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Senate Approves Bill to Protect Against Lending Abuses

President Obama Expected to Sign off On Overhaul Legislation

July 16, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

The financial overhaul bill approved last night by the U.S. Senate won’t only increase government oversight to prevent another economic collapse. Students who use debit and credit cards or who have taken out or plan to take out private student loans will also benefit.

The bill includes the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an independent entity that will exist within the Federal Reserve to protect borrowers. What does this mean for students? The bureau will be there to protect students from abusive lending, and gives students a point of resolution if they feel they have issues with their private lenders, according to an article on the measure in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The bill also requires that debit and credit card companies lower the fees that colleges must pay when students use the cards. Currently, companies are charging “swipe fees” of 1 to 2 percent of transaction amounts, according to The Chronicle, putting quite a bit of pressure on struggling college bookstores. The legislation next goes to President Obama, who is expected to sign off on it. Also in the bill, the government will get more power to shut down companies that pose a threat to the country’s financial system. As the troubled economy has led to marked changes in higher education, including increases in tuition and fees, the introduction of wait lists at colleges that had never used them before, and, in worst-case scenarios, the shuttering of colleges, the bill could even give struggling schools some sense of hope.

Pell Grants could also see a boost if a spending bill approved by the U.S. House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee yesterday continues to move through Congress. According to another article in The Chronicle, the bill would raise spending on Pell Grants by $5.7 billion for the 2011 fiscal year, keeping the federal grants at the maximum levels of $5,550 per eligible student. The Federal Pell Grant, which is available to those students with the highest unmet financial need, has increased significantly over the years; students were able to receive $4,050 in the 2006-2007 academic year. The panel also approved an additional $1 billion for the National Institute of Health. According to The Chronicle, legislators hope that funding could go toward “translating basic research results into practical and available cures and treatments.”

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"Test-Optional" Policy at American University Expanded

July 15, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

American University has expanded its “test-optional” application policy, giving all students who apply to the school before Nov. 1 the option of choosing whether or not to submit their ACT or SAT scores as part of their applications. The college had up to this point only allowed early-decision candidates to opt out of providing standardized test scores.

Although the early-decision deadline is later—Nov. 15—being accepted by a college early typically means you need to decide right then and there whether you’ll accept admission to that college or go elsewhere. Opening up the policy to even those regular decision students will give more students the power to decide what they’d like to include in their applications to the school. Those students who do take advantage of the policy and submit their applications early won’t necessarily hear back about whether they’ve been accepted to the school early; they’ll be notified by the regular April 1 deadline.

According to an article yesterday in The Chronicle of Higher Education, a good number of even the early-decision candidates chose not to submit their standardized test scores last fall. Of the 538 early-decision applicants the school received, which in itself was an increase of about 33 percent over the previous year, 191 did not submit test scores, according to The Chronicle. While administrators said it takes longer to review applications that don’t include the test scores, giving students who may not do as well on their standardized tests but who excel elsewhere an opportunity for admission is worth it. Admissions officials now pay more attention to the kinds of courses students took, including AP classes and other college-level work.

Standardized testing has been criticized for years, with the National Association for College Admission Counseling going so far as to say the practice should end altogether in favor of a more holistic application process. American University isn’t the only college to go test-optional in recent years, either. Saint Michael’s College in Vermont no longer requires that potential new students submit SAT scores as part of their application process. The school reasons that some students are better test-takers than others, and that there are other ways to evaluate applicants instead. Students there may still choose to submit either their ACT or SAT scores if they feel it will help their applications.

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Some States May Have Long Wait Before Economic Recovery

July 14, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

If you thought the worst was over in terms of budget cuts and rising tuition and fees at colleges and universities across the country, think again. The latest projections from Moody’s Investors Service show that most institutions of higher education shouldn’t assume recoveries and relief from their states until at least 2013 and probably later.

