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by Agnes Jasinski

While many students – and their parents – will say no amount of student loan debt is ideal, a new report has zeroed in on those at the top of the pile, those who borrow most and may be most at risk for defaulting on their loans and running the risk of hurting their credit scores.

The newest student debt story comes from a report released yesterday by the College Board Advocacy and Policy Center, which looked at data from 2007-2008 graduates who participated in the “National Postsecondary Student Aid Study.” It paid particular attention to the 17 percent of all bachelor’s degree recipients in that year who graduated with at least $30,500 in student loans. Of those, one in six had average student loan bills of $45,700, with much of those loans coming from private lenders who typically lend to students at higher interest rates.

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education focused on one particular detail included in the report – that those who borrow more are disproportionately black. Although the sample size was small, and the report’s researchers were hesitant to place too much importance on any breakdowns based on race, the numbers did show some differences in that category. According to the study, 27 percent of black bachelor’s degree recipients borrowed $30,500 or more, compared to 16 percent of white graduates, 14 percent of Hispanic students, and 9 percent of Asian students. Those numbers have little to do with income, however. Middle-class students tended to borrow more than those coming from low-income households, perhaps suggesting that those are the students who are more likely to attend private colleges rather than public institutions.

How else did the report describe those students who borrowed most?

  • The frequency of high debt is higher among independent students than among dependent students (24 percent graduated with at least $30,500 in debt).
  • Students who graduated from for-profit institutions are much more likely to have high debt levels than other students.
  • Private loans are most prevalent among students with family incomes of $100,000 or higher.
  • Although black graduates have the highest debt totals, Asian students rely more on private loans. About 12 percent of Asian graduates had no federal loans, with 68 percent of their student loan debt coming from non-federal sources.
  • Higher-income parents of bachelor’s degree recipients are more likely than those with incomes below $60,000 to take out PLUS Loans, and borrow more when they do. Thirty percent of the lowest-income parents borrowed an average of $22,400 in PLUS Loans, while 47 percent of those with incomes of $100,000 or higher borrowed an average of $41,500.

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by Agnes Jasinski

For some students entering their fifth, sixth, maybe even seventh years of college in the fall, administrators in the California State University system have a message for you: Graduate. Please.

You may remember reading about the trouble California colleges and universities in general have had over the last year. Budget problems have forced schools to significantly limit enrollments, placing students on wait lists for the first time in many of the schools’ histories. “Super seniors” are now viewed as part of the problem, taking up valuable space on the state’s campuses while would-be freshmen look elsewhere for available slots.

The California State University system has begun introducing initiatives targeting those students who take longer than four years to graduate. A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education that describes the state system’s dilemma describes these initiatives as expanding advising services, limiting financial aid, and getting department heads more involved in making sure students graduate in a more timely fashion. Administrators say this doesn’t mean students will be prohibited from switching majors if they find themselves flailing in a potential degree they were pushed toward by their parents, for example.

In fact, students who take longer to graduate but aren’t amassing a large number of credits (perhaps because they are attending school part-time, for example) aren’t even the target of the initiatives. The school is after the “Van Wilder” types. The Chronicle describes one 50-year-old student who had more than 250 credit hours under his belt, which came out to about eight years of full-time college schooling. He had enough credits for degrees in both health sciences and theater, but wanted to start over to get a degree in marketing. According to The Chronicle, the school handed him his degrees and told him to look elsewhere for that new degree: "At 50 years old, you should know what you want, and you're stopping two other young people from coming to this university,” Cynthia Z. Rawitch, associate vice president for undergraduate studies at California State University, said in the article.

The California State University system hopes to raise its six-year graduation rate up to about 54 percent by 2016, according to The Chronicle. Studies over the years from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics have shown that less than 40 percent of students graduate within four years, so this may be something other states should look into doing to increase freshman class sizes as well. There may be a number of reasons for students’ graduation delays, however: transferring schools, balancing work and school, indecision about choosing a major or switching majors well into a college career, or a number of other potential factors. What do you think? Should students be held more accountable for how long it takes them to graduate?


