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MTV’s New Groove

Music Channel and College Board Launch Financial Aid Contest

September 17, 2010

by Alexis Mattera

Current high school and college students are probably too young to remember when MTV actually played music videos. It was a glorious time for sure but after hearing this next announcement, I think they will like the network’s new direction just fine.

The NYT’s The Choice blog revealed that instead of launching another mind-numbing reality show, the music channel and the College Board have joined forces for the Get Schooled College Affordability Challenge. The contest – which is being underwritten by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – is open to current and potential college students interested in creating an innovative digital tool that will help more students obtain funds for school. The prize for the winning individual or team? A cool $10,000, as well as a $100,000 budget to bring their idea to life.

A statement released yesterday stated the contest was created to make it easier for students “to navigate what can be a confusing financial aid maze.” This metaphorical roadmap will definitely be a useful one: Each year, countless students are forced to postpone or abandon their dreams of higher education because they cannot pay for school but the Get Schooled creators hope their program will play a role in raising college completion rates.

The contest will run through December 17th so if you think you have what it takes to win, submit your idea here. Best of luck to all who enter!

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Save the Perkins!

Proposed Amendment Will Keep This Loan Alive

September 23, 2010

by Alexis Mattera

The Perkins Loan Program has played a vital role in the quest for higher education (mine included) since 1958 but in two years, it could end up just as extinct as dinos and dodos. Can it (and the dreams of countless students) be saved?

The Perkins, or as one supporter affectionately calls it, “the David among the Goliaths of other aid,” is used by 1,800 colleges across the country yet Congress hasn’t provided any new money for the program since 2004. In 2009 alone, colleges awarded 495,000 new Perkins loans at an average of $2,231 per student and its demise would shut out college access to low-income students and eliminate the jobs of campus officials and loan servicers who help distribute the funds. Representative John Spratt clearly understands the importance of the Perkins and is sponsoring an amendment to delay the program’s cancellation – so much so that he held a hearing in Washington yesterday discussing the Perkins’ significance; though it probably won’t pass this year, Spratt is optimistic that with the support of the House Budget Committee and the schools relying on the loans, the amendment has a shot at approval next year.

“By its very nature, the Perkins Loan Program provides schools the flexibility to provide additional aid to needy students. The importance of this flexibility cannot be overstated,” said Sarah Bauder, assistant vice president of enrollment services and student financial aid at the University of Maryland at College Park, in her testimony during the hearing. “Financial aid administrators work where the rubber meets the road and have a unique perspective that allows them to assess students’ and families’ ability to pay for college in ways that aid applications will never be able to assess. When aid administrators see students and families struggling with unique circumstances, they need some flexibility to deliver funds to ensure the success of these students.” One such student, Joseph Hill, also testified. The Georgetown senior stated that though he received $26,000 in scholarships, the Perkins was what made it possible for him to attend the school of his dreams. “Last week, I was talking to my mother, and without hesitation, she said, ‘It still wouldn’t have worked without that Perkins Loan,’ ” Hill revealed.

There’s a lot more to the history of the Perkins and the fight to save it (get the details here) and as a former Perkins recipient, I can’t help but root for this little amendment that could. I'm definitely making a t-shirt.

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On the Prowl for Scholarships

Check Out This Scholarship of the Week from College Prowler

September 27, 2010

On the Prowl for Scholarships

by Alexis Mattera

Finding enough funding for college is hard but that task is made even more difficult when college scholarship committees require applicants to meet countless requirements, fill out stacks of forms and write lengthy essays to even be considered. Well, College Prowler isn’t most scholarship committees and it's doing things a little differently with its $2,000 No Essay Scholarship.

The folks at College Prowler know students are busy and that times are pretty tough for a lot of people right now…but that’s precisely why they’ve created an incredibly easy way to give back to those who need it. All applicants have to do is complete a brief profile, hit submit and voila, they could win $2,000 to put toward tuition, housing, meal plans, books, computers or any education-related expenses. To apply, please visit http://scholarships.com/scc.aspx?pid=703 or complete a scholarship search to find additional opportunities.

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SUNY Albany Bids Adieu, Ciao and Do Svidaniya

Classics and Theater Departments Also Eliminated…But Why?

