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On-Demand Textbook Printing Available to U of Michigan Students

September 19, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

In order to reduce the amount their students have to spend on textbooks, more and more professors are using course material that can be found for free.  With the advent of sites such as Google Books, which serve as valuable and easily accessible sources of full-text works that are no longer copyrighted, students can get their course material for free, rather than having to shell out $15 or more for a brand new copy of a book originally published a century ago.  I noticed this trend gaining momentum throughout my academic career, especially in courses geared towards graduate students.

This option to access older literature online and save money is nice, but it still leaves students who don't want to spend hours hunched over their computers with the task of tracking down a hard copy of the book on their own, especially since my professors, at least, never seemed to place bookstore orders for texts they knew we could find for free.  Buying a copy requires forethought and printing the complete text of a 200-page essay can eat up a student's morning and their on-campus printing budget.  This scenario too often leaves students with less than a week to find, read, annotate, and understand a lengthy reading assignment for class.

The University of Michigan has just taken a step to make procuring books for class easier.  They have purchased and installed a machine, dubbed the "ATM of Books," that can print and bind a book in a few minutes at a cost to students of around $10 per copy.  This isn't much more expensive than buying a used paperback online or in the bookstore and is much faster and more convenient.

The Espresso Book Machine has access to the school's database of pre-1923 books, as well as websites that offer works that are not copyrighted, such as open-source textbooks.  Coupled with trends in making more course-related content available online, such as Stanford's recent move to place engineering and computer science course materials online, widespread use of the Espresso Book Machine could revolutionize the way students get textbooks.

This is nothing but good news for students: free digital course material, $10 bound copies of textbooks, and no worries about hunting all over for a book or printing a copy and losing pages.  With the prospect of eventually spending as little as $40-100 on textbooks for a semester, students at the University of Michigan will be able to stretch their financial aid dollars further and dip less into their college savings for books.  As online libraries of free textbooks continue to expand, hopefully other schools will invest in similar tools, cutting down on students' book expenses and making it a little bit easier to pay for school.

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Studying Abroad Is an Option, Despite Common Beliefs

September 23, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

A study abroad experience can be an important part of attending college.  Study abroad programs expose college students to other languages and cultures, giving them a valuable experience beyond mere tourism, and allowing them to gain a better sense of the wider world and their place in it.  For many students, trips abroad help shape their identities and their college experiences, typically for the better.  However, for many students, studying abroad is still seen as an option open only to white, well-traveled, and well-off students.

This stereotype has been highlighted both by popular media (the Chronicle of Higher Education points to a post in the popular blog Stuff White People Like, which humorously explains trends embraced by young, urban, middle-class, and predominately white people) and by academia.  Unfortunately, unlike other stereotypes and scholarship myths, it has some truth to it, as more white students tend to travel abroad while in school.  However, colleges and scholarship providers are struggling to change this and attract more minority and working-class students to study abroad programs.

Over the last few years, many schools have increased efforts to promote study abroad as something not only attainable but desirable for students who haven't yet traveled outside the US.  These efforts include making minority students more visible in promotional materials, making shorter and more affordable study abroad options available, and highlighting financial aid opportunities available to lower income students.

One such scholarship award, mentioned in the Chronicle of Higher Education article, is the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program, which helps fund semesters abroad for Pell Grant recipients.  Numerous other study abroad scholarships exist, and low-income and minority students, as well as any students unsure of their ability to afford to study outside the country, are encouraged to apply.  To find out more about study abroad programs, talk to the study abroad office at your college.  To find more scholarship money for study abroad, conduct a free scholarship search on Scholarships.com, where we list several awards applicable to studying outside the country, as well as other opportunities for need-based financial aid and scholarships for minorities.

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Survey Says Student Loans Steer Post-College Plans

September 25, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

In the wake of the credit crisis of the past year, innumerable articles have been written about the impact on the student loan industry, as several student lending agencies have been forced to stop offering federal and private loans to students or at least scale back their operations considerably.  Credit requirements have gotten more stringent for students whose lenders are still in business, and taking out a student loan is an even more time-consuming and uncertain process now than ever.

At the same time, the economic downturn that's accompanied the credit crisis is highlighting the difficulty students are facing repaying all of these student loans--loans they're being told now that they're lucky to get.  Many students feel caught in a difficult position.  Do they take out student loans, go horribly in debt, but get to ultimately pursue a fulfilling degree and a potentially more fulfilling career?  Do they work full-time through school and take longer to get the degree and spend less time in their dream job? Or do they minimize debt by going to work sooner in a field that's easier to break into and requires less education?

