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Debt-Ceiling Deal Spares Pell Grant Program

by Suada Kolovic

Unless you’ve taken residence under a rock for the past few weeks, you’ve heard about the debt ceiling crisis. Thankfully, the White House and Congress have reached a deal to raise the nation’s borrowing limit and shrink the federal deficit which avoids many of higher education’s worst-case scenarios, namely cuts to Pell Grants, the end of subsidized student loans or a government default that would leave student financial aid and other funding for colleges in limbo.

Here’s the breakdown: The agreement would cut $1 trillion right away and create a committee to reduce the deficit by another $1.5 trillion by November. If approved in Congress, it will avert default on the nation’s debts and ensure that the government has enough money for federal benefits, including student aid. In layman’s terms, the bill would provide $17 billion for the Pell Grant program but the measure would only be temporary. Because House conservatives oppose tax increases, it is likely that the committee charged with reducing the deficit will favor spending cuts over revenues increase, putting Pell Grants and other student aid programs at risk for cuts in the near future.

Do you think slashing funds for higher education is problematic? Let us know what you think.


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Debt Deal Not So for Graduate Students

by Suada Kolovic

If you’re a graduate student or considering graduate school, listen up: The debt deal reached by Congressional leaders and President Obama would make graduate school much more expensive.

According to the agreement, Congress would scrap subsidized federal loans for graduate students in an effort to trim the deficits. These loans don’t charge students any interest on the principal of student loans until six months after students have graduated; if they’re eliminated, some students will have to start paying back loans while they’re still in school. And if that isn’t bad enough, Congress will also ax a special credit for all students who make 12 months of on-time loan payments. The changes would take place July 1, 2012 and would save the government $21.6 billion over the next 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

For graduate students who do qualify for the maximum amount of subsidized loans, this new agreement could tack on thousands of dollars to the already staggering cost of going to school. The reason behind the changes is the theory that the money saved by the student loan cuts would help pay to keep Pell Grants, which so far are maintained at a maximum grant of $5,550 a year for some 8 million poor students. “Full funding for Pell Grants is absolutely essential to fulfilling the president's goal of the U.S. once again having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020," said Pauline Abernathy, vice president of the Institute for College Access & Success.

Those considering graduate school, will these changes affect your decision to attend?


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Amazon Launches Digital-Textbook Rental Service

by Suada Kolovic

Broke college students across the country have reason to rejoice: Amazon has unveiled an e-textbook-rental program which has the potential to save students up to 80 percent on textbooks!

The program will provide students with the opportunity to download temporary copies of textbooks from Amazon’s website for reading on a Kindle e-book reader, computer, tablet or smartphone running free Kindle software. The system allows customers to specify rental periods lasting anywhere from a month to a year. Students will have the option to purchase the e-book during or after a rental period, or extend a rental period in daily increments. Still not sold? Let’s use a real-life example: Intermediate Accounting retails at $197 in print and $109 as an e-book but with Amazon’s program, a student can rent the e-book for three months at the low price of $57!

And what about the students who scribble notes in the margins and saturate textbooks with fluorescent ink? Well, Amazon’s got that covered, too! Not only can students highlight and take notes in their digital textbooks but they’ll be able to refer to any margin notes and highlights made after the rental period is over. And with the cost of traditional print textbooks ranging in the thousands over the course of a college career, odds are rental programs like these will undoubtedly take off.


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UC Students to Face Additional Tuition Hike

UC Board Approves 9.6-Percent Increase

July 18, 2011

UC Students to Face Additional Tuition Hike

by Suada Kolovic

With the start of the fall semester just weeks away, University of California students can look forward to yet another tuition hike – a 9.6-percent increase, to be exact. On Thursday, the Board of Regents passed a $1,068 hike on top of a previously approved 8-percent hike for 2011-2012 school year. The regents voted 14-4 in favor of the second increase to cope with the $650 million cut in state funding for next year.

Undergraduate and graduate tuition for California residents will increase to $12,192 a year, not including room and board or campus fees. Now sure, that may not seem like much for college tuition but that’s a $1,890 (or 18 percent) increase from the amount UC undergraduates paid the previous year and more than three times what they paid a decade ago.

Leigh Mason, a fourth-year student and student government activist at UC San Diego, said the timing of the tuition increase so close to the fall term has families scrambling. “For a family and student to find that, means it's not only hard but for some impossible,” said Mason, of San Jose. “Why not go to each UC and cut some overhead before coming to us for more revenue?”

According to UC officials, financial aid and tax credits will cover the increased tuition for many families earning less than $80,000 a year and the tuition increases won’t be imposed this coming school year on many families earning less than $120,000 annually. What do you think of the timing of the tuition hike approval? Is it fair for families to face another increase in tuition so close to the start of the fall semester?


