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by Emily

While prospective college freshmen are already beginning to fill out their college applications in preparation for fall application deadlines, transfer students traditionally enjoy a bit more leeway. However, the sharp state budget cuts and larger enrollments in community and state colleges this year may mean that students planning to transfer from a two-year to a four-year school will want to get their applications together as early as possible this year.

California, a state whose severe budget crisis has made it something of a canary in the mineshaft for most funding issues this year, has recently begun turning transfer students away in droves from its four-year public colleges. The reason: the state university systems have had to cut back enrollments across the board, and after many decisions had already been made for the academic year now underway, in order to deal with a sharp decrease in available state funding for the current fiscal year.

This means that many conditionally admitted transfer students have been told they need to wait a year or look elsewhere, simply because they didn't correctly complete all the necessary steps far enough ahead of time to secure seats in state universities for the fall and spring semesters this year. This leaves students applying last-minute to pricey private colleges, vying for seats in courses that likely won't even count just to kill time until the next admissions cycle, or even dropping out for a semester or more.  The state's budget picture shows no signs of improving, meaning transfer students will likely need to contend with the same situation next year, as well.

While other state university systems haven't had to cap or reduce enrollments or close budget holes to the same extent as California, a decrease in funding coupled with an increase in interest in state and community colleges may still result in wrenches being thrown in many students' transfer plans. More students at community colleges will make it harder for some students to get into classes they need to complete to successfully transfer to a four-year college. More students applying to state colleges means available seats may fill up faster and transfer applications may be delayed. It can also mean stiffer competition for financial aid, such as transfer student scholarships. Like in California, it could also mean that students whose transfer applications are not perfect the first time may see their plans derailed, or at least delayed, much more easily than in previous semesters.

Because of these concerns, students who are planning to transfer from a community college to a state college (and also students considering a move between four-year schools) will want to stay in touch with their academic advisors this year and complete all required steps as quickly as possible. Make sure you are applying for admission and aid well ahead of deadlines, and make sure you're meeting all requirements to ensure a smooth transfer process. Staying on top of things this fall can save you headaches, and possibly money, when it's time to switch schools.


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by Emily

Colleges across the country have had to make sweeping budget cuts to cope with substantial endowment losses and reductions in state funding sustained as a result of the recession. In many places, these cuts have led to fewer instructors, larger class sizes, and fewer course offerings. In addition to potentially reducing the quality of instruction students receive (even as they see their tuition continuing to rise dramatically), these factors are also making it harder for students to graduate on time.

An Associated Press article details the struggles some students at state colleges are facing trying to finish their educational careers. Despite the limits placed on freshmen and transfer enrollment this year, upperclassmen in California, as well as other states facing large-scale financial difficulties, are finding it nearly impossible to get into the classes they need to complete their plans of study.

Some students are able to only enroll part-time, jeopardizing their financial aid eligibility, while others are spending money on classes that basically amount to filler, at least as far as education requirements are concerned. Still other students may be choosing to take a semester or more off from school when faced with the prospect of being unable to enroll in any of the classes they want or need to take. Even more frustrating for students who need to take specific courses to graduate is that along with overstuffing sections of popular classes, universities are more likely to cut sections and courses (and even departments) with low enrollments to conserve resources, potentially leaving even more students high and dry.

Aside from analyzing every possible approach to fulfilling their degree requirements; petitioning professors, colleges, and department heads to grant exceptions in the wake of overflowing classrooms; and being sure to register as early as possible for next semester, there are few other options available to undergraduate students caught in this situation. However, students who are in the midst of their college searches can take steps to protect themselves against canceled classes and prolonged stays in college. A growing number of schools offer four-year graduation guarantees and accelerated degree programs, allowing students who can make the commitments required to avoid frustrations and minimize their time to degree.


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by Emily

The global economic recession of 2008-2009 has had an impact on seemingly every aspect of life, especially large expenses like college tuition. There has been much speculation about the economy's effect on college financial aid, and as the fall semester gets underway at colleges across the nation, information is starting to emerge that helps paint a picture of paying for school in a recession. So far, the results are mixed.

While a poll by Gallup and Sallie Mae showed fewer students borrowing for college this year, a survey conducted by NASFAA, the National Association of Financial Aid Administrators, shows more students applying for and receiving federal student financial aid this year than last year. Additional data from the Department of Education also backs this up, showing 25 percent more borrowing in federal student loan programs this year.