In those states that have suffered the worst cuts, recovery may be even slower to kick in, as those are the same states that have had to cut spending in other areas as well. According to an article yesterday in The Chronicle of Higher Education, those states may first decide to increase spending in pensions, health care, and other services considered more essential than higher education. Only North Dakota, Texas and Alaska were listed by Moody’s as states where employment figures, a good projection of economic recovery, will return to stable levels before 2012.

Colleges may then be on their own for the next few years, leading to more cuts and creative cost cutting. (You may remember that students at Middlebury College make their own granola in the school’s bakery.) The economic picture is especially bleak for those states that have relief on federal stimulus funds to keep from making even deeper cuts. According to the Chronicle and Moody’s data, in 20 states, stimulus funds made up at least 5 percent of state support for public colleges in the 2009 and 2010 fiscal years. Three states have been particular reliant on stimulus funds – Colorado at 18 percent, Massachusetts at 12 percent and Arizona at 10 percent.

So what do these figures mean? For one, colleges need to figure out how to remain financially solvent with less state support. The Moody’s report also criticizes colleges for not doing more to make sure they won’t need to make deep cuts to their programs and faculties or, worse yet, close their doors. The latest school to do so is Wesley College, a small Mississippi college owned by the Congregational Methodist Church that was unable to find a way to cover about $2.7 million in debt. Southern Catholic College closed mid-semester due to a lack of funding, and may not raise those funds in time for fall. Nebraska’s Dana College will also close after the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools refused a buy-out of the college by a for-profit entity.

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Data Suggests More Default on Loans than Government Reports

July 13, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

An analysis of long-term data conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education has found that the number of students who default on their loans is far greater than what the federal government has been reporting. According to the data, about one in every five federal student loans overall has gone into default since 1995; the default rate for student loans covering costs at for-profit colleges is even higher, at 40 percent. The default rate for community college students is about 31 percent.

The federal government’s numbers are much lower. The U.S. Department of Education reported default rates for federally guaranteed student loans at about 6.9 percent for fiscal year 2007’s cohort. Why the disparity? The Chronicle says the government’s numbers only show those students who defaulted on their loans two years after entering repayment. The Chronicle’s analysis looks at 15 years of data. According to their new analysis, default rates only worsened as time went on, increasing years after those borrowers had left college.

For-profit colleges have already been getting some negative attention lately, with legislators concerned about the share of federal financial aid the schools receive compared to their total enrollment numbers. (The for-profit sector accounts for less than 10 percent of total enrollments but about 25 percent of federal financial aid disbursements.) This new data certainly won’t help them. If the federal government moves to pass rules on student loan default rates, a number of those institutions could be at risk for losing federal aid if they cannot improve their numbers. According to the Chronicle, there are a number of for-profit colleges out there that have default rates even higher than 40 percent, including the Tesst College of Technology and Chicago’s College of Office Technology.

No matter how you skeptically you look at the numbers—critics of the data have already said the numbers don’t consider the economy and the demographics and total enrolled at community college and for-profit universities versus four-year institutions—default rates should be taken seriously. Defaulting on your student loan is never a good idea. It hurts your credit, and any wages you do have may be seized by the government that issued you that loan. It’ll then be harder to not only make ends meet, but to get other loans years down the line, including mortgages and new credit cards. You may also be faced with higher interest rates if you are able to land that car loan. You can see now how important it is to borrow responsibly and make sure that if you do need to take out student loans, you’re doing so to pay for the costs of an accredited program that will help you land a decent job after graduation.

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The Resolve to Evolve Scholarship

Deadline for this Scholarship of the Week is July 31. Apply now!

July 12, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

We’re not only here to match you with outside awards through our free scholarship search. We’re also here to offer you 14 ways of our own to help meet your college costs. In addition to our 13 Area of Study Scholarships, where we award one scholarship per month based on the field of study you mark off in your user profiles, we also award five annual $1,000 scholarships based on how you respond to essay prompts that we provide. This week’s Scholarship of the Week is our Resolve to Evolve Scholarship, and the deadline is fast approaching.

