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by Scholarships.com Staff

Are you looking for an affordable college option, but finding yourself less than interested in huge state colleges? You might want to look into attending a HBCU. A new study by the United Negro College Fund finds that, on average, historically black colleges and universities charge much less than their historically white counterparts. The study found that not only do HBCUs charge 31 percent less than comparable institutions, but that their tuition and fees also rose more slowly than similar colleges.

The report compares total tuition charges at UNCF's 39 member institutions with comparable institutions for the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 academic years. The average tuition and fees at the HBCUs was $20,648 for 2006-2007 and $21,518 for 2007-2008. In comparison, comparable institutions had total tuition and fees of $26,451 and $28,156 respectively. Their tuition charges also rose between 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 at a rate more than double that of HBCUs ($870 to $1706). Five of the HBCUs surveyed did not raise tuition at all, whereas all comparable institutions charged some amount more.

UNCF analyzed data from the National Center for Education Statistics Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. Comparable schools were selected based on a variety of criteria, including Carnegie Classification, level of institution, degree granting status, and private or public status. However, as U.S. News' Kim Clark points out, the study did not take into account the net prices of these schools--the amount students can actually expect to pay. Many colleges and universities offer substantial scholarships and grants, especially private colleges where most students see significant discounts off the sticker price.  There are a variety of institutional and UNCF-sponsored scholarships offered specifically to students at HBCUs, as well as a number of African American scholarships that can help make tuition more affordable for students at these schools.

With or without financial aid, choosing to attend college at a historically black college or university can result in substantial savings. There are other benefits to attending HBCUs, as well, especially for students who may need extra support. Since many HBCUs serve students from diverse and often disadvantaged backgrounds, they have systems in place to better support students who might otherwise struggle in college. HBCUs also tend to produce students more appreciative of diversity, so if that's important to you, you may find your home at one of these colleges. Regardless of what you ultimately decide, it can't hurt to diversify your college search. By learning about and visiting a variety of schools, you're more likely to find the one that fits you best.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

Students who are interested in applying for private loans may soon see the process changing. The House of Representatives passed consumer protection legislation last week that would further regulate private student loans, ensuring that students interested in borrowing them are aware of rates, federal alternatives, and borrowing limits at their school.

The bill moves to further regulate Wall Street in the wake of the credit crisis and ensuing economic recession, and also creates a consumer financial protection agency that's responsible for overseeing consumer credit such as credit cards, mortgages, and other bank loans. An amendment introduced by Democratic Representative Jared Polis of Colorado ensures that private loans to students are also included under this umbrella, and sets up additional rules that lenders and colleges must follow in issuing and certifying private loans.

Under this legislation, all private loans will have to be certified by a student's college, verifying the student's enrollment and the amount he or she can borrow. Before a school can certify a private loan, it must also inform the borrower of the availability of federal student financial aid. This builds on rules that will go into effect in February that state that students must be informed of interest rates and repayment terms up front by banks, and must certify that they have been informed of federal student loan options.

Effectively, it puts an end to direct-to-student private loans, which students can borrow without even informing the financial aid office, and which can be taken out for more than the student's cost of attendance for the academic year. With rising student loan default rates, risky loans like these have increasingly come under fire. These loans can be a quick way for students to find themselves in excess debt, as they make it easy for students to borrow more than they need to pay for school without having to investigate alternatives first.

The bill still needs to pass the Senate and be signed by the President before it can be enacted. Whether the Senate introduces language similar to the Polis Amendment remains to be seen, as it's unlikely financial legislation will be debate until after they finish with healthcare.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

As Congress continues to puzzle out questions of student loans and consumer protection, new information released today suggests that young adults attempting to repay their student loans may be having even more trouble than previously thought.

As a condition of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, the US Department of Education has started tracking three-year instead of two-year default rates for federal student loans. The first set of data was released today and the numbers are pretty shocking: the three-year cohort default rates are nearly twice as high as the two-year rates overall--11.8 percent compared to 6.7 percent.

Default is defined as failure to make payments on a student loan according to the terms of the master promissory note the borrower signed, and federal student loans are considered in default only after nine months of missed payments. This means that 12 percent of students who started repaying their loans in 2006 had stopped making payments for 270 days or more by September 2009.

The difference between two-year and three-year default rates was most dramatic at for-profit colleges, rising from 11% to 21.2%. For-profit colleges have the highest default rates in both two-year and three-year measures, and also make up the largest proportion of institutions that may lose the ability to distribute federal student financial aid in 2014, when the rule changes associated with the new three-year default rate calculations go into place.

Colleges will become ineligible to participate in federal student aid programs if their cohort default rates are above 30 percent (currently 25 percent) for three consecutive years, or if they go over 40 percent any one year. Inside Higher Ed has published a list of institutions whose three-year cohort default rate is over 30 percent this year-in addition to a number of for-profit colleges, several community colleges have also made the list.