According to the results of a survey published in the Boston Business Journal, that first option might not even be an option for many students.  An online poll of 336 recent college grads revealed that 47 percent said that their career pursuits were influenced by their need to make student loan payments, while 25 percent reported putting future education plans on hold in order to minimize debt.  While these numbers are the results of only one web survey, they still send a pretty clear message that avoiding student loans is a good idea when trying to pay your way through school.

Congress is advocating the wider adoption of college savings accounts, such as 529 plans, and more universities are retooling their financial aid packages to benefit more needy students and rely more heavily on scholarships than on student loans. Many of the nation's top colleges have made a commitment to helping all accepted students afford to attend, and other schools are offering larger scholarship awards to students who most need them, as well.  For example, Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia just launched the Starfish Initiative, where anonymous donations are used to cover the remaining tuition balances of deserving seniors who might otherwise need to take out a substantial private loan or leave college.

But institutional aid and college savings accounts aren't the only options available to students.  A vast number of scholarship opportunities are out there, and despite the scholarship myths you may have heard, you can fund a substantial portion of your college education with such sources.  So start your scholarship search early and be persistent.  While soaring college costs and a weak economy may make it harder to pay for school, they don't mean you have to stay home or be overwhelmed by debt.  Do your research and find out what resources are available to help fund your education.

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Community Colleges: Could a Money-Saving Move Derail Your College Goals?

October 1, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

A working paper put out by the National Bureau of Economic Research provides new data on the learning outcomes of students who enroll at a community college with the intent to transfer to a four year school. The paper, discussed in detail in an article in Inside Higher Ed, suggests that even accounting for differences in educational goals, students starting at community colleges are less likely to earn a bachelor's degree in nine years than students who start at a four-year college.

The study tracked students who enrolled in Ohio's colleges and universities in 1998 and used a survey of incoming students from that year to determine career and college goals. Researchers then looked at the learning outcomes of community college students who took the ACT or professed an interest in ultimately getting a bachelor's degree.  The results showed that these students were 14.5 percent less likely than their counterparts at four-year colleges and universities to graduate.

The article stresses the difficulty in comparing students at the two different types of colleges.  Community college students tend to be from lower-income backgrounds and are more likely to be minorities or adult students, which can all be factors in students' likelihood to earn a degree.  The study also doesn't account for whether the difference is simply due to changes in plans.  Many students choose the less expensive option of community college because they are unsure of their educational goals, so it's likely those goals might change and students might decide to walk away with an associate's degree.

More research still needs to be done, but students who are considering starting at a two-year college then transferring may want to keep these numbers in mind.  While the study shows that students who do successfully transfer to a four-year state college do just as well as students who start in one, the transfer process can be difficult and daunting.  Students have to navigate the application process, degree requirements, and other hurdles at two institutions, and there's not always a guarantee that a student's credits will successfully transfer.  This can dissuade less dedicated students and students with fewer resources, as can the higher cost of tuition at a four-year university. Community college students also may not be sure what to expect in college at the baccalaureate level and may feel unprepared.

If you plan to put in a year or two at a community college then transfer, do your research thoroughly and make sure you're making the right college choice.  You'll need to have a clear sense of where you want to go and what you want to do, and find out as much as possible about what will be involved in transferring as early as you can. Learn about financial aid options available to you as a transfer student and make sure your plan will really make your bachelor's degree cheaper. Finally, don't get discouraged and keep your eyes on the prize.
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Worries About Economic Downturn Spread to Higher Ed

October 3, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

So far colleges and college students have been weathering the credit crunch and financial troubles on Wall Street fairly well.  Students have been able to get student loans and pay for school, and colleges have been able to raise money for projects and provide students with needed services and even additional scholarship money in many cases.  However, events of the past few weeks appear to be starting to take a toll on colleges and universities.

Earlier this week, many universities saw their investments held in the Commonfund, which was run by Wachovia, frozen after the bank announced that it would sell its operations to Citigroup this week.  Schools were initially given access to only 10 percent of Commonfund funds in order to prevent a run on the bank.  While the amount has increased and crisis has largely been averted for universities depending on this money for regular operating costs, there was initial concern this week that some schools might not be able to make payroll.

Boston University announced a freeze on future hiring and construction projects earlier this week, and the University of Memphis announced a voluntary buyout plan for 115 positions within the university.  Other colleges are beginning to struggle financially, as well, as they face the prospect of smaller donations and less state funding.  The economic downturn may lead to more staffing cuts, fewer resources available to students, higher tuition, and even smaller or fewer financial aid awards (especially in the case of scholarship awards that rely on alumni donations for funding each year).