The annual Resolve to Evolve Scholarship is an essay contest that allows applicants to come up with workable solutions and criticisms to questions and issues we put before them. This year, applicants are asked to discuss how we as a country could better meet President Obama’s goals of getting the United States to become the most educated country in the world by 2020, and how technology and the Internet have changed the way institutions of higher education operate.

If you’re picked as a winner, you won’t only have an additional $1,000 to cover your college costs, we’ll forward your essay to officials who may be able to act on your suggestions. Pretty cool, right? Check out our Official Rules for more information on applying if you’re interested, and make sure to follow the directions closely. You won’t be considered otherwise!

Prize: A total of five scholarships in the amount of $1,000 each will be awarded.

Eligibility: Applicants must be 19 or older. You must be a currently enrolled full-time undergraduate or a full- or part-time graduate or non-traditional/returning student who will be enrolled at a U.S. Department of Education accredited college, university or vocational school at the time the prize is awarded. (Prizes will be awarded in November 2010.) Graduate and non-traditional/returning students may be enrolled part-time.

Deadline: July 31, 2010

Required Material: All applicants must choose one of two essays to respond to in 300 to 800 words, in addition to a short answer response on why attending college is important to you, your academic and career goals, and what your biggest obstacle has been in your desire to attend college. Applicants must also submit a letter of reference and a proof of enrollment, such as an official/unofficial transcript, printout of courses, or a letter of enrollment or admittance from your college or university.

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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Report Compares College Spending, Resources Before Recession

July 9, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

A report released today details where colleges were spending their money in the years leading up to nationwide budget crises in higher education.

The report, “Trends in College Spending,” comes from the Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity, and Accountability, and includes a database open to the public on exactly what institutions were spending their money on, and where their funding was coming from. As the data available includes spending information through 2008, when many colleges had not yet been feeling the worst of the recession, education analysts suggests it paints a fairly accurate picture of where administrators’ priorities lie when it comes to spending.

An article in Inside Higher Ed on the report today details the bad habits of institutions of higher education that may have contributed to current budget woes. Among those missteps:

  • Colleges spend too much money on administration, including administrative positions and outside accounting and legal positions. Harvard University was the biggest offender, where administrative costs rose by nearly 14 percent from 2007 to 2008.
  • Compared to funds allocated to administrators, colleges spend too little on instruction. While funding support grew by 20 percent for administrative support, funding for instruction grew by only 10 percent. According to the report, even in those years when revenues improved, the share of funding going toward instruction did not increase on levels comparable to that of funding set aside for administrative, non-academic costs.
  • Spending per student varies dramatically by school. Public research colleges spend about $35,000 per student, compared to about $10,000 per student per year at community colleges, which have seen rapid growth over the last few years. That suggests students at those public colleges are disproportionately subsidized, despite the fact that they typically come from more affluent households than those attending community colleges.
  • Colleges rely too much on cost-shifting. Rather than cutting spending in years when budgets were tight, schools raised tuition instead, a move that may not be sustainable in the long run.

As it was around 2008 when colleges began adapting to the worst of new pressures on their budgets, it’s important to consider that the data in this study considers only those years prior to those funding constraints. The following decade will probably look quite different, and priorities may have shifted since. There’s no question that the recession has had a toll on higher education, especially on schools that depend on state funding.

A recent report from the National Conference of State Legislatures described that declining state support for institutions of higher education. Many states have begun to rely on federal stimulus funds to address or prevent major budget cuts across the board, with California hit particularly hard. The report also showed more of a reliance on tuition to cover costs, as state support and school endowments have decreased. Tuition, which increased by about 2 percent between 2008 and 2009, now accounts for about 37 percent of total education revenue. In comparison, about 25 percent of education revenue came from students’ tuition payments in 1984.

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Fox News Commentator Starts Online University

July 8, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

Those interested in what conservative Fox News commentator Glenn Beck has to offer in terms of an academic experience will have a chance to explore that idea for themselves starting this week. The broadcaster has officially launched his own online summer program, Beck University.