In addition to this information's implications for colleges, it also means that default on federal student loans is even more common than previously assumed. More than 1 in 10 students currently default on a loan within three years, and it's possible that a significant percentage of students may default on their loans after more time has passed. If you're planning to borrow to pay for college, do so wisely. You may want to make sure that you only take out an amount that you can pay back in a worst-case employment scenario. It's not too late to start your scholarship search for next year (or even this year) to help cut down on the amount you have to borrow, as well.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

Everyone knows not to say "fire" in a crowded theater or "bomb" on an airplane. But what about saying "bomb" in a classroom? As a graduate teaching assistant at University of California-Davis learned last week, that might not be such a good idea either.

James Marchbanks, the teaching assistant in question, was arrested last week for making a terrorist threat, false imprisonment, and making a false bomb threat. Why? The graduate student referred to the course evaluations he was distributing to his introductory drama class as a bomb.

According to The Sacramento Bee, Marchbanks reportedly walked into class on the last day with his backpack on one shoulder and told the class, "I have a bomb, this is the last time I am ever going to see you. I am going to leave class before the bomb goes off but you are all going to stay here until it's done," then tossed a packet of course evaluations and pencils on the desk at the front of the class and ran out

The move was widely interpreted as a dramatic and lighthearted delivery of evaluation forms that he felt could potentially destroy his career. In fact, 13 students signed a letter to this effect. Unorthodox teaching methods, relaxed and informal attitudes, and extreme nervousness about their effectiveness as teachers are all pretty standard for graduate students, especially in the arts and humanities, so for many students in Marchbanks' Drama 10 class, his delivery of course evaluations probably seemed on the quirky end of ordinary.

However, a few students took his remarks seriously and decided to file a complaint, even when it became clear that he was alluding to the destructive power of negative evaluations, and not to a homemade explosive device. Campus police obtained a warrant for his arrest and a judge set bail at $150,000, a figure substantially higher than the Sacramento Bee calculated the charges should carry, and a price certainly well out of the reach of what a student receiving a graduate fellowship or assistantship could afford. It was eventually decided that there was insufficient evidence to charge him with a crime and he was released, but only after he had spent four days in jail.

While few people are likely to argue that Marchbanks deserved jail time for his comments, it does raise questions about what's appropriate to say in a classroom. With multiple incidents of on-campus violence, including a graduate student's recent murder of a professor at the State University of New York-Binghamton, appearing in the media, many already stressed-out students may be more on edge than normal right now. Did students overreact?  Do graduate students need to be more aware of their actions in the classroom as new teachers?  What do you think?


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by Scholarships.com Staff

As high school seniors put the finishing touches on their college applications and start gearing up for the financial aid application process, few are likely thinking about the prospect of leaving college before they finish a degree program. Yet many students will be faced with the prospect of taking time off from school or dropping out entirely. A growing body of research is addressing the question of why students leave college, and a new report has proposed some surprising answers. If you're planning to attend college or currently struggling to stay in college, it's definitely worth a read.

The survey was conducted by the research group Public Agenda, with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. More than 600 adults between the ages of 22 and 30, some who have finished college and some who haven't, were surveyed about the challenges they faced in attending college. The report addresses four myths about college dropouts: that most students go to school full-time and only leave because they're bored or unwilling to work, that most students receive adequate financial support, that most students go through a "meticulous process" of choosing their college, and that students who don't graduate make their decision after knowing and weighing the pros and cons of attending or leaving school.

The realities that correspond to the first two myths are especially striking. According to the survey, most students who drop out do so because they cannot balance work and college and can't afford to stop working, and many of those students are going it alone financially, without help from relatives or financial aid.

A full 54 percent of respondents listed "I need to go to work and make money" as a major reason they left school, with 31 percent saying they couldn't afford tuition and fees. By contrast, only 21 percent left primarily because they needed a break, and only 10 percent found the classes too difficult. Students who didn't graduate had a harder time managing costs besides tuition and fees (36% agreed strongly) and balancing work and school (35% agreed strongly) than students who managed to graduate (23% and 26%, respectively). Most students who left school planned to return, but feared that work and family obligations would keep them from enrolling anytime soon.

Students who ultimately dropped out were less likely than students who graduated to have any kind of financial support, including student loans. The majority of those who did not graduate said they could not rely on help from parents or relatives (58%), a scholarship or other financial aid (69%), or a student loan (69%) to help pay for school. By contrast, 66% of those who did graduate had family financial support, 57% had scholarships or financial aid, and 49% had some sort of loan.

