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The Deal with Debt

Who Owes What, Where and Why

October 22, 2010

The Deal with Debt

by Alexis Mattera

$24,000. To a recent graduate, that five-figure number could be 1. their starting salary at their first entry-level job or 2. the amount of student loan debt they have accrued while in school.

We’re going to talk about the second choice this morning, as a study by Peterson’s and the Project on Student Debt just revealed it was the average amount owed by graduates of the class of 2009. The study broke down debt levels by state and school (D.C. graduates had the highest while Utah students had the lowest) but did not include debt levels for graduates of for-profit schools because of a lack of data.

Arriving at these tallies didn’t come easy for the Project on Student Debt, which adjusted the averages initially recorded by Peterson’s ($22,500 and 58 percent of students who borrowed) because it felt they were too low when compared to the statistics recorded last year by the National Post Secondary Student Aid Study ($22,750 and 65 percent).

You may be one of the lucky students who scored enough scholarships and grants to have a degree in hand and no debt in sight or you may be flipping couch cushions in search of change to put toward your next payment but what do you think of these findings? A college degree certainly doesn’t come cheap these days!


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Fed Law Requires College Net Price Calculators, Experts Question Accuracy

by Alexis Mattera

How much will it cost to attend the school of your dreams? The federal government hopes its new law will make that question easier to answer but higher education experts have their doubts where accuracy is concerned.

By this October, the federal government will require all U.S. higher education institutions to offer net price calculators on their websites so prospective college students can easily compare attendance costs earlier in their college searches. Users will be asked questions about their financial and academic backgrounds and their answers – and the calculator’s tallies of tuition, fees, books, housing and food, minus scholarships and grants – will reveal the net price to attend that particular school. Though many experts are glad students will have access to this information, accuracy is a concern. Certain factors won’t be taken into consideration because direct student-to-school contact has been eliminated; for example, Washington University is willing to adjust financial aid packages if a parent loses their job and this might not be reflected in the calculators’ answers.

It’s likely the law will be revised to make side-by-side comparison more accurate before the calculators are implemented - read more about the net price calculators in today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch - but would you use this new technology or do you think it’s still too early to glean accurate information?


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UConn's New President Donates $100K for Scholarship

by Alexis Mattera

When most people start a new job, it takes a while for them to find their way and perfectly arrange their tchotchkes before they feel truly comfortable. Not Susan Herbst: She took over as president of the University of Connecticut just 22 days ago but she’s already made a huge impact on campus and beyond.

Herbst, the former executive vice chancellor of the University System of Georgia, and her husband, marketing consultant Douglas Hughes, have announced they will donate $100,000 to create a scholarship for needy UConn students pursuing degrees in the arts and humanities. "In these difficult times, UConn desperately needs increased private funding of student scholarships, faculty research, and building projects in order to become the top flagship university the state of Connecticut and its citizens deserve," she said in a statement.

The aptly-named Susan Herbst and Douglas Hughes Family Scholarship will be based on academic achievement and need and will be awarded for the first time next spring. Does this financial aid opportunity have you considering spending your college years in the Constitution State?


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The Good News and Bad News About State Aid for Students

by Alexis Mattera

There’s good news and bad news regarding state aid for students. The good: State financial aid for college students, including grants, work-study and loans, rose by nearly 4 percent last year. The bad: Just about half of the states surveyed cut need-based grants, even as demand for financial aid increased.

The data – from a report by the National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs – also revealed a 1-percent decline in overall state higher education spending and more money spent on need-based grants versus the amount spent on merit-based grants. While this means some students have access to resources that will help them complete college and bolster the economy, not all students are benefiting. Ohio, Alaska, Michigan, Hawaii and Utah have cut need-based grant funding by as much as 66 percent and in Georgia, lower award levels have been implemented for the HOPE Scholarship. And what about California and Washington, where financial aid increased? They’ve seen an increase in student-aid applications but cannot honor all requests because they have run out of money.

