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Textbooks To Become More Affordable

July 22, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

Technology, rental programs, and new laws could finally reverse the trend of rising textbook costs, according to a recent article in U.S. News and World Report.  Students, parents, and professors alike often recoil at the astronomical pricetag of some textbooks, especially for introductory courses students are required to take.  For many, textbook purchases can represent the last hurdle in the race to pay for school, as students who have managed to find money for college tuition and housing still may not be able to foot a textbook bill of several hundred dollars per semester.

Now, a combination of factors may finally bring some relief to students in this predicament.  In recent years, schools and private companies have piloted textbook rental programs that have been met with a great deal of enthusiasm from students who are now able to rent many of the general education textbooks that they would likely sell back to the bookstore at the end of the semester.  E-books and open source projects have begun to catch professors' attention as alternatives to requiring students to purchase an expensive hard copy of a textbook. 

Finally, a bill currently under consideration in Congress would require textbook companies to provide professors with accurate pricing information before book orders are placed.  This would allow professors to choose textbooks based on price, in addition to quality of information.  The proposed law would also require publishers to provide unbundled versions of currently bundled textbook packages, which often have high prices due to the inclusion of workbooks or electronic content that many students and professors wind up electing not to use.

Cheaper textbook options such as these can help students save money in college, which is a relief for every student, whether they are paying with scholarship money, federal financial aid, or their own savings.

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DOE Report Stresses Early Planning for College Funding

July 22, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

The Department of Education Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance recently released a report entitled Early and Often showing the financial aid community what can be done to help students and families better prepare to pay for school.  The report provided recommendations on what information students needed to know before deciding whether to attend college, when the students needed to know it, and how it could best be disseminated to students and their families, stressing four categories of knowledge that students need to make informed decisions about attending college

Students need to understand:

  1. The benefits of higher education: Why go to college?
  2. The costs of college: What can you expect?
  3. How to pay for college: What's involved in funding your education?
  4. How to navigate the forms and processes involved: What exactly is a FAFSA?

The Early and Oftenreport states that this process needs to begin as early as the sixth grade to ensure that students and families have enough time to devise a strategy for getting into and paying for college. 

According to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, "Possessing timely and accurate information at each juncture of a student's college preparation timeline can dispel the hyperbole in the media and alleviate complexity, inform students of financing options, and ensure they make sound decisions." 

The report asserts that "early information on the availability, eligibility, and variety of financial aid is essential to promote access and persistence. Every student should learn that funding an education requires a reliance on many sources: federal and state governments, institutions, private resources, and personal financial resources. Each of these sources can provide financial aid in the form of grants and scholarships, loans, and work-study opportunities.

Delivering information on the differences between need-based aid and merit-based aid will help students better predict which aid options will be available for them. Understanding the intricacies among such options is vital to successfully financing higher education."

Working with the strategies suggested by the Department of Education, websites such as Scholarships.com already provide the public with a wealth of free resources regarding a variety of financial aid

By browsing our website's Resources section, students can find information in all four of the Department of Education's vital categories, especially paying for college and applying for financial aid.  Additionally, our scholarship search can fill an important role, even early in the college planning process.  Students can fill out a profile and conduct a free search, gaining valuable information on which scholarships may be available to them.  This will help students get a better idea of how they will be able to afford college.

The full Early and Often report is available on the Department of Education website.

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Financial Aid Administrators Concerned About Loan Crunch

July 23, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

A survey released yesterday by the National Association of Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) indicated that 90 percent of financial aid administrators are at least somewhat concerned about the current student loan crunch.  As lenders continue to opt out of Federal Family Education Loan Programs (FFELP) and to reduce the number of schools they make loans available to, many financial aid administrators remain concerned that students at their institutions may have decreased access to money for school.  While overall administrators expressed confidence that the recent Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act will help students pay for college this year, 52 percent said that more needed to be done to make sure students will have sufficient access to college loans in the future, and more than half stated that they believe it will be more difficult for students to borrow additional private loans in the upcoming school year.