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by Agnes Jasinski

As colleges prepare for another academic year of tightened budgets, some schools have found ways to rein in costs more creatively than using wait lists for incoming freshmen, recouping revenue through increases in tuition, or introducing new student fees.

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education recently took at look at several of these colleges’ efforts to cut costs creatively, focusing a majority of the article on Middlebury College, where students make their own granola. The executive chef at the school decided several years ago that the rising cost of granola was a waste of money. Rather than cut granola out of students’ diets, he decided to get those students already working in the college bakery to help hand-mix and bake the oats for their own brand of granola made on site. The school ended up saving $27,000 in their food budget, which has already seen several budget cuts and could use the additional revenue.

Colleges elsewhere are looking for ways to pinch pennies as well. According to the article, a recent office-supply swap at Marquette University saved the school $10,000 over the last year, as departments used the school’s website in the same way one might use Craig’s List, to furnish and equip their offices and classrooms. At Miami University, a program called “Leveraging Efficiencies and Aligning Needs” allows focus groups to convene and look for potential savings on the Ohio school’s campus. They’ve come up with $16,000 in savings by no longer offering bottled water in campus hotel rooms and $66,000 in savings by asking students to switch their steam heaters off over winter breaks, according to The Chronicle.

Have you noticed your college cutting costs creatively, rather than going the traditional route of increasing tuition and fees? If you find yourself struggling with those rising college costs, know that there are options out there that have nothing to do with helping the college bakery cook up granola. Take a look at the resources we’ve come up with to help you manage college costs. We have tips on everything from saving money on books and supplies to preparing for those hidden student fees you may not have factored in when budgeting for your first year on campus.


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by Agnes Jasinski

It’s coming to the end of final exams at California State University in Los Angeles, but you won’t see students there studying at the library well into the night. You’ll see them in the make-shift “People’s Library,” an open air study spot outside the school’s main library set up by students looking for an answer to shortened library hours.

The “People’s Library” opened on June 1 as a response from students dealing with state budget cuts that have forced the college to cut library hours. The school’s library now closes at 8 p.m. each night, while the students’ version operates through midnight. According to an article today in the Los Angeles Times, the students have been using donated tables and chairs, and the campus’ lighting and electrical equipment. Free coffee is brewed to fuel the study sessions, and students have access to the Internet, a copier and a printer. According to the article, the students’ “library” has the support of administrators, despite initial resistance and concerns. (Administrators helped the students set up their electrical hook-ups safely.)

The state university system’s library budget was cut 20 percent overall this fiscal year. At Cal State L.A., student library assistant positions were cut from 19 to 11, and subscriptions to more than 400 print journals and 10 databases were canceled, potentially hampering students’ research capabilities. Although library attendance has decreased across the board, perhaps due to advances in technology and increases in access to the Internet thanks to wireless networks, it remains both a communal space and option for those who don’t have access to online tools at home or in the dorm, or who want a quiet place to study. According to the article, administrators will reconsider the main library’s operating hours for next year, although budget shortfalls will continue to dramatically affect the state’s university system.

Across California, institutions of higher education have been looking for ways to cope with millions of dollars in cuts in the state budget. At the University of California, a wait list was used for the first time in the school system’s history to allow the school to be more flexible in the number of students it enrolls for fall 2010. There and elsewhere, major school decisions are dependent upon what happens with the state budget.


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by Agnes Jasinski

The Federal Reserve Board proposed new regulations last week that would prohibit creditors from issuing credit cards to anyone under 21 without the consent of that applicant's parent or guardian, or proof that the consumer would be able to make the required payments on their own. Those rules would amend some of the provisions in the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, a bill passed by Congress last May that, among other things, would hinder credit card companies from getting college students to sign up for offers at on-campus booths.

You know you've seen it before - the free T-shirt that you probably wouldn't wear, but was appealing anyway because it was free. All you had to do was sign up for a credit card. An article in The Chronicle for Higher Education when the bill was first moving through Congress described college students as the most targeted population when it comes to new customers for credit card companies.

