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MEFA Bailout Plan Meets Resistance

August 8, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

Earlier this week, Massachusetts Governor Deval L. Patrick asked his state's wealthiest universities (such as Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) to help bail out the Massachusetts Education Financing Authority (MEFA), which announced last week that it would not be able to provide loans to over 40,000 students this fall.  However, as an article published today in The Chronicle of Higher Education explains, many parties regard this request as well-intentioned but highly problematic, mainly due to recent lawsuits and legislation regarding potential conflicts of interest in relationships between colleges and student loan providers.  The Massachusetts state treasurer, who vetoed the governor's request to invest money in MEFA, stated that bailing out MEFA was not a good investment and could set a dangerous precedent for use of state funds.  While several colleges said they would consider investing in MEFA to help them provide enough loans to be able to receive assistance from the federal government, none have yet said yes, and many express concerns about what people will think of their relationship with the lending agency once the economy recovers.  When viewed in light of last year's preferred lender list scandal, such hesitation is understandable.

However, while both sides of this issue have adopted positions based on sound principles and the belief in doing what will ultimately be best for students, thousands of students are still left in a lurch when it comes to finding money for college.  With the new Higher Education Act still sitting on President Bush's desk, and the school year fast approaching, many families, and not just ones in Massachusetts, may be struggling to find ways to pay for school.  It's never too late to start applying for financial aid, though!  Students who haven't yet done so should complete a FAFSA on the Web, which could potentially qualify you for federal grant programs.  Once you've received your financial aid award letter, be sure to talk to your school's financial aid office, especially if you plan on receiving loans.   Finally, students of all ages should also check out our free scholarship search, as there are scholarships being awarded year-round, and scholarship awards can be one of the best means of funding your education.

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Bush Signs HEA Reauthorization

August 15, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

Yesterday, President Bush signed the Higher Education Opportunity Act, the official reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) which governs federal student financial aid for college, as well as other federal programs and regulations that pertain to higher education.

Under the new version of the HEA students can expect a number of benefits when it comes to finding money for college.  Some of the changes include: 

     
  1. Increased Pell Grant awards, as well as Pell funding available for summer school.  Pell Grants, currently capped at $4,731, will increase to $6,000 for the 2009-2010 school year, and will go up by an additional $400 a year, reaching $8,000 per year in 2014.
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  3. Increased Perkins Loan limits, going from $4,000 to $5,500 for undergraduate students, and from $6,000 to $8,000 for graduate students.
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  5. Expanded loan forgiveness programs for students pursuing careers in the following areas:  early childhood educators; nurses; foreign language specialists; librarians; highly qualified teachers; child welfare workers; speech-language pathologists; audiologists; national service; school counselors; public sector employees; nutrition professionals; medical specialists; physical therapists; and superintendents, principals, and other (school) administrators; occupational therapists; and dentists.
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  7. The creation of a FAFSA EZ form that will simplify the financial aid application process.
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  9. Within the next year, the Department of Education will need to create a tool allowing students to estimate the net price of an education at various institutions, taking into account costs of attendance and financial aid.  Schools will need to follow suit with similar tools within two years of the implementation of the federal net price calculator.
  10.  
  11. The Department of  Education will begin publishing lists of the top 5% of universities in each of the following categories:  the highest tuition and fees, the highest net price, the largest percent increase of tuition and fees over the last three years, the largest percent increase in net price over the last three years.  The Department of Education will also publish lists of the 10% of universities with the lowest tuition and lowest net price.
  12.  
 So in the coming years, students can expect to see it get easier to figure out the cost of school, pay for school, and possibly repay loans if they're going into a high need field.

The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators also offers a point-by-point breakdown of the Higher Education Opportunity Act on their website.

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Poll Examines How America Pays for College

August 20, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

The results of a poll conducted by Sallie Mae and Gallup were released today, painting a picture of where Americans across income levels find money for college.  The study found that sources of funding varied, with parent borrowing (16%), student borrowing (23%), and parent income and savings (32%) taking care of the majority of college costs.  Scholarships and grants followed closely behind, making up 15 percent of college funding.