A number of schools are turning to the federal Direct Loans program to ensure continued loan availability for their students, while others are calling for other solutions to the student loan problem, putting an emphasis on federal student aid. Many NASFAA members stressed the importance of increasing access to federal grant programs and scholarship money in order for students to continue being able to afford a college education.  NASFAA President Dr. Philip Day summarized this position, stating, "Too many students rely on loans to pay for their education. I do not accept the premise that student loans are here to stay, especially for needy students. If the student loan crunch has shown us anything, it is that our neediest students have no place in the student loan marketplace. We should help them find as many alternatives to borrowing as possible by providing them with grants and scholarships to meet their educational costs."

The survey also asked what financial aid administrators were doing for students and their families to help them find money for college. Many financial aid offices continue to maintain a preferred lenders list, despite recent media criticism and policy changes, something NASFAA stresses is both wanted and needed by families needing to find private student loans or new FFELP lenders on short notice.

NASFAA is also backing a new piece of legislation known as the Preventing Student Loan Discrimination Act, which if passed, will prohibit FFELP lenders from denying loans to eligible students based on the institution they attend, the length of their program, or their income level. These provisions will help students pay for school in the short term, but the report stressed that more needs to be done to make college affordable in the future.

The full survey is available through the NASFAA website.

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Private Colleges Pioneer Programs for First-generation Students

July 24, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

Twenty small private colleges will be using a Wal Mart Foundation grant this fall to augment their efforts to recruit and retain first-generation college students, according to an Inside Higher Ed article.  While many first-generation students initially look to community colleges or state universities, many private colleges and universities argue that they could be a good fit as well due to smaller student populations and better access to professors and resources.  In addition to these advantages, recipients of the Wal Mart Foundation grant will be adding more programs specifically designed for students who are the first in their families to attend college.

This funding is being used for a wide variety of projects of especial benefit to poor and working-class students.  Lesley University in Massachussettes plans to use its grant money for outreach programs to inform high school students of their options for college.  Saint Edwards University in Texas and Ripon College in Wisconsin both plan to implement bridge programs that help freshmen gain necessary skills to succeed in college the summer before they start classes.  Ripon College also plans to use this grant to help its first-generation students gain paid internships and valuable work experience before they graduate. 

With the current financial aid crunch, small private colleges and universities undertaking efforts such as these can become more appealing options for budget-conscious students and families, as well as students concerned about their preparedness for college.  Choosing the right college is vital, since there are all sorts of special programs for different students populations at each school.  Conduct a free college search on Scholarships.com to get started!

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Potential Financial Aid Changes for Colorado, Texas, Wisconsin

July 25, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

Students in three states could be seeing major changes in their funding for college in the next two school years. Colorado students attending religious schools will now have access to additional state funds, based on a U. S. Court of Appeals ruling that overturned a state law limiting funding to students attending "pervasively sectarian" institutions. Colorado Christian University successfully appealed a state decision to deny its students access to state financial aid programs based on the university's emphasis on religion. Colorado also may be changing admissions and scholarship criteria at state universities. If Amendment 46, an anti-affirmative action initiative passes in November, the state will have to do away with all educational programs designed to benefit minorities specifically.

Additionally, faced with an inability to fund all of the students who qualify for TEXAS grants, the state of Texas is looking at increasing eligibility requirements to target grants at higher-performing students, instead of simply high-need students, according to a Dallas News article.

Meanwhile, private colleges and universities in Wisconsin plan to ask the state for a $4 million increase in aid to help students with the greatest financial need afford college in the 2009-2010 school year, a plan the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel backs. 

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Conference Committee Approves Higher Education Act

July 30, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

The new version of the Higher Education Act (HEA) is at last moving to the floors of the House and Senate for a vote. After seven years of waiting and debating, Congressional reauthorization of the HEA could finally happen in the next week, setting the stage for a number of changes in federal student financial aid for college students.

