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Obama Proposes More Generous Loan Repayment Plan

January 26, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

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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Financial Education Gaining Ground in High Schools

January 25, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

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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Best Buy @15 Scholarship Program

January 25, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

If the crisis in Haiti has caused you to up your volunteer efforts or if you've always been interested in community service as a way to help out your local community or even build on your resume, there are a number of scholarship opportunities out there for you to get some payback for those good deeds. This week's Scholarship of the Week awards 1,000 scholarships of $1,000 each to high school students involved in volunteer efforts in their schools and communities.

The Best Buy@15 Scholarship Program is looking for students with impressive academic records who give back to their communities. Students with work histories in high school will also be considered, but you have to be planning to attend a college, university or technical school in the fall immediately following high school graduation. If you think this fits your student profile, make sure you look for this award in your search results. Remember to check off "community service" before conducting your free scholarship search, because volunteerism is a top criteria on many scholarship awards.

Prize: 1,000 scholarship of $1,000 each

Eligibility: Students must be planning to attend a college, university or technical school in the fall immediately following their high school graduation. Students in grades 9-12 from private, public, alternative or home schools are eligible to apply. The program is looking for students with solid grades who are involved in volunteer efforts in their schools and communities, and/or have a work history.

Deadline: February 15, 2010, although applicants are urged to file their applications early

Required Material: Scholarship applications are available only to @15 members, but you can become a member for free on the program's website. Paper applications will not be accepted, so please file yours electronically.

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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Are Tattoos Less Taboo on the College Scene?

January 22, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

A new school that recently opened in Tinley Park, Illinois, hopes to lure out-of-work art students by offering a two-week intensive program that promises to teach them a new skill—body art.

The school, Bette Baron's Art of Body Coloring School, opened earlier this month, and faced little opposition from the town, which saw it as another opportunity for students seeking vocational schools. An article in the Chicago Tribune today describes how Bette Baron, the owner and a tattoo artist for the last 16 years, opened the school to take her mind off the death of her son, Brian. Her son's face and "Love You Forever Brian" decorate her left arm. "Even housewives are getting tattoos now," Baron said in the article. Students pay $900 tuition fee and $750 for a tattooing kit at the school, and can expect to make up to $100 once they become licensed body artists.

According to the Tribune article and a 2008 poll by Harris Interactive, 32 percent of adults ages 25 to 29 have tattoos. Do tattoos have a place in academia? Sure, ink and piercings been linked to all sorts of things, including deviant behavior, as Texas Tech University's school of sociology reported recently. (They say the more tattoos and piercings you have, the more likely you are to binge drink, fall into promiscuous behavior, get arrested, and use drugs.) Career counselors also usually suggest you keep your body art from public display when interviewing for a new job, especially if there's a dress code and a fairly conservative office staff.

But tattoos are also becoming the way academics express themselves. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently featured a series of scholars' photo submissions that displayed tattoos scholars got to commemorate their work, research, and theses. The tattoos in the series weren't considered taboo, but representative of the spirit and creativity of those academics. They included scholars who got inked with the symbol for the general formula of an ester linkage, coral fish, a double helix, and the phrase "read books" that came down the calves of an adjunct English instructor in Memphis. Lawrence K. Fulbeck, a professor of art who is the author of "Permanence: Tattoo Portraits," even went to Japan to have some tattoos done the old fashioned way—through an hours-long process using needles rather than an electric tattooing drill.

What do you think? Is body art so mainstream that you wouldn't be shocked to see your professor sporting a tattooed sleeve down his arm? Would any of you consider a permanent reminder of your academic work inked on your body?

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Student Loan Demand Rises as Availability Decreases

January 22, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

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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Survey Shows Freshmen More Worried About Money, College Costs

January 21, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

Everyone knows institutions of higher education have been impacted by the economic downturn. Students have been affected too, in the worst case scenarios paying more for their college degrees or facing financial aid shortages. A survey released today further defined just how worried college freshmen are about money, the cost of college, and finding a well-paying job once they graduate.

The annual survey by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at the University of California at Los Angeles polled nearly 220,000 first-time, full-time students at 297 four-year institutions. It showed that more students are relying on student loans to fund their educations and looking at schools that offer more financial aid opportunities. But there was also a mental shift. More students are concerned about getting good jobs after graduation, and how they're going to cover college costs in the first place. The survey also showed that fewer freshmen are majoring in business these days, with those numbers at their lowest since the 1970s. The recession could be to blame. Majoring in business may not seem as enticing as it once did as banks face folding or bailouts and the economy has yet to return to prosperous levels.