The average grant and scholarship awards and student loan amounts were roughly the same for low income families (families making below $50,000 a year), while middle income families relied most heavily on parent income and student loans, and high income families (families making above $100,000 a year) predominantly used parent income and savings to pay for school.

While more students than parents were likely to rule out a school at some point in their college search based on cost (63% vs. 54%), two in five families said that cost was not a consideration in choosing the right college for them, and 70 percent of students and parents said that future income was not a factor when determining how much to borrow.

Additionally, 20 percent of families reported using either a second mortgage or a credit card to pay some portion of tuition, while only 9 percent of families reported using a college savings plan, such as a 529 plan, to pay for part of tuition (though those who did were able to cover nearly $8,000 of the cost of college with one).  The study also found that only 76 percent of students whose families made between $35,000 and $50,000 per year, many of whom may be eligible for state and federal grant programs, did not complete the FAFSA.  Only 73 percent of familes making between $50,000 and $100,000 per year completed a FAFSA, despite many families' reliance on loans to pay for college.

The full text of the report is available on the Sallie Mae website.

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Poll Highlights American Attitudes About Education

August 21, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

The results of a poll conducted by Phi Delta Kappa International and Gallup were released today, revealing current American attitudes towards education, at both the high school and college levels.  The majority of respondents were in favor of increasing funding for and access to education at all levels.

According to the poll, 

     
  • Americans increasingly believe that young people should not only finish high school, but that many of them will need to go to college to be successful.
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  • 87%  of respondents said they favor allowing students to earn college credits while still in high school.
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  • Americans favor an increased use of federal funds to finance public schools and also to support young people who have the desire and academic ability to attend college.
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  • 86% or respondents favored more state and federal student financial aid for students who have the ability and desire to attend college but not enough money.
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  • Americans are losing faith in standardized tests and believe there are better ways to measure a child's academic and other skills.
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  • Americans continue to have little faith in No Child Left Behind, with only 1 in 5 thinking it works well at is, and most respondents believing that American students continue to struggle to compete with other countries in terms of math, science, and reading ability.
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 So if you wish your high school would offer more Advanced Placement credits and that colleges would place less emphasis on ACT and SAT scores, you are not alone.  The results of this survey serve to put more pressure on colleges, universities, high schools, and state and federal governments to provide more sources of financial aid to students, as well as to do more to ensure that students are attending college and getting the education they need.

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Enrollment Up at Community Colleges

August 22, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

If you're thinking about enrolling in a community college, it looks like you're not alone.  Community colleges across the country are reporting increases in enrollment of up to 10% for the fall semester, with registration still ongoing at many schools.  The present economic situation in the U.S. is prompting more and more people to consider attending college, while concerns about rising costs of living and potential difficulties finding money for college are causing more people to worry about how to pay for school.  Additionally, community colleges continue to ramp up their efforts to attract students and provide high-quality education at an affordable price.

All of these factors combine to make community colleges an attractive educational option for many students.  With new legislation in the recently reauthorized Higher Education Act requiring universities to make their transfer credit policies for undergraduate students more transparent, and a preliminary study being conducted by the Department of Education to identify some potential student concerns in the transfer process, it's also becoming easier for students to start at a community college, then later transfer to a four-year university.

There can be some drawbacks to community colleges, though.  According to one study, community college students may be less likely to have concrete plans for just how long they will attend school and more likely to leave college without attaining a degree, but a large part of this could be due to community colleges attracting a more diverse group of students.  Additionally, community college instructors are often not as experienced and credentialed as their peers at four-year schools, though students can still find themselves taking intro courses from adjuncts and graduate students at many state universities.

So if you're open-minded and willing to transfer, consider community colleges in your college search.  Community college students enjoy lower tuition, take many of the same general education classes as their peers at public and private universities, are eligible for federal student financial aid, and in some cases even have the option to live on-campus.  For many students they can be great ways to ease into college life without going too deep into student loan debt.