While students typically flock to colleges and universities when they can't find employment, the impact of the economic downturn and the continued (though still entirely theoretical) threat of a lack of student loan or federal aid funding for students may cause some students to decide against attending college, or to make their decision based entirely on which option is cheapest.  The Chronicle of Higher Education, in addition to offering a thorough description of the impact of the economic downturn on higher education, also gives a list of prospective winners and losers if the situation continues to worsen.  The top of the list of losers?  Middle class families.
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TRIO Financial Aid and College Assistance Programs

November 27, 2007

by Scholarships.com Staff

The government funds a number of financial aid and mentoring programs, and you are probably—no offense—unaware of most. It’s not your fault. Most students are not well-versed in matters of federal aid because they have not been informed about their options.  Aside from the best-known federal grant, the Pell Grant, most students know little about available federal aid.

The TRIO program (no, this is not an acronym) is one of the lesser-known federal financial aid and counseling programs. It was created to assist students from disadvantaged backgrounds as well as those facing circumstances that hinder their academic pursuits. The TRIO program is made up of six different student programs and a training program for TRIO program staff. It not only addresses financial obstacles caused by affording an undergraduate education but also those caused by affording graduate school.

To be considered disadvantaged, students must have an maximum annual income of $15,315 for a one-person family unit, $20,530 for a two-person family unit, $25,750 for a three-person family unit and $5,220 for each additional person. (The income cutoff is higher in Hawaii and Alaska.)

The student programs offered through TRIO include:

Ronald E. McNair Post Baccalaureate Achievement Program- This program was created to increase the number of underrepresented students who obtain graduate and doctorate degrees.  Eligible students who demonstrate strong academic potential are assisted in their preparation for graduate studies with counselor support, financial aid, research and internship opportunities as well as tutoring programs.

Student Support Services (SSS) Program- The SSS program assists students in meeting their basic college requirements. The goal of the program is to increase student graduation rates and the number of students who continue their education. Eligible students will receive help in securing admission and financial aid to four-year colleges and universities, personal counseling, tutoring assistance, career planning and college scholarship information.

Talent Search- Students eligible for the talent search aid are assisted in completing their high school education and attending a college or university. Eligible disadvantaged students will be offered tutoring, career search aid, college information, counseling and mentoring services.

Upward Bound- The Upward Bound program assists high school students in preparing for college.  It awards aid to financially disadvantaged students, students whose parents did not obtain a bachelor’s education and low-income first-generation veterans pursing a college education. Upward Bound projects include tutoring in math, science, composition, literature and foreign languages. Students are also offering counseling, cultural enrichment programs and work-study programs.

The Upward Bound Math-Science Program- This program was created to improve the math and science skills of students and to encourage them to pursue a degree in the math and sciences. Participating students will receive aid with the help of summer programs, counseling, computer lessons and the opportunity to work with college faculty and graduate students on science research projects.

The Educational Opportunity Centers Program- The Educational Opportunity Centers Program is an assistance service for adults who need help in their pursuit of a postsecondary education. Eligible adults will receive personal counseling, information on college financial aid and tutoring aid.

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Financial Aid Glossary

November 28, 2007

by Scholarships.com Staff

Understanding college aid jargon can be tough. Learning about college requirements, school testing and financial aid applications is difficult enough. Bring snooty words and acronyms into the picture, and you’ll find yourself rereading the same sentence ten times.

To get into the college game, you have to know how to talk the talk. That’s where we come in. Scholarships.com offers you free access to a college prep and financial aid glossary that will help you decipher “advanced” school vocabulary. Before you get into the nitty gritty details of college planning, you need an overview, and we can help you with that.

Those applying for federal financial aid will need to know what a Pell grant is, how the Cost of Attendance (COA) is determined, and what the federal work study program (WSP)  has to do with their student aid report (SAR). It can be a lot to handle at first, but these are words worth knowing. You are likely to come across them when applying for aid, and when you do, you’ll know what you’re dealing with.

Such knowledge is particularly important for students who apply for loans. To make the best, most affordable choices, these students will need to know the difference between Perkins loans, Stafford loans, PLUS loans and private loans. Before signing anything, it’s important to know about Annual Percentage Rates (APR), accrued interest, loan deferment, loan defaulting and consolidation. The glossary will provide quick answers to these and other financial aid questions.

By taking advantage of the resources offered at Scholarships.com, you can feel confident about your financial aid and college planning decisions. Just breathe, and take things one step at a time. Sit down at the table with your financial aid documents and a glossary. Slowly things will begin to make sense. When you think you have the basics down, you can count on Scholarships.com for more in-depth information.

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North Virginia High Schools Funding AP Exams

December 13, 2007

by Scholarships.com Staff

Hey high school seniors (and superstar juniors), how would you like to have your school pay for your AP exams? I’m assuming there are no jeers in the crowd, at least not from students who know that College Board, the administrator of AP tests, charges students $84 for each exam.