October 4, 2010

SUNY Albany Bids Adieu, Ciao and Do Svidaniya

by Alexis Mattera

Coptic, Ancient Greek, Latin and Sanskrit have long been considered “dead languages” but at SUNY Albany, a few more are joining that list in terms of majors. On Friday, language faculty members learned the university was ending all admissions to programs in French, Italian and Russian. Classics and theater are also being cut once current students in those programs graduate.

At least 10 tenured faculty members in language programs, 20 adjuncts and tenure-track educators were told they have two years of employment left in which to help current students finish their degrees. It came as more of a shock, however, that so many languages were being eliminated at the same time – not to mention that it was happening at a doctoral university that touts the motto of "the world within reach." How could this be happening, they wondered? University president George M. Philip cited deep, repeated budget cuts and the failure of the New York Legislature to pass legislation that would have given more control over tuition rates and the use of tuition revenue to the state's university systems.

If this news left me slack jawed, I can only imagine how faculty members in the impacted departments must be feeling. One French professor said no other university of the caliber and size of Albany has taken such drastic measures so why now and with this institution? If others are making it work, why can't Albany?

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An Unfair Hike

California Supreme Court May Up Tuition for Illegal Immigrants

October 7, 2010

An Unfair Hike

by Alexis Mattera

Proposed tuition increases at several institutions have been in the news lately. While the ones being discussed at the University of Colorado and Adams State College will affect all students as the schools compensate for the lack of state funding, California’s are targeting one specific sect of the student population: illegal immigrants.

No official ruling has been made yet (one is expected within 90 days) but California’s Supreme Court is currently reviewing whether illegal immigrants must pay higher tuition at state universities. The arguments center on a 2002 law that allows anyone graduating from a California high school can pay in-state tuition at a California state school – a law that more than 40 out-of-state students from the University of California and other public colleges say violates federal immigration law. If the court rules in the students’ favor, illegal immigrants will be required to pay out-of-state tuition. To put the cost in perspective, that would be $34,000 per year instead of $11,300 at the University of California. That’s not pocket change.

As someone who once paid out-of-state tuition and has the student loan bills to prove it, I can say from experience that ponying up the monetary difference isn’t fun…but if I was living in-state and got slapped with a tuition bill more than triple what I was expecting to pay, wow. It doesn’t matter if you’re living in California or the Carolinas, are a citizen or in this country illegally, how do you feel about this proposal and the impact it could have if it’s passed?

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Textbook Alternatives = Big Savings

Open Books, Rentals Preserve Students’ Funds

October 8, 2010

Textbook Alternatives = Big Savings

by Alexis Mattera

As a college student, my pockets were far from deep but they got even shallower when I stopped at the co-op to buy my books at the beginning of each semester. My wallet and I loathed the astronomical price tags (even for used copies!) with a passion because we both knew there had to be a way for me to get books and not be forced to subsist on Top Ramen until my next break. I was right…just kind of bummed it didn’t happen during my collegiate tenure.

Data from the Student Public Interest Research Group’s new survey disclose textbooks available for free online or sold in print for low cost could slash students’ textbook bills from $900 to $184 each year. Using eBooks and textbook rental services like BookRenter.com and Chegg.com can also reduce book costs by $300. Though 93 percent of students surveyed said they would rent “at least some of their textbooks,” Cerritos College student Donald Pass prefers the flexibility of open textbooks because he could read the material for free online, purchase a print copy with study aids or print it himself. (Daytona State's administration agrees and will begin offering eBook access to students this coming January.) Professors like Lon Mitchell of Virginia Commonwealth University, however, say this option is troublesome because students often bring only limited sections of text to class, making it difficult for instructors to review supplemental material in different chapters. Mitchell also said that a number of his students have resisted the online versions of the open textbooks because compared to the print versions, they felt the online text was lacking.

I hear what Mitchell is saying loud and clear but if a student can reduce their spending by up to 80 percent by using open books and textbook rentals, I have a feeling print editions are going to be seen less and less as the years go by. Students, are you utilizing eBooks and textbook rentals or are you still relying solely on hard copies you don't have to share or return? If you’re using both, is there a noticeable difference in the material quality like Mitchell said? What's your preference between these options?

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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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How Expensive is "Too Expensive" for a College Education?

