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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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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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College Costs , College News



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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