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Senate Holds Confirmation Hearing for Arne Duncan

January 14, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

During his confirmation hearing Tuesday, Arne Duncan, Obama's appointee for Education Secretary, disclosed broad ideas but few specific plans for education in America.  Much of the hearing before the U.S. Senate focused on elementary and secondary education, though questions related to paying for college did surface.  Duncan's primary focuses appear to be on college access and college affordability, moving away from the emphasis on accountability the nation has seen under Margaret Spellings, the current Secretary of Education.

According to coverage by The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed, Duncan's primary goal related to college aid is to guarantee access to student loans for everyone attending college.  Taking up one aspect of Spellings' policy, he also expressed an interest in simplifying the FAFSA to make applying for federal student financial aid more enticing for college students.  Additionally, Duncan pledged to work towards the goals of increasing Federal Pell Grants and instituting the $4,000 education tax credit that made up a major part of Obama's campaign platform.

Congress may already be taking steps towards some of these goals in drafting the next economic stimulus package.  Reports have abounded this week that plans are in the works to increase the maximum available Pell Grant by $500 and to consolidate two existing federal higher education tax options into one $3,000 tax credit for higher education expenses.

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Paying Tuition on Time Getting Tougher in Recession

January 13, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

While the focus for many students right now is planning for and paying for the next year of college, some students are still struggling with bills from the current or previous semester.  An e-mail survey by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers reports a perceived increase in unpaid tuition bills in the 2008-2009 academic year.  While being caught short on one semester's tuition can seem stressful enough, it can carry serious consequences for college students.

For students with the funds to easily cover tuition, either through family income, college savings plans, or financial aid awards, the figure on their bursar bill may be unpleasant, but it is soon forgotten.  However, carrying a bursar balance--in some cases, even a small one--can cut off your ability to register for classes, request transcripts, and even graduate, among other consequences.  Students who are unable to pay for a semester by the school's deadline may even find themselves dropped from their classes and kicked off campus.  These consequences can essentially derail your education, and many students who take a semester off from college to save money and pay off bills never go back to finish.

Luckily, as Kim Clark stresses in an article on the subject in U.S. News and World Report, universities are willing to work with students to keep them enrolled and get their bills paid, especially in the current economic climate.  Many schools are establishing or adding to emergency loan and grant funds to help students stay in school.  Federal student financial aid is also still available mid-term.  You can still complete the FAFSA for 2008-2009 anytime before June 30.  Even if you've already applied for the current year, talking to the financial aid office could still come through big time, especially if your circumstances have changed. Federal grants, as well as some campus-based programs may be available to students whose family contributions have significantly dipped.  While Clark's article emphasizes the surprising success networking and asking family for donations can bring, conducting a scholarship search may be a safer bet. Most importantly, be sure to stay in communication with your school. You may have to deal with three different offices on campus, but don't get discouraged.  The process may be more streamlined than you'd expect.  It is possible to stay enrolled regardless of the financial troubles you're facing.

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The Lowe's Scholarship

January 12, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Many businesses give back to the communities that support them by offering scholarship opportunities for local students.  Similarly, a number of prominent companies with a national scope offer generous corporate scholarships, such as this week's Scholarship of the Week.  The Lowe's Scholarship is a national scholarship program for high school seniors with annual prizes of up to $15,000 awarded based on academics, involvement, and leadership qualities.

Prize: A total of 375 scholarship awards:

  • 352 $1,000 scholarships given to students across the country
  • 22 $5,000 scholarships awarded to the most qualified applicant from each region
  • 1 $15,000 scholarship to the most qualified applicant nationally

Eligibility: The Lowe’s Scholarship is open to all high school seniors who plan to attend any accredited 2-year or 4-year college or university within the United States. Winners are selected based on leadership qualities, community involvement and academic performance. 

Deadline: March 15, 2009

Required Material: Completed online scholarship application found on the Lowe's Scholarship website.

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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State Higher Ed Spending Growth Slows Significantly

January 9, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

The Illinois State University Center for the Study of Education Policy released its annual report on state tax support for higher education today.  According to the Grapevine report, the best case scenario is that for fiscal year 2008-2009 (July 1, 2008-June 30, 2009), state higher education spending grew by an average of 0.9 percent across the country.  The report acknowledges this figure is likely rather optimistic, as many states are still in the process of trimming budgets for the current fiscal year, and some are requesting that colleges not spend appropriations they've already received.

