold federal discretionary spending to current levels for the next three years, a move that could potentially have serious implications for colleges and students.

Currently, most federal education spending, including student financial aid, is discretionary, not mandatory, so it would fall under the umbrella of the budget freeze. This makes it possible that students will see limited increases to federal grants, work-study, and subsidized student loans in the coming years. The White House has pledged to make education a funding priority, but with states and colleges also struggling financially, it’s quite possible that financial aid programs will see an end to the boost in financial support they’ve received in the last few years.

It’s possible one federal aid program, at least, may be spared from the budget freeze. Last year, President Obama proposed making the Pell Grant an entitlement, putting it in the category of Medicare and other programs that would be exempt from the budget freeze, but the bill to do so still has not passed the Senate. If the bill passes, Pell funding will be mandatory and increases in Pell Grants will be tied to inflation, guaranteeing students a small, but steady, increase in available aid. If not, it’s up to Congress to allocate limited resources for any increases in grant amounts, and with increases in the numbers of college attendees, applications for financial aid, and Pell Grant recipients, it may be all Congress can do to hold funding levels steady for the next three years.

As details of federal and state budgets emerge, and emergency legislation that temporarily boosted funding to schools and student aid begins to be revisited and possibly phased out, exact changes to college funding will become clearer. Already, though, many families are finding paying for college increasingly challenging, even with the aid of college scholarships and grants. There’s a possibility that a federal budget freeze could mean that students in the next few years will see a situation similar to the one that faced students at the start of the last decade, where tuition increased rapidly while federal aid held steady and more and more students came to rely on private student loans.


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by Emily

Even as much of the student loan agenda President Obama announced last year remains stalled in Congress, he is expected to propose a new plan to assist middle-class workers in repaying their student loans as part of his State of the Union address on Wednesday. On Monday, the White House announced some of the points Obama plans to address, and among the items is a plan to make student loan payments more affordable.

Obama’s proposal would alter the federal Income-Based Repayment plan to make it beneficial to a wider range of borrowers. Currently, college graduates who choose Income-Based Repayment are expected to make loan payments equivalent to 15% of their discretionary income each month (defined as income above 150% of the poverty level for the borrower’s household size) and to make consistent payments for 25 years, at which time their remaining loan balances will be forgiven. Under the new plan, borrowers would have to make payments of only 10% of their discretionary income each month, and would only have to make payments for 20 years before their remaining balances are forgiven.

This change would have an added bonus for students pursuing careers in public service. Students who enroll in IBR and work in approved public service fields (such as teaching, healthcare, non-profit work, or government employment) can see their loans forgiven after just 10 years of payments in IBR. For many students, this can mean a substantial reduction in their overall loan obligations as well as more easily manageable payments as they begin their careers.

To illustrate the benefits of the President’s proposal, the Institute for College Access and Success provided the following example: someone with $33,000 in student loans who currently makes $30,000 per year would have a loan payment of $110 per month under this plan, compared to $170 per month under the current IBR plan, and $380 per month under the standard repayment plan.

Although it has the potential to enormously benefit individual borrowers, the proposed adjustment to the IBR plan is likely to run into some opposition. In the example above, as in many other cases, the new IBR plan will result in a significantly smaller amount being repaid by borrowers, especially those who go into public service. However, it may substantially reduce borrowers’ likelihood to default, which would prove beneficial overall. Still, calculating the overall cost to taxpayers is likely to be vital to this proposal’s viability, especially given the Obama administration’s announcement of a planned three-year freeze on federal spending.

Overall, these changes would benefit an estimated 36 percent of borrowers, according to Inside Higher Ed. The National Association of Colleges and Employers lists the average starting salary for college graduates at $48,633, and depending on household size and overall debt, graduates in this bracket may not see much benefit from IBR. By contrast, the average starting salary for liberal arts graduates is $36,624, making them most likely to benefit from this program. However, many recent graduates are considering themselves lucky to find jobs paying substantially below these figures right now. It’s likely that a broad range of college graduates, especially those pursuing careers in fields that have been badly impacted by the recession, may welcome the proposed changes.