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California Community Colleges to Offer New Scholarship

August 26, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

California's community colleges system plans to begin offering $1,000 scholarships to many of its students in 2009, according to an article in Diverse Issues in Higher Education.  The schools received a $25 million endowment in May from a foundation that supports education and the arts, and will receive matching funds of up to another $25 million after fundraising efforts this fall.  These scholarship opportunities will help make college more affordable for anywhere from 1,250 to over 5,000 students annually, depending on the amount of money California community colleges are able to raise to contribute to the fund.

This is just one of several efforts being undertaken by California's community colleges in order to start tapping into alumni donations and building endowment funds to help students pay for school. The San Mateo Community College foundation has increased its staff and started publishing an alumni newsletter to solicit donations, and the Foundation for California Community Colleges, which will administer the new scholarship fund, is helping other schools devise strategies for fundraising.

As community college enrollment continues to increase and states continue to cut funding to community colleges in order to balance their budgets, it makes sense for community colleges to increasingly turn to philanthropic gifts to meet their students' needs.  If other states follow California's example, attending college at a two-year institute could become a more attractive option for many students who are strapped for cash or coming up short on financial aid at a more expensive institution.  In addition to scholarships administered by the colleges, community college students are also eligible to compete for many private scholarship awards.

To research community college options in California or other states, check out our college search tool.  To find out about additional sources of scholarship money, fill out a profile on Scholarships.com and conduct a free scholarship search.

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College Living Expenses Can Add Up Quickly

September 3, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

Don't forget about spending money when planning for college costs.  This advice comes from Alabama's Birmingham News, which spoke with some students, parents, and financial aid administrators in the state about dealing with expenses that fall outside of paying tuition and room and board.  However, Alabama students and families are by no means the only ones not sure how to deal with how much living at college will cost.

Financial aid offices typically figure a few thousand dollars into a student's cost of attendance estimate to cover such expenses as gas, car maintenance, toiletries, clothes, entertainment, and food and drinks not from the dining center, but actual experiences vary widely among students.  Some college students certainly choose the spartan lifestyle of staying in the dorm, using their meal plan, and biking around campus to attend free school-sponsored activities.  Others fail to resist the urge to splurge, doing their studying at the all night diner just a short drive from campus or swinging by the mall for some retail therapy and a movie after a particularly grueling week of class.  I was certainly in the latter category, despite my best intentions of being thrifty and only spending what I earned working at my work-study job (work-study, for those unfamiliar, is a campus-based aid program that is more easily used to cover living expenses than tuition).

But don't assume the worst and rush out to borrow an extra $10,000 to cover unforseen expenses.  Instead, practice some basic money management.  Take an honest look at your spending habits and how much you'll realistically want to scale them back to save money.  Then look at how much you can earn while in school without getting off-track for graduation, and start figuring out how to make up any differences between the two.  A summer job or an extra scholarship award or two could give you enough money to survive the next 9 months without having to resort to student loans to fix your car, get you home for Christmas, or feed you until you land a new job.  As a recent grad who looked to borrowing as the easy way out of tight financial situations, believe me, those little loan amounts add up.

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More Colleges Offer Financial Literacy Programs

September 4, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

For many students, the college experience can be a financial minefield.  Even if they manage to avoid the lure of blowing their financial aid check on a plasma TV or a brand new car, there are thousands of other potential pitfalls.  These include the credit card companies lining the main drag of campus offering free college t-shirts to anyone who signs up for their card; your first dorm or apartment to outfit and decorate; and then all of the opportunities for shopping, dining, and entertainment that a college town provides.  And we haven't even gotten to the actual act of paying tuition yet!  Even if your scholarship search was fruitful and you were able to find money for college, there's still the chance of overspending and winding up turning to less wise solutions to make it to the end of the term.

So how are students supposed to survive college without unnecessary credit card or student loan debt?  Many schools are offering money management courses and one-on-one financial counseling services to help students be more judicious with their college funds.  I can certainly think of some lessons I could've used as an undergrad, like "3 AM is not dinner time," its corollary, "espresso is not an adequate substitute for sleep," and of course, "you don't have to buy it just because it's on sale."  Being forced to budget out just how much that 10-block drive to class (plus the 15 minutes of circling the "good" parking lot for a spot) actually cost me that last year of school would've also been helpful.