While almost flat growth in state spending nationwide is bad enough, the picture looks even worse compared to last year's growth of 7.5 percent, the largest year-to-year increase in higher education spending since 1985.  Some states have cut education spending significantly, such as South Carolina and Alabama, whose state education budgets have seen decreases of 17.7 percent and 10.5 percent respectively.  Some states still are showing substantial increases in higher ed spending for the current year.  The two biggest increases, in Wyoming and Hawaii, are 10.9 and 10.6 percent.

Coupled with shrinking endowments and more student requests for financial aid, this news isn't good for state colleges and universities.  Tuition increases, including some substantial ones, are becoming increasingly likely for 2009-2010, despite families' increasing inability to pay for school out of pocket or access lines of credit such as private student loans.  This is yet another reason to fill out a FAFSA and do a scholarship search today.

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Fifth Third Bank Involved in Student Loan Scandal

January 8, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Fifth Third Bank could potentially lose its right to participate in the Federal Family Education Loan Program, the Department of Education's program that allows private banks to offer Stafford Loans and PLUS loans.  An audit by the Department of Education's Office of the Inspector General suggests that Fifth Third may have offered illegal inducements to third-party lenders.  Lenders that participate in FFELP, such as Fifth Third, are legally allowed to act as trustees for third-party non-FFELP lenders, allowing the non-FFELP lenders to make or purchase federal student loans.  Fifth Third's actions in some of these "eligible lender trustee" agreements have come under scrutiny, resulting in the audit and harsh recommendations from the Office of the Inspector General.

Fifth Third and the now-defunct Student Loan XPress entered into eligible lender trustee agreements with three lenders: MSA Solution Inc., Pacific Loan Processing Inc., and Law School Financial.  The two FFELP lenders then paid these three trustees premiums to generate higher volumes of student loans.  According to the audit, this violates federal law and could cost Fifth Third its status as an FFELP lender.  The Office of the Inspector General also recommended that the Department of Education further penalize Fifth Third through fines and the withholding of federal guarantees on the over $3 billion in loans generated through these agreements.

This is not the first time an FFELP lender has come under fire for lending practices.  Over the past two years, numerous lenders have been investigated by the Department of Education or New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo for questionable actions ranging from bribing schools for places on preferred lender lists to recycling loans through a loophole to claim millions of dollars in federal subsidies.

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Obama Transitional Website Seeks Comments on College Affordability

January 7, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Barack Obama became known for his web presence during his Presidential campaign.  He and his transition team have kept up this reputation through YouTube addresses and websites such as Change.gov, the official transitional website.  Now the Obama transition team is asking for public comments--or at least blog comments--on issues related to paying for school.  A post on the Change.gov blog is currently soliciting feedback about college affordability.  While there's no guarantee that the President-elect himself will read your post, if you would like to weigh in on educational policy at least in a small way, you can view and comment on the January 5 Change.gov blog post "Keeping College Affordable." 

The blog post, along with many other recent discussions of college costs, makes a nod to former Rhode Island senator Clairborne Pell, who passed away on January 1.  Pell was instrumental in shaping the current federal student financial aid system by helping create the Federal Pell Grant, which was named after him.  Pell Grants continue to make up an important part of the financial aid packages of many students, covering up to the full cost of tuition at some state and community colleges

However, as tuition costs rise, Pell Grants and other sources of federal aid are not enough to make college affordable for an increasingly large number of students.  During his campaign, Obama proposed a few substantial changes to the way college financial aid is structured, and hopefully his administration will do more to seek out and act upon feedback from those who are struggling with the costs associated with higher education.  However, if you're skeptical, or just looking for more immediate ways to make college affordable, there are resources available.  Start with a free college scholarship search on Scholarships.com.  Many scholarship application deadlines are approaching in the coming months, but there is still abundant scholarship money for those who take the time to apply.

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More Colleges Increase Scholarships

January 6, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Full-tuition scholarships, half-tuition scholarships, and financial aid packages free of student loans continue to be unveiled at institutions across the country.  While it may be too late for many students to alter their college application plans, if you are still looking for colleges for 2009, or if you happen to have applied to one of these schools, you may find the following information useful.  This week, The Chronicle of Higher Education profiled several significant scholarship programs private, community, and state colleges are launching or expanding for incoming students in 2009.