Experts view these findings as positive overall but are proceeding with “cautious optimism.” Do you agree or disagree with the actions taken thus far?


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The Recession: College’s Sorting Hat?

by Alexis Mattera

When the recession hit in 2008, higher education officials wondered how – not if – enrollment numbers would be impacted. Three years later, the damage has been revealed...and it’s not what anyone anticipated.

In a new report conducted by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, enrollment of traditional-age, first-time college students rose to 2.135 million in 2010, a 6.8-percent increase from 1.997 million in 2006. Enrollment at four-year public and private colleges remained relatively stable, as did retention and persistence rates, while more students than ever have enrolled in two-year colleges, from 41.7 percent in 2006 to 44.5 in 2009. The report suggests these students either 1. might have chosen a costlier school in a better economy or 2. would have otherwise joined the work force after high school. "The news of our demise is greatly exaggerated," Don Hossler, the center's executive director and a professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Indiana University at Bloomington, says of four-year institutions in general. "I was expecting more dramatic data, and thus far, the changes are not that dramatic." He does, however, go on to say that despite the encouraging findings, the recession's impact on college choices and educational paths may take years to emerge completely.

The report, "National Postsecondary Enrollment Trends: Before, During, and After the Great Recession," is the first in a series of analyses that the National Student Clearinghouse plans to release in the coming months. Given what you’ve seen or personally experienced, do you feel the results are accurate?


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Blogging Bridges the Digital Divide

by Alexis Mattera

Teaching students how to write (and write well) has long been a challenge for educators. Sure, there are always those students with a knack for style and syntax but how can teachers get less-proficient or ESL students excited about writing and bridge the digital divide at the same time? Through blogging.

Jon Schwartz, a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher from Oceanside, Calif., found that more than 60 percent of his students “came from households where English was the second language, or wasn’t spoken at all." To increase their interest in writing, Schwartz forewent the traditional pencil-to-paper route and introduced his students to blogging. After teaching them the basics, Schwartz required each student to submit a 90- to 100-word writing assignment each day. They had the option to turn in their assignments via the blog or on paper but after hearing how much some of Schwartz’s former students enjoyed blogging, almost all of them opted for the digital method.

From there, Schwartz said "creativity and productivity skyrocketed because they knew that their work had the potential to be viewed quickly by an authentic audience that mattered to them." In addition to the new-found enthusiasm about writing – Schwartz’s students continue to blog on their own time even when no assignment is required and utilize the Internet for research – the project has helped to bridge the digital divide. "If they aren’t trained to use the computer as a tool for learning, work, and personal growth, they’ll not be able to compete in high school, college, and job markets."

What do you think of Schwartz’s experiment? Would a program like this one get you more interested in writing in and out of the classroom?


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Could Foursquare Be the Next Big Thing on College Campuses?

by Alexis Mattera

It should come as no surprise that the number of higher education institutions with social media presences has skyrocketed over the last few years. Today, 98 percent of colleges are on Facebook, 84 percent are on Twitter and some of these savvy schools are beginning to complement the information shared through these platforms with the geo-social site, Foursquare.

According to a recent study, just 20 percent of campuses have an institutional presence on Foursquare. Though the usage is limited by comparison, officials at the schools using the site are finding it is an effective tool for engaging with students. How? First, a quick breakdown for the uninitiated: Foursquare uses the geo-locator technology built into smartphones and encourages users to “check in” virtually at places they’re visiting in real life, leave notes for future visitors and possibly earn perks (discounts, badges, etc.) for doing so.

While Liz Gross, director of university marketing and communications at the University of Wisconsin at Waukesha, says, “You can’t say ‘10 percent off tuition for checking in,’ or ‘free tuition for the mayor,’” she does believe foursquare allows administrators a direct way “to tap in to student engagement.” Texas A&M is doing it right – the winner of a recent Foursquare scavenger hunt throughout campus earned a 30-percent discount at the school bookstore – and Syracuse University will soon offer a special badge to users checking in at campus venues and could eventually allow students to redeem badges for campus bucks.