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Books on the House!

National Academies Press Puts All 4,000 Books Online for Free

June 3, 2011

Books on the House!

by Suada Kolovic

If you’re a college student on a budget, everything’s coming up roses for you today. Not only is it National Doughnut Day, where you can snag a complimentary tasty treat at Dunkin’ Donuts or Krispy Kreme (I did!) but the National Academies Press announced it will offer its entire PDF catalog of books for free. You read that right! The press, which is the publishing arm of the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Research Council, will offer files that can be downloaded by anyone absolutely free of charge.

Barbara Kline Pope, executive director for the press, said it had previously offered 65 percent of its titles – ones that were narrow in scope – for free. “The 35 percent that we are adding today will reach a wider audience, and we are doing it because it’s central to our mission to get this information to everyone,” she said. What can students, educators or anyone for that matter look forward to? A wide array of titles including “Prudent Practices in the Laboratory: Handling and Management of Chemical Hazards,” which costs $99.95 in hardcover. (Woah!)

“Eight years ago, if we did this, we would have lost substantial amounts of money,” Pope said. “But our costs have come down a lot, and our institution says they will stand behind us even if we do lose money.” Let’s hope this trend catches on and others jump on the freebie bandwagon!


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Helpful Tips on Maximizing Merit Aid

by Suada Kolovic

Figuring out the bottom line when it comes to the cost of your college education is definitely a stressful part of the process. With everything that goes into determining your financial aid package (your parents’ income, your earnings and your family’s net assets), it’s important to understand that merit aid – aid based on a student’s attributes (academics, athletics, extracurriculars, etc.) – is available to student regardless of their “need.” New federal rules are blurring the distinction between scholarships awarded on merit and grants awarded because of a student’s financial need – for instance, a growing number of colleges now award “need-based” aid to students from families earning six figures! Who would have thunk it?! So, we’ve compiled a few helpful tips to maximize your chances for merit aid and increase your overall financial aid package.

  • Fill out the FAFSA. Federal rules have changed. College aid officials are now allowed to award need-based aid to students whose parents earned decent salaries last year but have recently been laid off, as well as make accommodations for a family’s unique circumstances, such as high medical bills.
  • Apply to schools where you’d rank at the top. While your dream school might be an Ivy League, you should apply to at least a few colleges where your GPA would put you in the top 25 percent of the student body.
  • Apply to schools that offer generous need-based aid. In the 2009-10 academic year, Louisiana College reported that 88 percent of students were receiving non-need based financial aid. Do the schools you’re considering boast the same kind of aid?
  • Do the research. If you’re interested in a college, find out what it has to offer when it comes to merit aid. You might qualify for more awards than you think!
  • Before making a final decision, compare net prices. Consider the cost of attendance in its entirety including tuition and fees, room and board, books and transportation. The school that offers the most in merit aid might not be the best choice; sometimes the college offering the largest merit scholarship might have the highest net price because its tuition is higher.
  • Don’t be afraid to negotiate. Believe it or not, you have negotiating leverage when it comes to your merit aid package. If you have received admission letters from two or more universities and your first choice has a higher net price than your second choice, contact that institution! Some schools might be willing to match the merit aid offered, which would provide you the opportunity to attend your first choice school for less money!

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Top 10 Least Expensive Public Colleges for In-State Students

by Suada Kolovic

It seems like students are willing to do just about anything to save on tuition, from saying “I do” to asking for handouts to applying early and often for college scholarships. But what if you’re not willing to take the plunge, have a sense of humility and scholarships just aren’t covering the astronomical costs tied to college tuition? Then attending a public school might be your best bet and to slash the bill even further, selecting an in-state public school is the way to go!

According to a survey conducted by U.S. News, the average tuition and fees for in-state residents among the 452 public colleges that reported data was $7,042 for the 2010-11 school year. Check out the 10 least expensive public schools for in-state students, accounting for tuition and required fees (but not room and board, books, transportation or other miscellaneous college costs) below.

  1. New Mexico Highlands University
  2. Macon State College
  3. Fayetteville State University
  4. California State University—Northridge
  5. Elizabeth City State University
  6. University of Wyoming
  7. University of North Carolina—Pembroke
  8. North Carolina A&T State University
  9. Eastern New Mexico University
  10. Fort Hays State University

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Seven Tips for Repaying Your Student Loans

by Suada Kolovic

If you’re a recent college graduate, chances are you’ll have to start paying off your student loans sooner than you think. And even with the economy in a slump, don’t expect a free pass on not paying your loans. Are you starting to panic? Well, don’t! There’s a ton of advice out there to help students stay on track and courtesy of the U.S. News and World Report, here are seven tips for repaying your student loans.