What do you think of this plan?  Would it help you or would you rather see federal resources being used in another way?


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by Emily

Whether it’s preparing students for college or providing vocational education, one of the purposes of high school is to help students transition from depending on their parents to living in the real world. Recently, more high schools have begun incorporating personal finance into their core curricula, hoping to prepare students to manage the money they make once they move out on their own.

Money management courses have been offered by high schools for decades, but they were often included in family and consumer sciences classes, often with vague and unappealing names like “independent living.” Many college-bound students would regard these as blow-off classes that couldn't possibly relate to their lives, while other students might avoid them out of fear of having their GPA torpedoed by demonstrating inadequate ability to sew, cook, or care for a baby doll.

However, widespread financial difficulties of the last few years have prompted an increased interest financial literacy among high school and college students who are hoping to avoid the mistakes they see their family and friends making. Financial literacy classes have also changed, focusing on a wider range of skills required for modern life, including taking out a mortgage and starting a retirement fund, rather than the checkbook-balancing and grocery shopping skills students may have found themselves learning just a few years ago.

As the value of personal finance education has become more apparent, states and school districts have begun incorporating it into their core curricula. According to the Council for Economic Education, 13 states require personal finance courses for high school graduation, up from seven in 2007, and a total of 34 states now require schools to implement content standards for personal finance education.

Taking personal finance classes in high school can prepare students to make smart financial choices right out of the gate, rather than learning the hard way in college or after. Students with a strong personal finance education may be able to avoid the financial pitfalls that trapped their parents, potentially helping to break the cycle of poverty for some, and helping others minimize suffering from credit cards or student loans acquired in college. Some school districts believe so strongly in playing a greater role in financial education that they’ve started guiding students toward healthier financial habits as early as kindergarten, according to an article in USA Today.

Colleges have also begun putting more emphasis on financial literacy. In the last few years, a number of colleges have added financial literacy courses, while others are offering or better publicizing financial counseling and advising services. One school, Syracuse University, has even tied financial aid to financial literacy for some students, offering grants to a selected group of students if they agree to participate in a financial education program.

Even if your high school or college doesn’t offer financial literacy training, it’s important to educate yourself about personal finance and build money management skills. Learning how to budget, pay bills on time and build your credit score can help you live a better and less stressful life before, during and after college.


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by Emily

Despite more cost-conscious students, demand for student loans has continued to increase over the last two years according to a new analysis by Reuters and the credit bureau Equifax. According to Equifax’s data, both the number and the balance of student loan accounts in the United States have risen markedly.

According to Reuters, the number of student loan accounts in the U.S. has risen 29 percent in the last two years, with the total loan volume increasing by $105 billion to $527 billion. Meanwhile, most other lines of credit are contracting, including car loans and credit cards. Equifax has called the current student loan activity unprecedented, and the bureau’s U.S. Information Systems president, Dan Adams, expressed concern over young adults’ ability to pay down this debt.

Banks also appear concerned about students’ ability to pay. Despite what may be a historic high in overall loan balances, private student loan origins are actually dropping, according to Student Lending Analytics. A recent post on their blog forecasts that the 50% drop in private loan originations in 2008-2009 will be followed by a further 24% drop in 2009-2010. The reduced volume is mostly attributed to wary banks making it difficult for students to borrow.

As private loan originations have been slowing, increases in federal loan limits, Pell Grant amounts, and some state and campus grant and scholarship programs have been helping students pay for college in the face of a recession. However, there is concern that many of these increases are temporary, while many funding cuts enacted due to the recession might be more permanent. There’s also growing concern in the higher education community that students may find themselves priced out of the colleges they want to attend or left in a lurch after college, either unable to find money to continue or unable to pay back what they’ve borrowed.

With widespread difficulties and concerns, it’s more important now than ever to start planning early for college and to focus on finding sources of college funding other than student loans. Starting a college savings plan for students while they’re still young is one step, and beginning the scholarship search as a high school junior (if not earlier) is another. With planning and determination, college success is still very possible, but without those things, it might be more difficult to come by than it used to be.