The program, which does not give those enrolled college credit, offers online lectures and discussions based on the concepts of faith, hope and charity instead. Those enrolled don’t pay tuition, but must instead subscribe to Insider Extreme, which comes at a cost of $6.26 per month.

Beck isn’t an academic by any means—according to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, he dropped out of Yale University after taking one course—but he has given the reigns of the program to outside experts. According to the program’s website, this week’s schedule includes Faith 101 with David Barton, the founder and president of a “pro-family organization.” Courses later this summer include Hope 101 and Charity 101, with the philanthropic course led by James R. Stoner Jr., a professor of political science at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

Beck isn’t the only famous face to have ventured into the world of online education. Donald Trump started the Trump Entrepreneur Initiative, renamed from Trump University after he was told calling the school such violated New York Education Law and the Rules of the Board of Regents in the state. The program, which does not offer college credit, describes itself as a resource for business leaders and those interested in wealth creation. Bassist Bootsy Collins has started the online Funk University, which gives aspiring musicians access to online lectures on music history and funk from “Professor Bootsy” and lessons in advanced bass and rhythm. The program is more a tutorial in bass Bootsy-style, as it doesn’t offer college credit either.

However you feel about such programs, make sure that you know what you’re getting yourself into no matter what you sign up for. If you’re up for a few classes in funk to supplement your coursework elsewhere, that’s perfectly fine, but know that many of these entertainingly-named “schools” don’t offer college credit and certainly won’t be accepted by your home institution as transfer credit. That probably means they won’t exactly give your resume a boost either when you’re out there applying for jobs. Check out the information we’ve come up with on choosing the right school if you’re unsure, including tips on finding an accredited distance learning program if you’re looking for an online college in particular.

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Community Colleges Introducing Shortcuts to Two-Year Degrees

July 7, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

Although many students are able to complete their associate degrees in two years, a number of community colleges are looking to shorten students’ time at their institutions even further. The changes at one school alone have included moving from semesters to trimesters, shortening courses from 16 to 14 weeks, and offering more options for degree completion in the summer, when most schools offer fewer classes than in the fall and spring terms.

An article this week in Inside Higher Ed suggests more community colleges are looking to meet the call from the Obama administration and organizations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to get students out in the real world with degrees before they drop out. President Obama is placing great weight on the power of community colleges to double the number of graduates in the United States by 2020.

At Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College, for example, all students are able to earn an associate degree in just 14-16 months if they complete one course every two weeks under the school’s trimester system. According to Inside Higher Ed, about a quarter of the students there have been graduating in a shorter amount of time. Lower Columbia College will introduce a program called the “Transfer Express” this fall. Students in the program will be able to earn an associate degree in one year. You may also remember that Ivy Tech Community College will offer a pilot program come fall to students interested in completing degrees in health-care support. Students will be able to earn their degrees in one year if they commit to an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., five-day-a-week school schedule.

So what’s the incentive to community colleges to move students through faster? Doesn’t it hurt their bottom line? According to Inside Higher Ed, students in accelerated programs are more likely to graduate—and less likely to drop out—than those who may be going to school at a less break-neck pace. Allowing students to finish traditionally two-year programs in a year or a little over also opens up room at community colleges for more students to enroll, a significant advantage when a number of two-year schools are having accommodating an increase in applicants.

Accelerated programs aren’t for everyone, though. Students who have no plans to drop out of school may find the pace too challenging, and consider leaving programs for a more traditional two-year program. Some students will also need additional, remedial instruction in introductory courses that have no place in accelerated programs. If you’re interested though, it could be a decent money-saver for you, as many schools that offer the programs do so with tuition discounts attached.

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Head(s) of the Class?

Naming Multiple Valedictorians Becoming More Common

July 6, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

If you just attended your high school graduation, you probably still remember some of the advice given to you by the valedictorian for your class, the student who received the highest marks and highest GPAs over their four years there.