The NASFAA survey of nearly 500 financial aid offices shows that in comparison to the same time last year, 61 percent of colleges and universities are seeing an increase of 10 percent or more in financial aid applications, with 63 percent of institutions also seeing a significant increase in Pell Grant awards this year. Only 8 percent of institutions saw no increase in aid applications, with only 5 percent reporting no increase in Pell awards. Also, despite 65 percent of schools seeing an increase in financial aid appeals by 10 percent or more, 51 percent saw an increase of 10 percent or more in the number of students with unmet financial need.

Additionally, the majority of colleges have increased institutional aid (such as scholarships and grants), with 74 percent of four-year colleges and universities offering some increase in aid. Community colleges were the majority of institutions not increasing aid, with many citing a lack of available funding as the reason for this decision.

Many of the changes found by NASFAA and the Department of Education can be attributed to the federal response to the economic downturn. The increased borrowing is most likely due to the increases in loan limits, with larger unsubsidized Stafford loans being made available to both undergraduate and graduate students in the last two years. Financial aid administrators speculate that the increased aid awards are likely due to a combination of the increasing unemployment rate, changes in rules for adjusting financial aid awards, and nationwide awareness campaigns to let those collecting unemployment benefits know they are eligible for increased financial aid for college.


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by Emily

Personal savings, college endowments and college savings plans all suffered when the stock market took a nose dive last fall. Students, families and even schools who thought they were financially secure soon learned otherwise and had to scramble to come up with alternative plans to pay bills. Now that things are beginning to even out and return to a state of normalcy, those affected by the recession are looking towards recovery and assessing their long-term plans. For some college savings plans, especially "guaranteed" tuition savings plans, the future looks particularly bleak, even without further financial setbacks.

Guaranteed tuition savings plans are one of several types of college savings plans, which allow families to save for college tax-free and often involve other incentives, as well. Prepaid tuition savings plans allow families to pay tuition ahead of time at certain schools, ensuring that bills will be paid for students, even if tuition skyrockets, as it seems likely to continue doing. Many families in states where they're offered have purchased them for young children who may not be attending college for another 15 years or more, but some plans have already begun to run out of money due to losses in the stock market and the sharp rise of college costs.

As a result, states including Texas, Alabama and Pennsylvania are struggling with the prospect of not being able to fund their current obligations to these plans. Several prepaid tuition plans have been closed off to new investors, including the plans in Texas and Alabama. Despite this, Alabama may not have enough money to pay tuition for all students currently enrolled in its prepaid plan. Pennsylvania has introduced legislation to remove "guaranteed" from its tuition savings plan's name and make it clear that the state has no obligation to bail out the plan if it doesn't earn enough money to meet its obligations.

Texas has also announced a rule change for people who currently have money invested in its guaranteed tuiton plan. When they invested, families were told that if their children did not go to one of the state colleges whose tuition the plan will fully fund, they would be able to close their account and withdraw the full amount of tuition at those institutions at that time. Now, the Texas Prepaid Higher Education Tuition Board has said that families whose children do not attend one of the schools included in the plan can only withdraw the amount they invested, minus an administrative fee. State legislators have urged the board to reconsider, but so far it appears that those with money invested have three choices: they can pull their money out before the rule goes into effect on October 30, they can limit their children's college choices to those sanctioned by the tuition savings plan, or they can take a guaranteed loss on their "guaranteed" tuition investment.

To help you avoid the problems currently facing Texas parents, US News has a helpful article on questions to ask before investing in a prepaid college savings plan. Prepaid tuition plans, 529 plans, and other college savings vehicles can still be a good idea, even though they've been through difficult times. As with many things, the trick to being successful in your choice is first doing your research and figure out which plan is best for you and your family.


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by Emily

Earlier this summer, it came to light that for some students in Illinois, being accepted by state colleges was less about what they knew than who they knew, as an investigation into admission practices revealed the existence of a special clout list of well-connected applicants to the University of Illinois. Now, the Associated Press is reporting that some college scholarships in the state may be governed by a similar principle.

Each Illinois state representative is given the equivalent of two four-year full-tuition scholarships to award to his or her constituents each year. Some representatives choose to break up their scholarship awards into eight one-year full-tuition awards, while others choose to hand out two-year or four-year scholarships. At least 83 of these scholarships went to students with some form of political connections between 2008 and 2009. Of these scholarships, 41 went directly to the children of donors to the politician making the award.