Students lucky enough to belong to the numerous high schools in major North Virginia districts no longer have to worry about these rates. Since 1998, numerous counties in the state have been adopting the idea of helping students get an inexpensive head start on a college education. By paying for the students’ tests, these schools have been able to save students hundreds.

Those who take an AP class don’t always stop with one. Many students are taking on increasingly large loads, enrolling in two, three, four, even five college-level classes per year.  There are students who begin earlier than that, building up their resume during their junior year. The money they dish out for these tests adds up. Some students take advantage of the discount prices offered to low-income students, but most can't count on them.

Many North Virginia schools take care of this problem by entirely covering the cost of the exam. The testing fee policies do vary by school, and not all students can expect the same assistance. In return for the coverage, some schools require that all students  take the exams. Others do not. Some cover the whole cost, and others only pay a portion of the fee. Regardless, these schools deserve props for helping students meet their financial needs. It would be nice if the word spread to other states.

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Harvard Extends Financial Aid to the "Not-So-Needy"

December 14, 2007

by Scholarships.com Staff

In a move that’s both impressive and grossly irritating to poor students across the nation, Harvard University announced on Tuesday its intent to improve the financial aid packages of well-off students. Of course that’s not how they announced it. According to the Harvard Crimson (the university newspaper), the Dean of Admissions William Fitzsimmons proudly declared that the aid would allow students to pursue careers in public service without fear of outstanding debt--as if that's the ultimate goal of most Harvard graduates.

In 2006, Harvard eliminated contribution requirements for students whose families made less than $60,000 per year. It has taken things one step further this year by increasing the amount of financial aid offered to students whose household income was greater than that. Mr. Fitzsimmons stated that families making between $60,000 and $200,000 were in a state of “crisis” when it came to finding money for college.

Hmmm…Crisis eh? That’s quite a hyperbole, especially when one considers  the rising number of students who leave school with debt that exceeds $100,000. I somehow don’t feel bad for people making $200,000 each year, and I definitely don’t subscribe to the fact that they are going through a crisis. According to the 2006 U.S. Census Bureau, the median (not average) income in the U.S. is $48,201 and only 19 percent of households make over $100,000. Double that and the word crisis does not apply.

Under Harvard's new plan, families with incomes between $60,000 and $120,000 per year will soon be expected to pay 0-10 percent of their income for an education.  Those making between $120,000 and $180,000 will be expected to pay 10 percent of that amount. To put things in perspective, the sticker price for the Harvard package is $45,620, and a family making $180,000 will pay 39 percent of that.

After reading the article, Harvard graduate Andrew Kalloch offered his thoughts on the news in a letter to the editors, “I wear old T-shirts, and they suit me just fine. Others wear designer clothing and there is nothing wrong with that. What is wrong is asking alumni to contribute to the embarrassment of riches already bestowed upon the American upper class.”

I'm not saying we should begrudge any students their financial aid, popped collars or not. After all, low or nonexistent tuition would be a deserved dream come true for most hard working students. It's just a bit disconcerting that myriad students with incomes far below those acknowledged by Harvard are burdened by student loans, and no one is giving them a reasonable piece of the pie.

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Congress Proposes Financial Aid Cuts

December 18, 2007

by Scholarships.com Staff

Worried about President Bush’s threat to veto the bill, Democrats in Congress have made cuts to their initial proposal for the 2008 appropriations bill. The funding would affect numerous federal agencies, and compromised budgetary proposals were a common theme. Higher education programs dealing with financial aid and research grants were among those to see funding cuts.   

As reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education, the new bill would decrease the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) program budget by $13.5 million. The Perkins Loan program, a low-income federal student loan option, as well as the Leveraging Education Assistance Program (LEAP) would receive $1.1 million less than they did the previous year. Considering the president had suggested eliminating these programs altogether, they could have fared worse. 

Although a number of financial aid programs would receive a bump in budget, research inflation estimates would, in effect, lead to funding cuts. Financial aid for the National Institutes of Health is an example. Though the budget for the institutes would increase by 0.4 percent, the estimated 3.7 percent inflation rate in biomedical research would leave the institutes with smaller funds.  The National Science Foundation (NSF) would find itself in a similar position. 

If the budget is passed, some programs would see real budget increases in the upcoming year. The Health Careers Opportunity Program, the Allied Health program and NASA would each be offered greater budgets. Nursing education, an area that Bush had planned to lower funding for, would also see greater funding. Such a raise makes sense knowing that the nursing profession is growing in popularity and that nursing scholarships are in great demand.   Even with the cuts, the allocations differ from those originally suggested by the president. A response from the White House is yet to be seen.
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