Northern Illinois University recently announced the Huskie Advantage, a program that will ensure that all incoming freshmen eligible for Federal Pell Grants will receive enough financial aid to meet the full cost of tuition.  Similarly, Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania is raising money to provide larger scholarships to students who receive a small Pell Grant or narrowly miss the cutoff for Pell eligibility.

The University of Pennsylvania will be eliminating student loans from the financial aid packages of all students this fall.  It's the latest in a string of well-endowed private colleges to put forward generous institutional aid for its students.  The Sage Colleges of New York are also following suit, promising to offer aid to meet new students' full financial need in the next academic year.

Two private colleges in Georgia and Minnesota aren't eliminating loans, but they are drastically reducing the cost of college for many applicants.  Agnes Scott College in Georgia is offering scholarships and grants to nearly halve the cost of attendance for all recipients of the Georgia Hope Scholarship, as well as an additional $3,000 grant for first-year students.  Saint Mary's University of Minnesota offers students with family incomes of under $100,000 financial aid packages that will reduce the cost of attendance to the average price of a Big Ten school.  For the neediest 25 percent of students, St. Mary's will provide all of this aid institutionally, allowing students to use federal student financial aid to cover much of the rest of their college costs.

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Scholarships.com College Science Scholarship

January 5, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

While white lab coats and futuristic gadgets dominate the public perception of scientists, as a current or future science major you can expect to play a different, but still essential, role in society once you complete your college education.  Scientists are forever surveying the land, sea and sky to help us understand and make the best of the resources that surround us. To encourage further research and development, Scholarships.com has created a college scholarship especially for current and future students of a wide variety of scientific disciplines. If you’re the science type, take advantage of this scholarship opportunity.

Students who apply for the Scholarships.com College Science Scholarship, this week's Scholarship of the Week, will have the chance to earn $1,000 for college. Best of all, the scholarship application process couldn’t be easier. Just respond to the following question in a 250 to 350 word essay (entries that fall outside of this word range will be disqualified): "What has influenced your decision to pursue a career in science?"

Prize: $1000

Eligibility: U.S. citizen Registered Scholarships.com user. Creating an account is simple and free of charge.  After you have created an account, conduct a free scholarship search to view and apply for this award. Undergraduate student currently enrolled or a high school senior who plans to enroll in a college or university in the coming academic year Applicant must have indicated an interest in one of the following majors:

  • Aerospace Technologies
  • Agriculture/Agribusiness
  • Animal Husbandry
  • Animal Science/Dairy
  • Anthropology
  • Applied Science
  • Astronomy
  • Botany
  • Chemistry
  • Communication Sciences
  • Crystallography
  • Earth Sciences
  • Ecology
  • Enology
  • Estuarine Science
  • Entomology
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Health
  • Environmental Science
  • Environmental Studies
  • Family & Consumer Sciences
  • Fishery Science/Management
  • Food Science/ Food Industry
  • Forensics(Medical)
  • Forestry/Natural Resources
  • Genealogy
  • Genetics
  • Geological Sciences
  • Geophysics
  • Horticulture/Floriculture
  • Library Sciences
  • Marine Science
  • Medical Lab Technician
  • Medical Technologist
  • Metallurgy
  • Meteorological Science
  • Microbiology
  • Mineralogy
  • Molecular Genetics
  • Natural Resources Technologies
  • Natural Sciences
  • Neural & Behavioral Science
  • Neurosciences
  • Nuclear Sciences
  • Nutrition Studies
  • Oceanography
  • Oncology
  • Ornithology
  • Pharmacology
  • Physics
  • Physiology
  • Plastics
  • Polymer Technology
  • Pulp & Paper Science
  • Radiology
  • Science (General)
  • Science (Health)
  • Science (Social)
  • Sociology
  • Veterinary
  • Water & Soil Conservation
  • Zoology

Deadline: February 28, 2009

Required Material: A 250-350 word response to the following question: “What has influenced your decision to pursue a career in science?”

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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Community Service Rewarded through Campus-Based Scholarships

January 2, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

If you've started volunteering as part of a New Year's resolution, or just because it's something you enjoy, chances are you were thinking more of other people than of yourself when you signed up.  However, the altruistic nature of community service doesn't mean that there are no tangible rewards.  Volunteering makes a great line on a resume and a college application, and is also excellent scholarship essay fodder.  As an added bonus, a growing number of colleges and foundations are awarding substantial amounts of scholarship money for students who devote their time and energy to helping others.