Students Willing to Spend More for Academics, Prestige

November 4, 2010

How Expensive is "Too Expensive" for a College Education?

by Alexis Mattera

The true cost of a college education is seldom the number that’s printed in school brochures and on various college comparison lists. When you figure in federal aid, scholarships, grants, room and board, books and supplies, that price fluctuates. One thing remains constant - higher education doesn’t come cheap - but a new poll finds students are willing to stretch their finances for several key factors.

In April, right up until enrollment deadlines, students were still considering “too expensive” schools and were willing to stretch to pay for their education, poll conductors the College Board and the Art & Science Group report. While it would be more financially sound to select the school with the lower tuition and better financial aid package, “too expensive” colleges remained in play if they had strong academics in students’ fields of interest, were places students felt comfortable, had prestigious academic reputations or had excellent records of graduate school acceptance or good job placement after students graduated. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Twenty-six percent of students surveyed said their family would have to stretch a lot, but “I think we’ll make it.”
  • Twenty-two percent chose “I’m not sure how my family will afford to send me to college, but I believe we’ll work something out when the time comes.”
  • Eleven percent said, “I don’t think my family can afford to send me to college, but we are going to try.” Nearly 40 percent of students surveyed did not have a sense of long-term costs, citing “no idea” what their likely monthly payment on student loans would be after graduation.

If you think back to every award show you’ve ever seen, you’ll recall those who do not win always say it is an honor just to be nominated. The same can be said for college admissions: It’s an amazing achievement to be accepted to a prestigious college but is attending worth it if the cost of attendance is going to drive you and your family into debt?

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And the Best Value Colleges Are…

Kiplinger Ranks Top Private and Liberal Arts Schools

November 15, 2010

And the Best Value Colleges Are…

by Alexis Mattera

True or false: Public schools are always a better value than private schools or liberal arts schools. Have your answer all bubbled in? Let’s see if it’s right.

A school’s value isn’t solely determined by cost; though it does play a significant role, if you factor in curriculum caliber and overall quality of life, it turns out that many private and liberal arts schools are indeed better values than their public counterparts. That and the amount families actually have to pay after financial aid is only around $20,000. Nice.

According to Kiplinger’s annual lists, Swarthmore College and Princeton University lead the pack for liberal arts and private institutions, respectively. Why? Swarthmore’s most qualified applicants only pay $18,791 – that’s nearly two-thirds off the school’s $52,650 sticker price and a huge reason why almost all Swatties return for sophomore year – and Princeton graduates leave its hallowed halls with the lowest average debt, due in large part to a tuition bill less than $50,000 and the elimination of student loans from its financial aid package. Here are the top 10 in each category:

Best Values in Liberal Arts Colleges

  1. Swarthmore College
  2. Pomona College
  3. Williams College
  4. Washington and Lee University
  5. Davidson College
  6. Bowdoin College
  7. Claremont McKenna College
  8. Amherst College
  9. Hamilton College
  10. Vassar College

Best Values in Private Colleges

  1. Princeton University
  2. Yale University
  3. California Institute of Technology
  4. Rice University
  5. Duke University
  6. Harvard University
  7. University of Pennsylvania
  8. Columbia University
  9. Brown University
  10. Dartmouth University

Students and parents, does this information have you rethinking the possibility of private and liberal arts schools?

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Young Alumni Give Undergrad a B-Plus

Nearly 90 Percent Say College Worth the Time, Money

December 15, 2010

Young Alumni Give Undergrad a B-Plus

by Alexis Mattera

They may not agree on politics, health care or Scarlett Johansson and Ryan Reynolds’ divorce but the consensus among recent college graduates is almost unanimous about one thing: Eighty-nine percent say they are happy they earned a college degree.

This statistic, found in a new report by the American Council on Education is surprising considering the economic climate but the 800 young alumni surveyed were more than pleased with their post-secondary educations. Close to 9 out of 10 respondents said undergrad was worth the time and money spent, and 85 percent reported their educations prepared them for their current jobs. The Chronicle of Higher Education and University of Wisconsin president Kevin P. Reilly both agree the findings will help combat the higher education budget slashing proposed by some government officials.

Some of the survey’s findings aren’t as overwhelming – only 62 percent of national respondents believed college generally prepared grads for working life – but the overall alumni satisfaction considerably strengthens the case for greater access to and increased quality of higher education. And as for the students who said they left college unprepared for the real world, an extra internship or semester abroad could have easily provided the experience they craved. College IS what you make of it, after all!

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