While the lawmakers award the scholarships, the universities are responsible for finding the funding for each award. After state colleges and universities, as well as the majority of the state's grant programs for low-income students have faced steep budget cuts this year, these General Assembly scholarships have drawn substantial ire from critics who feel the $12.5 million currently allocated to the program could go to better use elsewhere.

Representatives deny impropriety, but it seems that families in Illinois who have seen their 529 plans shrink in the recession may want to consider taking their college savings and investing them in their representative's next reelection campaign.


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by Emily

The new Post-9/11 GI Bill went into effect on August 1, bringing expanded educational benefits for students who have served in the military since 2001. These benefits are supposed to be available to students for the fall semester, but a mounting backlog of applications has the Department of Veterans Affairs saying recipients should expect processing delays of up to 8 weeks.

This means that many veterans attending college may not receive their first payments from the VA until potentially October or even November, despite classes starting in August and September. So not only will their tuition and fees go unpaid, but they also will have to find other sources of funding for housing, books, and living expenses, which many veterans expected to rely on VA stipends to pay. While most colleges are working with their veteran students to arrange stopgap financial aid, the delayed payments still represent a huge problem for students going back to school after military service.

The application process for VA benefits under the GI Bill is somewhat complex and involves multiple steps between a student's initial decision to enroll in college and his or her ultimate receipt of a check from the VA. Students, schools, and the VA all need to complete paperwork to set up benefits, and May 7 was the earliest students could begin applying. In addition, current VA employees and new hires needed to be trained to process applications under the new program, so processing is taking longer than normal.

Add in the popularity of the expanded GI Bill benefits, the recession bringing students back to college in droves (with fewer financial resources available to them), and colleges across the country dealing with massive budget crises and increased demand for emergency aid, and you get the potential for disaster. More students are applying for benefits, the VA is less able to process these applications in a timely manner, and schools have more students in difficult situations to assist. All parties have fewer resources at their disposal to deal with the situation, making it still more challenging.

Still, vets who have found their benefits delayed should talk to the financial aid and veteran's affairs contacts at their school if they need additional financial aid to cover their expenses in the short term. While money is scarce, it is still available in most cases.


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by Emily

Even in the face of a continuing recession, new scholarship opportunities are being made available to students in a variety of situations. Recently, students in two communities in Michigan, a state hit especially hard by economic problems, have received news of scholarship programs that will give them significant help paying for school, even as the state considers cutting funding to one of its largest merit scholarship awards.

Baldwin, a community in rural northern Michigan, is the first to take advantage of the state's "Promise Zones" program, which allows areas with a high percentage of poor students to use state property tax funds to provide college scholarships for their students. Baldwin plans to offer scholarships of up to $5,000 for up to four years to current high school seniors. Up to nine other high-poverty communities in Michigan are eligible to participate in the program, provided they, like Baldwin, raise money to fund their scholarships for the first two years of awards. The Promise Zone funding, like the state's endangered Michigan Promise scholarship, were inspired by the Kalamazoo Promise scholarship, a full-tuition scholarship award created by an anonymous private donor that allows graduates of Kalamazoo public schools to attend any college in Michigan for four years.

Another Michigan community has also unveiled a substantial scholarship program for its high school students, this time a four-year full-tuition award to Finlandia University for all graduates of public schools in Hancock, a tiny mining town in the state's Upper Peninsula, who gain admission to the college. The scholarship program was created as Finlandia's way of paying the community for the use of a building that the school district no longer needed. Rather than working out a traditional payment plan for the purchase of the building, something complicated by tighter credit requirements, Finlandia proposed a deal that would provide more immediate and tangible benefits to the students of Hancock. The scholarships will be offered to members of Finlandia's current freshmen class and to subsequent graduates of Hancock's schools.

Local scholarships like these exist for communities nationwide, and are likely to seek out inventive ways to find funding, as community members are committed to helping their neighbors succeed. To find out more about scholarship opportunities for students in your area, conduct a free scholarship search.


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by Emily

Penn State University's Schreyer Honors College offers admitted students $3,500 per year merit scholarships, a common practice among state colleges that want to entice the best students to attend. Students at Penn State and their parents are doing something unique with these scholarship awards, though: they're giving them to other Schreyer students.

Parents of scholarship recipients who did not apply for need-based financial aid receive a letter asking them to consider making a donation in the amount of the scholarship their children received. The letter, penned by the parents of other Schreyer students, emphasizes the amount of unmet financial need some of their children's classmates face and asks them to consider whether they need the extra $3,500 in order to pay their tuition bill. If not, they are asked to give the money to students for whom the extra money could make the difference between attending college at Penn State and staying home.