According to the survey:

  • 41.6 percent reported that cost was a "very important" factor in choosing which college to attend.
  • those reporting that an offer of financial aid was important in their college choice increased to 44.7 percent, up from 43.0 percent in 2008 and 39.4 percent in 2007.
  • 56.5 percent reported they were more likely to place high importance on choosing a college where graduates get good jobs, the highest level since the question was introduced in 1983.
  • 53.3 percent reported taking out loans, the highest percentage in nine years.
  • 4.5 percent reported having an unemployed father, more than at any other time in the history of the survey. Nearly 8 percent of students also reported that their mothers were unemployed, the highest percentage since 1979.

The respondents to the survey also seemed to have a feeling of social responsibility, perhaps due to not only the recession, but changes in the White House, or more simply, the idea that community service and volunteerism could make them better candidates on the job market:

  • 30.8 percent indicated that there was a "very good chance" that they would take part in civic engagement.
  • 56.9 percent who volunteered "frequently" as high school seniors indicated that there was a "very good chance" they would do so in college.

It's not a bad thing to worry about how you're going to pay for college. Often, tough decisions need to be made based on the financial aid available to you. Should you stay in-state, rather than pursue a degree at a private institution on the opposite coast? Should you consider community college to save money on those first two years? Finding money for college may seem daunting, but you do have options, whether that's being flexible in the college search or applying for as many scholarship and grant opportunities as you can.

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Employers Expect More from New Hires and Their Schools

January 21, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

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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Yale Takes Musical Approach to Reach New Applicants

January 20, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

Yale  University is playing on the popularity of the tween classic "High School Musical" with a new spot from its admissions - a peppy, somewhat cheesy music video that offers would-be applicants the answer to "That's Why I Chose Yale."

The video, which clocks in at around 15 minutes, starts off safe, with an admissions official discussing what makes Yale stand out above the rest as potential students and their parents look on. That same admissions official, while thinking of an answer to a prospective student's question with a wry smile, breaks out into song. What follows is campy, but it does make the Ivy League institution seem a little less stuffy. There's choreographed dancing in addition to the singing, along with a cameo from NBC news anchor Brian Williams, whose daughter attends Yale. The administrators love it, saying that an effort by students (only current students and alums participated in the making of the video) captures the spirit of the school better than any marketing professional could do. Many students love it, saying that the cheesiness of it makes it cool.

Not everyone has had a positive response to the video. One blogger described the video as "That's Why I Chose to Ram a Soldering Iron into My Ears" instead, calling the effort too earnest. The Yale Herald, while it admitted that the musical romp was fun to watch, especially for those currently at Yale who may recognize familiar faces, suggested the video may do little to entice new applicants not already interesting in the school.  Comments on the story about the video on the Yale Daily News range from "this is so embarrassing" to this: "Next year's class is going to be devoid of any serious academic talent. What a huge sap on our prestige."

What do you think? Are there any Yale students out there who like or dislike the video? Most would agree it's at least better than the effort from Harvard University last year, "Harvard by the Numbers." Let us know what you think, and whether these kinds of efforts hurt or help admissions.

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Colleges Reach Out to Students Affected by Earthquake in Haiti

January 20, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

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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New Online Institutions Come From Unique Sources

January 19, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

The A.F.L.-C.I.O., the voluntary federation that represents the country's union movement, announced last week that it would be teaming up with the Princeton Review, the Princeton Review's subsidiary Penn Foster, and the National Labor College to offer an online institution to the organization's 1.5 million members and family of members. The college, to be named the College for Working Families, would aim to offer an affordable alternative to union members and their families and expand those new students' skill sets.

The news is unique in that it expands the first and only college dedicated solely to educating union members, offering rates per credit hour that will be competitive with the local community colleges. Penn Foster has some experience in the field, having provided mail correspondence safety courses to coal miners in 1890, and currently providing online courses to more than 220,000 students across the country.

Elsewhere, The New York Times announced earlier this month that it would begin offering online education certificates with the help of four colleges. The certificates would be given in emerging media journalism. Ball State University, for example, will offer a six-week course in video storytelling through its College of Communications, Information, and Media. Professors from those colleges will be teaching the courses, while the newspaper company will offer its staff for guest speaker engagements and will provide support in advertising the programs and coming up with the tools and technologies professors may need to teach the courses.

There hasn't been much negative press regarding the New York Times' announcement (perhaps because as the press, they're not viewed as a for-profit entity), but the National Labor College deal has stirred up some controversy. An article in Inside Higher Ed yesterday suggested that the for-profit nature of the partnership would move academics below turning a profit. The article also describes concerns about the alliance between the labor movement and higher education in general. Advocates for the partnership said that the link with the for-profit entities was needed as "support" in the marketing aspects of higher education, and that the new college would offer degrees not before offered at the National Labor College, such as business, health care and criminal justice.

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