  • Repay you student loans automatically. Make things easier on yourself by setting up automatic withdrawals from your bank account. This reduces the chance of late or missing payments.
  • Aim for 10 years. The traditional repayment period for student loans is 10 years and ideally you'll be able to pay off all your debt within that time period. If you end up struggling with your monthly payments, however, you could stretch out your loans to 20 or even 30 years. Your monthly payments will become more manageable but you will end up paying a lot more in interest.
  • Stay organized. Having multiple student loans can be a challenge to keep track of but with the government's National Student Loan Data System, you’ll be able to track all your federal student loans in one place.
  • Pay off the loans with the highest interest rates first. A high interest rate costs you every month and compounds that amount you owe every month you aren’t paying off the entire balance.
  • Consider IBR. The IBR is a federal Income-Based Repayment program that allows a borrower to repay his or her federal loans based on what is affordable and not what is owed.
  • Keep abreast of student loan developments. Staying informed is just as important as making your payments. Familiarize yourself with websites that are devoted to college debt issues like Project on Student Debt and the National Consumer Law Center's Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project.
  • Contact the Federal Student Aid Ombudsman. Sometimes your relationship with a lender can go belly-up. If you end up in a dispute, the Federal Student Aid Ombudsman may be able to help resolve the issue.

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Student Loans Leave Student $200,000 in Debt

Northeastern Grad Starts Website to Help Make Payments

November 23, 2010

Student Loans Leave Student $200,000 in Debt

by Suada Kolovic

Figuring out how to pay for a college education can be complicated, but what happens once you’ve graduated and your loans become so overbearing that even with a full-time job, monthly payment are implausible? A few weeks ago, we blogged that the average college student leaves school with $24,000 in debt, but what about the student who’s debt is about eight times that amount? Northeastern alum Kelli Space, 23, found herself in that exact predicament: With $200,000 in debt, Space was unable to pay her stifling student loans – her monthly payments to Sallie Mae are $891 and by next November that figure will nearly double – so she started a website, Two Hundred Thou, in order to solicit donations from the public.

The site is devoted to sharing her story about the naivety of an 18- year-old, who was the first in her family to attend college and her reliance on readers to foot the bill. Space explains, “At the moment, I like to think I have great things going for me! A job, an accommodating family, loyal friends, etc... but these loans are crippling my ability to enjoy these things – or pay rent. Can I live?” She goes on to explain that by donating to her cause, you’ll also be helping the country as a whole.

Two Hundred Thou also tracks Space’s progress and so far she’s raised $1,726.50, leaving a mere $198,273.50 to go. Space ends with the notion that once her student loans are paid off she’ll spend her money elsewhere, “probably single-handedly spurring the economy.” To think you’re just a click away from cleaning up the mess of a recent college graduate, while fixing the economy and helping the country as a whole – and at $200,000, that’s a bargain.

However, we should point out – before you lend a helping hand – that we really don’t know who this person is or even whether this story is embellished or even entirely fabricated. The domain is registered privately, hiding the identity of the registrant, and the email address is just a gmail account anybody could have created. Sure, maybe this is on the up-and-up, but there’s really no way of knowing. It wouldn’t be shocking to see a bunch of these sites spring-up if this idea gains traction and exposure.


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GOP Congressman: Pell Grants are Becoming ‘The Welfare of the 21st Century’

by Suada Kolovic

The GOP is no stranger to controversy and Friday’s interview with Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) was no exception. In a radio interview with Blog Talk Radio, Rehberg went on a rant in which he compared the Pell Grant Program – the nation’s largest financial aid program – to the likes of welfare and denounced the fact that students who receive them don’t have a graduation requirement. "You can go to school, collect your Pell Grants, get food stamps, low-income energy assistance, section 8 housing, and all of a sudden we find ourselves subsidizing people that don’t have to graduate from college.” Rehberg added under the federal program, a student could "go to school for nine years on Pell Grants and you don’t even have to get a degree."

Jason Delisle, director of the Federal Education Budget Project at the New America Foundation, took issue with Rehberg's comments. "I don't know if it's a fair characterization that someone has decided to go through the hoops of applying to college, getting enrolled and showing up every day because it's the welfare lifestyle," he said. "If the issue is people are being lazy and living off the dole, so to speak, I don't think their first step is to enroll in college."

For the 2012 fiscal year, the Pell Grant program is set to exceed $40 billion. Some lawmakers have been exploring ways to reduce the cost of the programs by lowering the maximum grant size – which is currently $5,550 – or restricting eligibility. In Montana, Rehberg recently voted for the House GOP budget resolution, which would reduce the maximum Pell Grant to $4,705 and narrow the eligibility of applicants. If you’re eligible for Pell Grants, what do you think? Are Rehberg’s assumptions out of line?


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