If you attended graduation at Long Island’s Jericho High School, though, it may not even be that easy to name who was up on stage, no matter their words of wisdom. That’s because seven high school seniors were named valedictorians at the school, according to a recent article in The New York Times. Rather than giving a captive audience seven inspirational speeches, the group came up with a skit about their experiences at Jericho. Each valedictorian also had 30 seconds to devote to their personal well wishes.

Honoring multiple students with the title of valedictorian isn’t unique to Jericho. Many of the best suburban schools across the country are now naming more than one student to the top spot, and administrators say this leaves students less stressed and less focused on competition. According to the Times article, administrators say it is usually mere fractions that separate the top five (or seven) spots at any given school, making it difficult to be fair when it comes to choosing a valedictorian and even salutatorian, traditionally the second-place finisher.

How has this changed the make-up of high schools? Consider this. According to the Times, eight high schools in the St. Vrain Valley district in Colorado crowned 94 valedictorians. Cherry Hill High School East in New Jersey chose a speaker via lottery among its chosen nine valedictorians. Harrison High School in New York City got rid of the title altogether, naming top graduates a part of the “summa cum laude” class instead. Does this mean students are just more serious about academics, and more are doing better in high school? Or does it mean more have access to a traditionally elite group of high school graduates?

Administrators on the college level warn that the practice only contributes to “honor inflation,” according to the article. Competition exists on the college level, and a healthy degree of that in high school serves as preparation for the rigors of keeping up at institutions of higher education, they say. One Harvard University dean quoted in the article described the case of a home-schooled student applying to the Ivy League institution. That student claimed they were at the top of their class—of one student. What do you think? How many valedictorians did you have at your own graduation?

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College Cuts Housekeeping Services

George Washington University Says Students Too Messy for Perk

July 2, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

New freshmen at George Washington University this fall won’t be as pampered as their predecessors. Administrators there have decided to cut the housekeeping services they had offered in the past, in part to keep the costs of room and board at their current levels.

According to an article in Inside Higher Ed today, the services included vacuuming students’ residence hall rooms and cleaning their private bathrooms. Come fall, it will be up to the students to tidy things up, although administrators said some housekeepers were unable to vacuum a number of freshmen’s rooms properly anyway because of the messes students would leave on their floors, which first prompted the school to look into eliminating the service. About 80 new freshmen have been vocally opposed to the school’s decision to cut the service, signing Facebook petitions to demand it be added back. In one article, one incoming student said it was one of those things that “semi-convinced” her to come to GW, and that with tuition at $54,000, it shouldn’t be too difficult to keep such perks in their communal living spaces.

It may seem silly to have a housekeeper keep your dorm room tidy, but GW wasn’t unique in offering the service. Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology still offers the service, with housekeepers there changing linens, cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming and taking out students’ trash. According to the Inside Higher Ed article, administrators there said if they needed to trim their budgets, they would cut housekeeping staff rather than eliminating the program altogether, as they describe it as “one of the top selling points” of the college. At Xavier University, administrators use their housekeeping service (offered in three out of four dorms) as a way to relieve parents worried about their sons and daughters living in messy rooms now that they’re out on their own.

At other schools that have instituted cuts to housekeeping services, the reaction from students has been mixed. The College of the Holy Cross and Claremont McKenna College both reduced their service from twice a week to once a week, which may not seem like that big a deal to students without any kind of formal cleaning service. Administrators at Holy Cross said having housekeepers allowed the school to maintain a sense of upkeep in residence halls, and keep rooms in better shape for the next round of freshmen. The Inside Higher Ed article closed with a rising senior at Claremont deriding what he thought of as an excess: “Do we really need maids cleaning up after every mess? It’s pretty ridiculous. I mean, don't get me wrong, I love it. Who wouldn't? But I think for college students trying to become adults, people shouldn't be cleaning up our mess. That is a mother thing to do when you're 10 years old.”

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