The university stresses that students are not being asked to give up their academic scholarships in this campaign. Rather, they ask that parents who can spare the extra money because their child received a scholarship would consider donating to help other deserving students who last year had more than $1 million in unmet financial need.

Honors colleges, even at large state universities, tend to be relatively close-knit communities of top-performing students who are engaged in their studies and their campus communities. It's not surprising, then, that parents of Schreyer Honors College students hit upon an idea to help their children's struggling classmates last year when the economy first began to sink into recession. The campaign was initiated by parents and supported by the university, which sends the letters on the parents' behalf.

Last year's appeal raised around $228,000, with over $120,000 of that going directly to 34 students who needed help paying for school. The remaining $100,000 went towards establishing an endowed trust to ensure that this effort continues helping students in the future. So far this year, the campaign has raised $13,000 from 11 donors.


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by Emily

The University of California system's board of regents is considering a proposal to extend financial aid covering full tuition to families earning under $60,000 per year.  The change, suggested by University of California President Mark Yudof, is still under review and will likely be voted on next month.

The concerns that motivate this move are becoming more pressing and are shared by many figures in higher education.  The University of California, like other state university systems, is facing budget cuts and plans to increase tuition in response.  California is also one of the states hardest hit by the recession, especially the collapse of the housing market.  There is widespread concern that these factors may put a college education out of reach for many.  The University of California system also serves a relatively large number of low-income and moderate-income students, so Yudof's proposal could potentially benefit a substantial portion of the student body.

Despite economic hardship and shrinking endowments, California is not alone in considering increases to college scholarships and grants for students struggling the most financially.  A number of prestigious schools have eliminated student loans for less affluent students in recent years.  These significant financial aid packages may be becoming more of a draw students this year, as many of the most prestigious and most generous schools are reporting double-digit increases in applications for the 2009-2010 academic year.


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by Emily

Over the course of the last year, a number of colleges and universities have begun to offer scholarship opportunities for people who have found themselves out of work and in need of further education or job training. Yesterday, U.S. News profiled several newer community college programs, including several full-tuition scholarships, but even more awards are out there. Here's a run-down of some of the scholarships for displaced workers that we've found.

Community College Scholarships: Scholarships for recently unemployed students offered by community colleges are the most common. Colleges in several states are offering free tuition for one to two semesters, or even more, for displaced workers. Some, such as Oakton Community College in Illinois and the Community College of Allegheny County in Pennsylvania stipulate certain degree or certificate programs for their tuition benefits, and others, like several community colleges in New Jersey, will allow students to enroll in any course with empty seats. Others are offering partial tuition discounts, such as Anoka-Ramsey Community College in Minnesota. Michigan has launched a state-wide No Worker Left Behind program, which provides up to two years of free tuition for unemployed and underemployed workers at state community colleges. Students can also apply the credits towards an undergraduate degree at a state college or university. To qualify, students must be pursuing degrees that will lead to employment in high-demand occupations.

Undergraduate Scholarships: This summer, DeVry began offering scholarships to students who have enrolled at one of the seven schools owned by DeVry and who have lost their jobs in the last 12 months. As one example, the Employment Gap Scholarship gives students $1,000 per semester towards their tuition at DeVry. Many other four-year schools have also launched generous aid programs, or even offered full-tuition scholarships, for new and returning students who are facing economic difficulties. A number of these scholarships and grants may be available to displaced workers, especially if you now qualify for a Federal Pell Grant after losing your job. Scholarships for adult students are also worth looking into. While only a few are specifically for the recently unemployed, several are designed to generously aid adults who are enrolling in undergraduate programs.

Graduate Scholarships: In addition to offering free career center services, several universities are also aiding their alumni through tuition discounts on graduate programs and additional certification and training. Manchester College in Indiana will allow students who fail to find a job or a graduate program within six months of graduation a year of free coursework. Similarly, St. John's University in New York allows laid off alumni to attend its graduate programs for half price.

Government Benefits: Recently, the Obama administration began a national push for states to grant full unemployment benefits to recipients who choose to enroll in a college degree program, as incentive for unemployed workers to attend college. Additionally, financial aid adminstrators have been instructed to use greater lattitude in dealing with financial aid appeals from students who have lost their jobs, which could result in more federal grant money for returning students.


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