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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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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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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.
  2.  
  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.
  4.  
  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.
  6.  
  7. The creation of a FAFSA EZ form that will simplify the financial aid application process.
  8.  
  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.
  •  
  • 87%  of respondents said they favor allowing students to earn college credits while still in high school.
  •  
  • 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.
  •  
  • 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.
  •  
  • Americans are losing faith in standardized tests and believe there are better ways to measure a child's academic and other skills.
  •  
  • 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.
  •  
 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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