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by Emily

A new survey of employers shows that broader may be better when it comes to higher learning. Despite students’ increasing interest in a college education that prepares them for a specific career, employers and the nature of the job market both appear to be demanding students with a wide knowledge base and flexible skills.

The survey, commissioned by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, an organization that advocates liberal arts education, was published yesterday. It focused both on what employers would like to see in new hires and on how well they think colleges are able to prepare students for the workforce.  Only one in four of the 302 employers surveyed felt that two-year and four-year colleges are currently doing a good job of preparing students for the challenges of the global economy. One in five believe that significant changes are needed in how colleges prepare students for the workforce and most wanted to see at least some changes made.

Many employers saw college education as increasingly important for job applicants: 28 percent said they would place more emphasis on hiring people with at least a bachelor’s degree in upcoming candidate searches. Nearly the same proportion, 25 percent, said they would be placing less emphasis on hiring people with no degree. The greatest increase in interest in candidates with a bachelor’s degree or higher comes from the largest employers—those with 500 or more employees. They reported 43% more emphasis on hiring candidates with a four-year degree.

Employers reported that degree attainment isn’t the only area in which their expectations for employees have increased. The vast majority of employers agreed with the following four statements about their company:

  • Our company is asking employees to take on more responsibilities and to use a broader set of skills than in the past (91%)
  • Employees are expected to work harder to coordinate with other departments than in the past (90%)
  • The challenges employees face within our company are more complex today than they were in the past (88%)
  • To succeed in our company, employees need higher levels of learning and knowledge today than they did in the past (88%)

To meet these increased expectations, employers overwhelmingly felt it would be helpful for students to pursue opportunities that are becoming common features of a liberal arts education, such as a capstone project that demonstrates their depth of knowledge and analytical skills (84%), an internship or community-based field project (81%), coursework that develops research skills (81%). They also expressed support for more education to build research skills, cultural awareness (both locally and globally), ethical thinking, and understanding of large challenges. An accompanying position paper from the AAC&U expanded on how colleges could foster these kinds of learning and thinking.

However, students do not have to wait for sweeping reforms in college education to take advantage of opportunities that will benefit them in the hiring process. Indeed, they might not have time. Of the employers surveyed, 38% expect to hire more people within the next year, and 54% plan to keep levels of employment steady, a sunnier outlook than was presented in another recent survey of employers. As the country comes out of the recession, recent college grads will be increasingly in demand, but they may also be in greater supply as many schools are currently experiencing record enrollment.

Luckily, at many colleges and universities you can find classes, internships, and other experiences now that will help prepare you for the workplace. If you’re a high school student working on your college search, focus on schools that emphasize research and offer numerous opportunities for internships and senior thesis projects. If you’re currently enrolled, take a variety of courses, especially ones that develop research and analytical skills, and see if your school currently offers internship experiences or opportunities for substantial research projects. By demonstrating through your experience and coursework that you’re both skilled in your subject area and able to learn and adapt, you may have an edge over your competition.


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by Emily

Last week’s earthquake in Haiti has had a profound impact on students, faculty, and staff at a number of college campuses. Students and faculty from Lynn University in Florida are still missing in Haiti, while members of other campus communities in the U.S. and Canada have been counted among the more than 70,000 dead. Schools are beginning to reach out to their students who suffered losses in the earthquake, including one college that’s offering free tuition to its Haitian students.

Tallahassee Community College is offering 100% tuition relief for the duration of their education to 35 currently enrolled students from Haiti. After a unanimous vote from the school’s trustees, Tallahassee Community College will begin figuring out the logistics of offering this assistance immediately. The college’s president Bill Law said, “These students will go to school for free. We will keep that in place while they are here,” while acknowledging that there are still details to be ironed out when it comes to getting the funding to the students.

While Tallahassee Community College appears to be first to announce special financial aid for all Haitian enrollees, other schools are reaching out to their students who were affected by the earthquake. Colleges and universities are offering counseling, help contacting friends and family, and assistance finding ways to stay in school for their Haitian students and students of Haitian descent.