Critics of the bill then said that college students, who take on a slew of new responsibilities once they get on campus, should be treated as adults. And during a time when students are more apt to use credit cards to pay for college expenses, they shouldn't meet obstacles when using their credit cards for college expenses. According to a recent survey by student lender Sallie Mae, 84 percent of undergraduates have at least one credit card; 92 percent of those undergraduates use the cards toward college expenses. College students' average balances are more than $3,100.

So what's the bigger problem? Having access to credit to pay for college expenses, or preventing college students from accruing large sums of debt?

Credit cards should be used as the last line of defense, and ideally for emergencies only. There are many options out there for you to find money for college that have nothing to do with being faced with high interest rates and exorbitant fees. Do your research to apply for college scholarships and grants that would result in free money to cover your college expenses. Consider a part-time job on campus if you have the time and can balance work and college. And while not as desirable, investigate low-interest student loans to supplement your financial aid package.

If you need to use credit, make sure you're keeping within a manageable budget, and only charging as much as you'd be able to realistically pay off at the end of the month. The decisions you make now will matter post-graduation, and any decision involving opening a new line of credit should be approached with caution. Stick to one card if you need one, and if you find yourself in debt, pay off as much as you're able to each month until you're done. (Don't be using that card while you're trying to pay it off, though.) Browse through our site to see more tips on budgeting, how you can avoid mounds of credit card debt, and how to keep your credit card score healthy.

The new regulations would go into effect after Feb. 2010, but the public, credit card industry and others will have a chance to voice their opinions beforehand. Other rules proposed by the Board included:

  • Limiting high fees associated with subprime credit cards.
  • Prohibiting increases in a credit card interest rate during the first year after an account is opened, and increases in a rate that applies to an existing credit card balance.
  • Requiring creditors to obtain consumers' consents before charging fees for transactions that exceed their credit limits.


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by Agnes Jasinski

You don't need to work retail or deliver pizzas to make money in college. Many on-campus opportunities have the potential to act as good resume-builders and keep you interested in the task at hand while providing you with a (modest) wage. They don't all have to be federal work study positions, either, although it does work in your favor if you have some financial need when applying for campus jobs, and some will bump up your hourly wage if you can boast some experience in that field.

And now the not so good news. A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education looks at student pay at the more unique campus jobs across the country. Not to scare you away from working through college at an on-campus job, but according to one example in that article, a student office assistant making $7.25/hour in the chemistry department at the University of Notre Dame would have to work 135 hours a week and 50 weeks of the year to cover tuition, room, and board. These wages will probably compare to most off-campus jobs you find near your college as well, however, so you may as well investigate all of your job options. Even if you'd be making more elsewhere, it may be worth the convenience and experience to work on campus.

Some examples of hourly wages at on-campus jobs:

It probably won't allow you to retire early, but an on-campus job could help you make ends meet and pay for some of those expenses that seem to crop up out of nowhere while you're pursuing that college degree. Balancing work and college certainly has its advantages - you're able to potentially lessen that student loan debt, build up your resume and learn the value of time management and responsibility - but it can be difficult, especially if you're a freshman being bombarded by all your campus has to offer. Browse through our site for tips on how to land and keep a job and keep your academics in line if your financial need means working your way through college.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Pittsburgh has dropped a proposal to enact a tax on college students as a way to raise revenue for the city following several weeks of criticism from not only students but the higher education community. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl announced yesterday that the city would instead focus on a "leap of faith," urging local colleges, nonprofits, and the business community to increase voluntary donations.

At a press conference Monday, the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University both pledged to offer larger donations to the city than they had in previous years. Local insurer Highmark also pledged support. About 100 tax-exempt organizations gave a total of $14 million to the city between 2005 and 2007. The 1 percent tuition tax, described as the “Post Secondary Education Privilege Tax” or Fair Share Tax,” would have raised $16 million for the city to cover things like city employees’ pension funds and costs associated with the public library system until the city is able to get a handle on its budget problems. This "voluntary" agreement with the city's institutions only covers the upcoming fiscal year, however, so whether the city would ever revisit a student tax is unclear. The mayor also failed to say how much money would be offered voluntarily, as those deals have not yet been finalized.