Among other things, the reauthorized HEA would:

  1. Set a ceiling on the maximum Federal Pell Grant of $9,000, and allow for students to receive Pell Grant funds year-round, instead of just during the traditional academic year. (The current maximum Pell Grant is $4,731.)
  2. Implement changes to make it easier for students to get information about their financial aid awards and to generally simplify the process by which students - particularly those from low-income families - can find money for college.
  3. Expand the Academic Competitiveness Grant program to part-time students as well as those seeking certificates and puts states in charge determining whether a high school program qualifies as a rigorous course of study.
  4. Make several changes in private student loans, such as: requiring lenders to provide up-front disclosures of loan rates and terms, require private loans to be certified by higher education institutions, and requiring colleges to establish Codes of Conduct to prohibit financial aid employees from receiving anything of value in exchange for advantages sought by lenders, such as placement on colleges' preferred lender lists.
  5. Require more disclosure of costs from both colleges and textbook publishers.

Many other changes appear in the 1,158 pages of the bill, which has been a long time coming.  The Higher Education Act is supposed to be reauthorized every 5 years, but it has been 10 years since the previous version passed.  The new HEA should help financial aid programs adapt to the present situation students face, and should help students better assess and plan for the costs of a college education.

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More Students Mean Less Available Housing on Campus

July 31, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

More students than ever are attending college. The economy's in a slump. Gas prices are through the roof. Rent keeps going up, especially in college towns. Everything is getting more expensive, including food. What does all this add up to? Housing shortages on college campuses, according to a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. As many students opt to live in the dorms, as a way to save money in college by avoiding the cost of rent, gas, and food, as well as the time involved in getting to campus, many schools are running out of places to put all their students. For some students, this problem has been familiar for years--for example, during my sophomore year of college, my university wound up renting, and later purchasing, a hotel near campus to house some of their incoming freshmen--but for others, this phenomenon is new and surprising.

Many families are displeased at the thought of paying that daunting housing bill for their students to still be living off-campus and having to commute a mile or more to get to class. But placing students in a hotel or an apartment off-campus isn't the only makeshift housing solution being implemented by universities this fall. Other students will wind up in converted lounges, triple-occupancy dorm rooms, former office space, or recently reopened buildings.  Still some undergraduate students, like 725 University of Missouri attendees, may wind up paying on-campus rates for swanky apartments with full kitchens and plasma TVs thanks to the housing shortage on campus.

While many of these housing arrangements can be just as good as or even be better than traditional dorm space at some institutions, students should be aware of the potential for on-campus housing crunches at their schools. Incoming high school seniors who are starting the college search should decide early whether they want to live on campus in 2009, should be sure to ask questions about housing on their campus visits, and should apply for housing at the earliest possible date. Students currently living on-campus should also be proactive in procuring living arrangements for future semesters. Familiarize yourself with your university's housing policies and housing situation, and be sure you're taking all steps necessary to get the best on-campus housing possible.

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Back to School , College Costs , Tips



Congress Passes Higher Education Act

August 1, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

The Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEA), approved by a joint committee earlier this week, passed both houses of Congress yesterday.  While members of the Bush Administration have expressed some reservations about the bill, the President is still expected to sign it into law.

Reactions to the HEA have been mixed, with many universities and organizations critiquing the bill's broad scope, increased requirements for schools, and timing, as it may be nearly impossible to implement all of the changes required by the bill in time for the 2008-2009 school year.  Especially under attack is the act's mandate for schools to provide students with legal alternatives to illegally downloading media, where possible.  While this could be good news for students, many critics fail to see how this provision relates to the bill's intended purpose of dealing with education funding and federal student financial aid.