The City University of New York and Miami Dade College are also engaging in a variety of special efforts to help their students who are from Haiti or who have family and friends there. CUNY has 6,000 students who are either Haitian or of Haitian descent on its 23 campuses. Miami Dade College Both schools are offering counseling services and are trying to help students stay in school during this crisis. Medgar Evers College, part of the CUNY system, has set up support centers to help students reach friends and family members in Haiti. Students are able to make long distance calls and use computers to try to reach their loved ones.

In addition to aiding in the search for four students and two faculty members who were volunteering in Haiti when the earthquake struck, Lynn University has established a fund to assist members of their community whose lives the earthquake has impacted. The Lynn University Haiti Crisis Fund donation page states the money will provide assistance for 40 Haitian staff members at the school, as well as students and faculty from Haiti.

Students and schools nationwide are engaging in other relief efforts, including holding fundraisers and donation drives for a wide range of charities that are assisting in the recovery effort. Doctors from several medical schools have already arrived in Haiti to assist in treating the wounded. As more time passes and immediate needs are met, there will be more opportunities for students interested in community service and humanitarian aid to help out in Haiti, both through sustained donations and volunteer efforts.


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by Emily

It’s no secret that the last couple years have been hard for higher education. The recession took a toll on colleges and students from a number of directions, and now a new study is analyzing the impact of state budget woes on public colleges and universities. The figures released this week in Grapevine, a publication focusing on state higher education support, show a continued decline in state funding for higher education and an accompany analysis suggests the funding cuts could have serious negative consequences for students at state colleges.

Overall, state higher education funding has declined 1.1 percent in 2009-2010, following a 1.7 percent decline in 2008-2009, down to $79.4 billion from a high of $80.7 billion in 2008. The declines represent a sharp reverse from the previous three years, which saw a 24 percent increase in state support for higher education. Without federal stimulus funding, a substantial part of which went to higher education, budget cuts would have been even more severe, with a 6.8 percent decline in funding over the course of two years.

Despite the stimulus, some states still made substantial cuts to higher education. While higher education funding reductions in California, Michigan, and Illinois have received the most press, these states were not alone in substantially reducing money spent on colleges. Even after the stimulus, 11 states still posted a decline of more than 5 percent in higher education funding in the last year, with Vermont seeing the steepest drop at 16.4 percent. Overall, 28 states experienced declines in funding after the stimulus, with 37 states reducing funding before stimulus dollars are factored in. Nine states also have shown a reduction in education spending that's severe or sustained enough to register as a decline over the last 5 years.

Other states have managed to increase higher education funding, however. Montana and North Dakota boasted the highest increases at 23.3 and 18.5 percent respectively, with revenue from energy helping to spare them from the dire budget situations most other states faced this year. Similarly, Texas increased education funding by 12.5 percent, even with a much larger population and overall budget.  North Dakota also registered the highest 5-year increase in education spending at 49.3%.

States’ higher education funding choices can have long-term consequences. A report issued last year by the State Higher Education Executive Officers (who also co-sponsored this study) shows that state cuts to higher education made during recessions tend to become permanent. So, while state university systems have more or less managed to weather this year’s cuts, they may not do so well in the future as a lack of adequate funding persists. The study published this week underscores this risk, giving three reasons the current budget trends could potentially reach what the authors term “crisis proportions.”

First, more than 5 percent of the current year’s state appropriations are from stimulus funds, which are exhausted after this year. Second, state revenues have fallen at an unprecedented rate and states are unlikely to quickly make up the difference in the coming years. Finally, the analysis casts doubt on whether schools are able to fully meet student demand, with enrollment caps, course cancellations, and higher tuition all serving as budget-driven barriers to enrollment. In short, state colleges may already be in danger of failing at their mission of educating their state’s students, and the situation is likely to only get worse in the coming years.

While these statistics are a bit dry and may at first seem like primarily a cause for concern among college administrators, they can have a direct effect on your college experience. If you choose to enroll at a state university, the state’s higher education spending has a direct impact on your tuition, your financial aid, and the quality of your college experience. Continued state budget troubles may make currently attractive universities less of a bargain, while increased state spending might help schools in out-of-the-way places like North Dakota flourish and provide better service to their students.


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