This survey is part of a growing body of research on the relationship between work and college success. The results suggest that students who are able to pay all their bills while in school, work less than 20 hours a week, and focus their attention on classes are more likely to do well in school and more likely to graduate. This is one of many reasons to think carefully about paying for school and investigate scholarship options early.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

Grants are often viewed as no-strings-attached financial aid, but for students at Syracuse University, an unexpected grant comes with some required courses. Students who receive the university's new Monetary Awareness Program grants will need to participate in a financial literacy program each semester until graduation.

Syracuse is not alone in offering a new grant program for needy students, nor in placing emphasis on financial literacy. A number of schools have stepped up financial aid during the recession, and more colleges are also offering financial literacy programs. High school students in Allegany County, Maryland also have found themselves faced with mandatory financial education. However, Syracuse may be the first to link financial aid and financial literacy in this way.

Grant recipients are hand-picked by the Syracuse financial aid office, typically from students in their sophomore year or above who are on track to borrow significant amounts in federal and private loans to finance their college educations. Students selected for the program receive grants that average between $5,000 and $7,000 per year. The first year of the program awarded grants to 77 students.

Students are able to meet the financial-literacy requirement through a one-on-one meeting, a group session, or online counseling. Each semester's training covers a different topic, ranging from borrowing responsibly to budgeting to credit scores. They tend to focus on students' more immediate financial needs, helping them make wiser financial choices through college instead of focusing on events that might come further down the road, like buying a house.

The financial literacy sessions and the grant money have been well-received so far and seem to be making a difference for recipients. While students interviewed by The Chronicle of Higher Education are still taking on significant debt to pay for school, they are implementing knowledge and skills they've acquired from the Monetary Awareness Program to live more frugally, plan ahead, and minimize the debt they and their families take on.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

For those planning on attending graduate school, the Graduate Record Exam, or GRE, has long been a part of the admissions process that seems largely unrelated to their academic ambitions. The Educational Testing Service, the company that administers the test, has been planning and promising alterations for years. Friday, they announced their latest attempt, a plan that would eliminate some of the most onerous questions and revamp the scoring to more accurately reflect students' abilities.

The new GRE, which is set to be implemented in the fall of 2011, will keep the computer-adaptive testing format and the three sections (writing, quantitative, and verbal) of the current GRE, but will make some substantial changes to scoring, student responses, and the content of some sections. Possible GRE scores will change from a 200 to 800 range on the verbal and quantitative sections to a range of 130 to 170, a change which is meant to deemphasize minor differences in scores. The test will also become slightly longer, changing from 3.25 hours to 3.5 hours in length.

The biggest change to the test format will be the possibility to skip and return to questions. Currently, the computer-adaptive format presents test-takers questions they must answer before proceeding, giving them easier or harder questions based on their response to determine their score. The new format will adapt section-by-section, rather than question-by-question, hopefully giving a more accurate picture of test-takers' abilities. The ability to skip questions and return to them later is likely to improve students' concentration and scores as they no longer dwell on the questions they missed--a strategy for taking standardized tests that the GRE's current format makes difficult to practice.

Changes to the sections of the GRE will be more minor, but could still make a big difference to some test-takers. The writing section consists of two prompts, one asking for a logical analysis and one asking for an argumentative essay. It will remain largely unchanged in the new version of the test. The quantitative section asks multiple-choice math questions students are likely to have encountered in high school and college. ETS plans to add a calculator for this section. The verbal section will undergo the biggest changes, with questions on analogies and antonyms eliminated, as these have practically necessitated rote memorization of vocabulary words, largely defeating the purpose of the test.

Prospective graduate students in 2009 and 2010 will still be stuck with the current version of the GRE. Although some students may love analogies and obscure vocabulary words and be sad to see them go, students who have been struggling with elements of the current test may get some relief if they decide to apply for graduate school in 2011. Whether the GRE changes are actually implemented according to schedule remains to be seen, but so far, the revisions haven't been met with much opposition.


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Dell Scholars Program

December 7, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Are you a hardworking high school student frustrated by the emphasis on GPA and test scores in many scholarship contests?  If you've ever caught yourself thinking, "sure, anyone can get a 4.0 if they take easy enough classes," you may want to check out the Dell Scholars Program, this week's Scholarship of the Week.  The Dell Scholars Program seeks to reward students who use their high school experience to prepare for college, taking challenging classes and participating in college-readiness programs, while taking care of other responsibilities outside of school.

High school seniors who have participated for two years in an approved college-readiness program, such as AVID or Upward Bound, while maintaining at least a 2.4 GPA are eligible to apply for the Dell Scholars Program, which carries a scholarship award of $20,000.  The scholarship application focuses primarily on a student's dedication to college success, asking questions about your non-scholastic activities and responsibilities, the challenges you face, the steps you've taken to prepare for college, and the amount of financial support you need for college.  Dell Scholars are students who have the drive to push themselves to earn a bachelor's degree.