Aspects of the HEA that have been praised are the allowance for a substantial increase in Federal Pell Grants (awards could reach $6,000 next year and $8,000 per year by 2014), the adoption of a code of conduct for financial aid offices when dealing with student loan agencies, the mandated simplification of the FAFSA (a two-page "FAFSA EZ" form should debut soon), and the general push for increased transparency regarding college costs, ranging from tuition increases, to student fees, to textbook prices.  All of these changes should make it easier for families to pay for school.
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Three Schools Offering Alternative Ways to Afford College

August 5, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

After spending some time on Scholarships.com or other college funding resources, you are probably familiar with basic ways to make a college education more affordable.  You can start saving early, consider attending a community college, search for scholarships, and apply for federal student financial aid.  You might be lucky enough to come across a school willing to give you a significant need-based or merit-based academic scholarship.  You may even have heard of certain Ivy League schools with mammoth endowments providing generous financial aid packages to their student bodies, which while impressive, probably doesn't help the average student.

We've recently come across news of three colleges that are committed to making an education extremely affordable to every one of their students.  While these schools offer unique and interesting money-saving programs, this is by no means an exhaustive list of innovative and affordable schools.  Conduct your own research, including a free college search on Scholarships.com to find out more about affordable colleges.

The New York Times ran an article recently about Berea College in Kentucky, a private four-year college that offers every student a 10 hour per week on-campus job, hand-made dorm furniture, and, oh yeah, free tuition.  While Berea doesn't have a football team or a multi-million dollar wellness center, the prospect of graduating debt-free is enough to attract a high-quality student body.  Unlike many colleges that select students based mainly on minimum GPA or SAT scores, Berea's students have to meet a maximum family income requirement, roughly equivalent to eligibility for Federal Pell Grants.

Volunteer State Community College in Gallatin, TN recently announced a different plan to make a college education more affordable for its students.  Implementing a program similar to the one piloted by J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Richmond, VA, Volunteer State will now be offering its students an opportunity to take a full courseload of classes while only attending school one day a week.  Their "Full Time Friday" program will allow students to save on gas, daycare, and other expenses by only commuting to school one day a week, and can potentially afford students the chance to work a full-time job while also taking classes full-time.  While spending a 14-hour day on campus is not for everyone, it can be an attractive option for students who are looking to save time and money and to consolidate their class schedule as much as possible.

So if you think attending college is out of your grasp for reasons of time or money, look around first to see what's out there!  You might be pleasantly surprised!
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Consider Bringing a Bike to College

August 7, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

Earlier this week, I blogged about two community colleges whose students could save money by attending college full-time on Fridays.  One of the most significant savings of this program will be gas costs for commuter students. Full time Fridays are by no means the only way for students to save money on gas and car maintenance this fall, though.  According to a recent article in USA Today, several colleges are getting on the bandwagon of encouraging students not to drive to campus, including several colleges that are instituting a bike sharing program, one that's moving a bike shop into its student union, and one that's giving free bikes to students who opt not to bring cars with them to college.

So now more than ever, leaving the car at home may be a great way to save money in college, and use that hard-earned scholarship money for other expenses besides gas.  While policies to discourage driving have existed for years at some campuses, such as high parking permit prices ($300 is a number I've heard from students at more than one state college) and limiting access to on-campus parking through means such as parking permit lotteries and limiting parking to upperclassmen, many colleges and universities seem to be showing a far greater commitment to making it possible for students to easily get around without a vehicle.

So, freshmen, as you're starting to pack for school this fall, ask yourselves, "Do I really need a car on campus?"  Furthermore, look to see what your new college might be doing to help students get around town.  Is there good public transportation?  Are there bike racks outside campus buildings and bike lanes on campus or around town?  Does your school have a bike sharing program or a bike club or repair shop that will help you with maintenance and repairs?  High school seniors, these might be good questions to ask in your college search.

With our society becoming increasingly environmentally conscious, now could be a great time to propose a fuel-saving plan at your high school or college, as well.  More and more scholarships and grants are being awarded to students who create eco-friendly projects, so if you're sick of having to drive to school and you can propose a solution to the problem, start searching for available scholarships and grants to see if anyone's interested in funding your education, or at least your project.  Saving on gas, looking good for college admissions, and possibly getting some money out of the deal--what's to lose?
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