Do you think incentivizing students is the best way to engage them or is organic involvement more effective?


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Head Out of State for an In-State Price

by Alexis Mattera

Scenario: Your dream school is beyond state boundaries but your college fund is more suited to a college closer to home. Don't fret: If you know what and where you want to study, you could score an impressive tuition break through a regional discount program. Here's the breakdown:

New England Regional Student Program: Students living in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island or Vermont could be eligible for average savings of $7,000 per year through this program if they enroll in a degree program not available at public schools in their home state. One drawback – if majors are changed, recipients may no longer be eligible for the tuition break.

Academic Common Market: Southerners (aka those living in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia or West Virginia) follow the same guidelines as the NERSP but with some additional restrictions. For example, schools in Florida, North Carolina, and Texas only offer tuition reductions at the graduate level.

Western Undergraduate Exchange: Do you live in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington or Wyoming and want $7,500 per year in average college savings? WUE requirements vary from state to state and campus to campus but more than 26,000 residents took advantage of the program last year...so, interested students, apply early to ensure funding.

Midwest Student Exchange Program: Students from Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota or Wisconsin can save an average of $4,274 per year on tuition without being restricted by majors. The catch is that schools (public and private this time) can limit what degree programs qualify for this discount.


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New Study Explores Higher Ed Stratification

by Alexis Mattera

Money may not be able to buy happiness or love but a new study shows it’s an integral factor in getting into college.

The study – “Running in Place: Low-Income Students and the Dynamics of Higher Education Stratification” – reveals that despite efforts to attract and enroll more low-income students, such students are still more likely to attend community colleges or noncompetitive four-year universities than more elite schools. These students are indeed taking the steps necessary to increase their grades and standardized test scores but their wealthier counterparts are taking wider, faster strides toward the same goal.

According to the study’s lead author and associate professor of higher education at the University of Michigan Michael N. Bastedo, “The distance between academic credentials for wealthy students and low-income students is getting longer and longer...and that’s despite the fact that low-income students are rising in their own academic achievement.” Selective colleges claim they want to bring in more low-income students but the study’s authors say ancillary factors like higher/better job placement and more generous alumni are proving detrimental.

There is much more to the study here including the authors’ suggestions for improving equity (i.e., optional SATs, greater access to Advanced Placement and honors courses). Take a look and share your thoughts!


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Roommate Request Accepted

Students Find Dorm Roommates via Social Networks

August 8, 2011

Roommate Request Accepted

by Alexis Mattera

When I began college, I knew three people at my school of choice: a high school classmate, a friend of a friend set to become an RA and a girl I met while we were both waiting to triple jump at a track meet. This was fine by me, as I was excited to meet new people and thought the best way to do so would be to go the random roommate route. It didn’t work out but today, some incoming freshmen aren’t tempting their roommate fate and finding the person they’ll share an 11’-by-14’ room with online, the Washington Post reports.

With the advent of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, it’s easy for first-time college students to seek out their ideal roommates based on their online profiles and 140-character musings on life. While some schools still prefer having control over housing assignments to ensure new students are exposed to different points of view – the University of Virginia has seen requests for first-year roommates skyrocket over the past five years and can no longer honor all requests – others are slowly but surely embracing social networking as a resource. At American University, incoming students are presented with a list of possible roommate matches based on their replies to short questionnaires and the University of Maryland has set up its own internal social network for admitted students to get to know each other and look for roommates. These methods can result in fewer roommate conflicts but some college officials – and even some students – fear they focus on the wrong qualities: One USC student revealed a few potential roommates asked her for her clothing and shoe sizes, not what her sleep and study habits were.

Current and soon-to-be college students, did you find your first-year roommate online or did you let your school choose for you? What characteristics did you cite as important in a roommate? Do you regret your decision?


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