Prize: $20,000 - 250 scholarships awarded

Eligibility: High school seniors who are U.S citizens or permanent residents and who plan to enroll in a bachelor's degree program at an accredited higher education institution next fall.  Applicants must have participated in a college readiness program for two years with a cumulative GPA of 2.4 or higher, and must have demonstrated financial need for college.

Deadline: January 15, 2010

Required Material: Completed online scholarship application (available on the Dell Scholars website). The application may require information from your high school transcripts and your and your parents' tax returns, and will also include a couple of short essay questions.  Semifinalists will be asked to provide a letter of recommendation, a copy of their high school transcript, and FAFSA Student Aid Report, as well

Further details about the application process can be found by conducting a free 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 Scholarships.com Staff

For students used to syncing just about every website they visit with Facebook, the amount of manual data entry involved in applying for financial aid can seem completely alien and unnecessary. In fact, many students who would qualify for aid either fail to complete the FAFSA or do so incorrectly, due to the confusing and time-consuming nature of the application process.

Members of the higher education community were concerned about this, as well, so when Congress renewed the Higher Education Act last year, they included a provision to update the FAFSA to make it easier for families to complete. The proposed changes will go into effect in 2010, and some students could be seeing a simpler FAFSA as soon as January.

Under the new system, students completing the FAFSA on the Web will be able to automatically fill in their FAFSA with relevant information from their previous year's tax return. Starting in January, select users who click on "Fill Out Your FAFSA" will be asked if they'd like to access the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to do so. From there, they can enter their Federal Student Aid PIN then be taken to the IRS website where they can retrieve their tax information and click "Transfer Now" to automatically fill in the applicable lines on the FAFSA form. Dependent students will have to repeat this process for their parents' information.

While it still involves multiple steps and websites, the new process is a significant improvement over the current process of hunting for your tax return, begging your parents for their tax returns, sorting through pages of numbers and instructions, and carefully transcribing numbers from one form to another each year. The Department of Education hopes that the more automated and streamlined FAFSA will reduce errors and encourage more students to apply for federal student financial aid.

Only a small group of students who are filing a FAFSA for the current academic year will see the new FAFSA completion options in January. The option will be available for all FAFSA filers for 2010-2011 in July. Although you may be stuck filling out your FAFSA the old way next year, you can at least take some comfort in the knowledge that this will be the last time.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

Federal student loans aren't the only form of student borrowing that may soon undergo a legislative makeover. As Congress debates the creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Agency, advocacy groups are continuing to push for inclusion of rules that would give the agency more oversight of student loans.

The Consumer Financial Protection Agency would already oversee other kinds of lending, such as credit cards and student loans. However, there's growing debate over how extensive the agency's student loan oversight should be, specifically regarding loans that some colleges make directly to their students. A House amendment to specifically include these loans under the agency's purview was rejected by the Financial Services Committee, but is expected to be revisited as the House prepares to take up a floor vote on the bill. The Senate version of the bill, meanwhile, does authorize the agency to supervise loans made by colleges to their students.

The House version initially excluded loans schools make to their students because many colleges make small, short-term, "emergency" loans to their students to help them pay bills while they secure other forms of funding. Career colleges, on the other hand, have begun lending large sums to their students, often with terms that are less favorable than many private loans. These loans typically have a high default rate and can burden students with difficult payments, as interest rates can easily reach 18 percent and the schools may have less forgiving repayment processes than traditional lenders. This has student advocates concerned, especially in light of recent economic events.

Colleges have been increasingly encouraged to act as lenders to their students in the face of the economic recession and the preceding credit crunch. As it became harder for students to obtain sufficient student loans from banks and other traditional lenders, schools began to step in to close the gap. This included for-profit career colleges lending significant portions of the cost of tuition to their students. The latter category of loan is increasingly widespread, with many of the largest career colleges reporting plans to lend out tens of millions of dollars directly to their students next year.

In addition to being a way to enroll students who wouldn't otherwise be able to secure funding, these direct-to-student loans are also ways for for-profit colleges to get around the "90/10" rule that states that no more than 90 percent of a for-profit college's revenue can come from federal student financial aid. By charging more in tuition but giving more in loans, colleges can get around this requirement, even as more of their students qualify for federal aid.

This isn't the only career college practice that's receiving criticism at the federal level. The Department of Education has been investigating recruiting practices at for-profit colleges and recently issued several proposed rules in its negotiated rule-making process with career colleges. The proposed changes would do more to ensure that colleges aren't giving incentive pay to recruiters and that students who are being enrolled are able to adequately benefit from a degree.


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