An article on Forbes.com profiles several of the most generous campus-based community service scholarship programs.  Several of these include full-tuition scholarships for students who have participated in volunteer programs in the past or who are interested in making community service a major part of their college experience.  Drew University in New Jersey has recently unveiled a brand new civic scholarship program, following in the footsteps of The College of New Jersey, which also offers a sizable service learning award.  Dozens of other colleges also offer similar scholarship opportunities, many of which are funded through the Bonner Foundation and AmeriCorps.

These full-tuition service scholarship awards can be wholly merit-based or partially need-based.  One reason for colleges' increased interest in service learning awards could be due to their potential to help students feel more involved and thus become more likely to succeed in college.  The Forbes article cited Pat Donahue, director of the civic scholarship program at The College of New Jersey, as saying that service learning has helped retain several at-risk students who are otherwise less likely to complete a degree than many of their peers.

Service scholarships have also been described by some as the new athletic scholarships for a generation of students devoting more time to service than to studying or sports.  As athletic and academic scholarships are as much contingent on future success as on past experiences, so are service scholarships, which often require students to continue volunteering and participating in special courses and activities throughout their college careers.

To find out more about the Bonner Foundation, AmeriCorps, and other community service scholarships, conduct a free college scholarship search on Scholarships.com.

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2009-2010 FAFSA Available Tomorrow

December 31, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

Though it's a day off from school and work, New Year's Day is often seen as a day to get down to business.  While you're starting in on your New Year's resolutions, opening up a new calendar, and packing up the holiday decorations, there's one more thing that college students and college-bound high school students should consider doing.  The Department of Education starts accepting the 2009-2010 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (more commonly known as "FAFSA") on January 1.  State application deadlines start happening soon after, beginning with Connecticut's February 15 priority deadline.  So while you might not be starting school until August or September, you want to be applying for financial aid right now.

What You Need

In order to complete a FAFSA, you will need the following documents: 

     
  • your social security card
  •  
  • a driver's license if you have one
  •  
  • bank statements and records of investments (if you have any)
  •  
  • records of untaxed income (again, if you have any)
  •  
  • your 2008 tax return and W2s
  •  
  • all of the above for your parents if you are considered a dependent (to determine dependency status, check here)
  •  
  • a PIN number to sign electronically (go to pin.ed.gov to get one)
  •  
 If you've applied before, you can fill out a renewal FAFSA, which will let you skip a few questions.  You will still need your tax, savings, and investment information for the new year, though.

If you do not have your tax information yet, and most likely you don't, you can use your 2007 tax information to estimate 2008.  That way, you have a FAFSA on file and once you've done your taxes for the new year, you'll be able to submit a correction online.  While that might seem like more work, it's the best recipe for maximizing your state and campus-based aid packages.  If things changed drastically for your family in 2008, apply for student financial aid with the information you have, then talk to your school's financial aid office to adjust your information accordingly.

Why You Should Apply

Completing a FAFSA is an important step in funding your education if you don't plan on paying for everything out-of-pocket.  The FAFSA is used by the Department of Education to determine eligibility for federal student financial aid for college.  This aid includes federal grant programs (such as the Pell Grant), federal work-study, and federal student loans.  It is also used by states to determine eligibility for their financial aid programs, such as state grants.  Colleges also use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for the need-based aid programs they administer.  Finally, many scholarship opportunities request FAFSA information as part of their application process.  Even if you think that you won't qualify for free money in the form of need-based college scholarships and grants, you should still apply.  At the minimum, the vast majority of students qualify for Stafford Loans, low-interest federal student loans that represent one of the best deals in borrowing for school.

Where To Get More Information

Start on the FAFSA homepage and go through the links under "Before Beginning a FAFSA" to get started, especially if this is your first time filing.  You'll find information about application deadlines, required documents, applying for a PIN, and other things you need to know about to begin.  If you don't want to wait until tomorrow, 2009-2010 worksheets are already available on fafsa.ed.gov.  The ambitious among us can even fill out a worksheet now, then copy the information into their FAFSA on the Web beginning tomorrow.

We also offer a wealth of resources on financial aid at Scholarships.com.  Check out the financial aid section on our Resources page for further reading.

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