Now students at numerous colleges in several states can choose to educate themselves and avoid learning similar life lessons the hard way.  Unfortunately, many of these programs go under-publicized and under-utilized, as budgeting honestly isn't fun, and many students may be afraid that setting a budget means giving up their college lifestyle, staying at home, and having to go on a budget diet.  However, the Chronicle of Higher Education suggests that students can benefit immensely from financial literacy courses, and anecdotal evidence suggests these students take on less debt and have an easier time transitioning into the "real world" after graduation.  Courses are often offered to incoming freshmen or graduating seniors, with counseling services typically being made available to any students currently attending college.  If you're interested in finding out about how to stretch your college fund, student loans, or scholarship money further, check with your college to see if they offer any of these services.

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Endowment Spending Transparency Advocated in Senate Finance Committee Hearing

September 9, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

In a hearing yesterday, Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa suggested that he would back off from his proposal of mandating that colleges and universities spend five percent of their endowments on financial aid, provided schools continue to voluntarily increase grant and scholarship awards to students as many have been doing this year.

This is the latest development in a series of events that began unfolding when Congress began looking into the endowment spending of several of the country's wealthiest universities earlier this year.  Legislation to mandate increased endowment spending has since been proposed and withdrawn, as several schools with large endowments began offering significantly larger financial aid packages to their students.

The panel, which was made up of representatives of several universities and the Senate Finance Committee also discussed the rising cost of college education, what schools and lawmakers can and should do in the face of the issue, and the importance of flexibility in endowment spending.  Lawmakers and educators are both concerned about the increasing burden of student loan debt on American students, but colleges are also concerned about being forced to spend more than they can afford to assist students with their tuition payments.

Primary among their concerns, though, was an increase in transparency of university endowments and spending habits.  Colleges were more willing to agree to making information about their endowments and spending available to the public, as opposed to accepting a mandate for how much they are required to spend on student financial aid each year.  Grassley also introduced a plan to make colleges fill out a Form 990, the tax form all nonprofits file, using a version of the form similar to the one designed for hospitals.

While the Senate Finance Committee has moved away from requiring colleges to devote a substantial portion of endowment spending to helping students pay for school, Sen. Grassley's words seem to suggest that if schools don't keep up their efforts to make attending college more affordable for their students, Congress may yet decide to intervene.

Hopefully, what this will mean for students is a continued increase in campus-based aid programs, such as scholarship opportunities and grants and fellowships.  At the very least, it looks like it may be getting even easier to compare information about spending habits of various schools in your college search, being able to ultimately arrive at a better determination of which schools are most likely to want to help you afford to attend.

Inside Higher Ed has more complete coverage of the hearing available here.

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New England Students Able to Find Student Loans, Says Survey

September 10, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

Despite the student loan credit crunch that has been repeatedly making headlines this year, students and parents in several New England states had little to no trouble finding money for college this fall, according to a survey conducted by the New England Board of Higher Education.

The survey asked financial aid administrators at 214 colleges and universities to assess the level of difficulty students faced finding financial aid, as well as the effectiveness of the Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act passed by Congress earlier this year to ensure continued availability of Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) funds.

The survey found an increase in students borrowing unsubsidized Stafford Loans, as well as no major concerns over the availabilty of those funds through FFELP lenders.  It also showed that more families have borrowed Federal PLUS Loans this year, possibly due to recent changes that allow families to defer payments until after students graduate.  These changes seem to have mostly made up for the decreased availability of private student loans.  However, some financial aid administrators are still concerned over continued availability of student loans, and caution that families may face difficulties making tuition payments in future semesters.

Based on this information, it appears there's little reason to put your college plans on hold, but you might still want to devote an increased amount of time to finding scholarships.  While it looks like students are still able to pay for school, changes in the student loan landscape may still leave some students without a plan B for covering college costs if their initial plans fall through.

Really, though, financial aid advice hasn't changed much.  Now, as always, planning ahead is key.  As always, a good college financing strategy involves doing the following: conduct a scholarship search, take time to complete the FAFSA, learn about and take advantage of all possible federal student financial aid, apply for university scholarships and campus-based aid, and only then consider applying for a private student loan.

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