The mayor also said he would target the state for more funding to solve the city's budget problems. A new group, the New Pittsburgh Collaborative, will come up with a list of things to ask the state for when the time comes, according to an article today in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Previous talks have focused on raising taxes for those who in the city and expanding a tax on currently tax-exempt employees' payrolls, two proposals that would also not be met without resistance.

The fallout from the proposal was immediate. About 100 students came to a Pittsburgh City Council meeting recently to protest the measure, calling the idea "Taxation Without Representation" and a double tax on those students already paying taxes on things like sales items and property. An article in Inside Higher Ed today suggests other institutions of higher education were anticipating the outcome of the student tax to determine whether this could be an option in their cities. Some municipalities without strong support from outside organizations and voluntary contributions from their local colleges and universities may look to pass similar measures anyway, especially if those local economies fail to improve.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Has the week been feeling a little long lately? Can Friday never come soon enough? If you're at the University of Montana, you could be in luck. In response to continued economic troubles and predicted shortfalls in state and federal revenue, the university's president announced this week that the school could benefit from a four-day work week that would reduce operating costs and address their budget woes.

The measure would make faculty and students' days longer, and professors would still make the same salaries. Faculty and staff had mixed feelings about the idea - Does this mean more cutbacks in the future? Are jobs on the line here? - but students have found few negatives to bring up. It'd mean every weekend was a three-day weekend, and for the green among them, a reduced carbon footprint since there would be fewer commuters on that day off and less energy expended to run the school. Others think it could allow them to pick up more hours at on-campus and off-campus jobs to help cover those college costs. Students who have expressed concerns worry that this may mean it takes them longer to graduate. Programs with rigorous curriculums, like law and pharmacy, may have trouble fitting in all of their required instruction into a shortened week.

According to the Western Montana newspaper "The Missoulian," the change would involve the following: The University would be open Tuesday-Friday, to account for the many activities that happen on Fridays. Classes would run at 90 minutes, which already happens campus-wide on Tuesdays and Thursdays. More classes would be offered early in the morning and late in the evenings, meaning more 8 a.m. classes for students. Faculty and staff would work 10-hour days. Administrators think the change would save the college about $450,000 each year, or about 15 percent of the university's overall budget to heat and light buildings. The earliest a shortened week would take effect is July 2010.

Some community colleges already operate in a similar fashion. The unusual thing here is that the University of Montana is a research institution, where arguably more time on campus is needed by those who are there for the school's research capabilities. Administrators say they have a few things to iron out before discussing the idea further, including whether the school's library and University Center would remain open on Mondays.

What do you think? What are your pros and cons of a short week? Should other schools consider it to save some money or recoup some funding for their budgets? Let us know what you think.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Several colleges across the country have opened food banks to assist students struggling to make ends meet at a time when tuition costs continue to rise and schools look to find ways to recoup budget losses over the last academic year.

Michigan State University, where students have dealt with the loss of the Michigan promise scholarship, has seen a 25 percent increase since 2008 in the number of students who visit its student-run food bank. Grand Valley State University opened a food pantry in April to help students cope with higher tuition costs. An article in the Detroit Free Press over the weekend describes the situations students have found themselves in. Some have parents who have been laid off and can no longer contribute to college educations, some have children and families of their own that they have had trouble supporting, some have lost part-time jobs that covered the costs of food, and others just need some help in between paychecks as they work campus jobs when they're not attending class.

Michigan State's Olin Health Center, where the food bank operates biweekly, and the Grand Valley State pantry, which has helped more than 200 students since it opened. Both are able to run through regular donations of cash and food.

Food banks across the country have seen an increase in visitors, both student and not, in tough economic times. Nearly one in 10 Massachusetts residents visited a food bank in 2009; one in eight people in both Fort Worth, Texas, and Greensboro, North Carolina visited a food bank last year. College campuses have responded with other types of emergency financial assistance, as well. The University of Michigan has been offering emergency grants to students who need help paying for the costs of food or medication, or an unexpected move. Students can apply online and receive $500 by the next morning, according to the Free Press article. Western Michigan University offers short-term emergency loans to help with living expenses.

If you're having trouble covering costs, despite living frugally and within your means, there is help out there. Whether you look to your local community or explore options through your financial aid office, consider every option.


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by Agnes Jasinski

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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