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by Paulina Mis

Kathy L. Hardy, her two daughters and two other associates are being charged for having allegedly taken out numerous fraudulent private student loans since 2005. The five women were accused of having received a combined sum of more than $690,000 by filling out over 70 student loan applications, reported U.S. News.

Though many of the loan applications were denied, a number of lenders, including Sallie Mae, the biggest student lender in the business, lent tens of thousands to the applicants. By using stolen Social Security numbers and the information of victims whose names resembled their own, the five women were able to slip by lender verifications.

The FBI's investigation into the matter began when one of the victims complained that someone had taken out a loan under her name. Upon further investigation, it was found that the women alleged to have been at fault had stolen numerous identities—including one that belong to a deceased person—to collect money.

The case raised concerns that the stealing of identities to obtain private student loans may be too simple. Because private student loans are easier to obtain than Federal Stafford and Perkins Loans, and because private student loans are not sent directly to colleges and universities, the potential for fraud may be considerable.

To minimize the chance that similar problems will arise in the future, a congressional provision that would force student lenders to forward loans directly to schools is being considered.  The suggestion has received mixed reviews from lenders who, one hand, would like to eliminate the possibility of fraud, and, on the other, want to facilitate the borrowing process for potential customers.


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by Paulina Mis

A college education is an expensive purchase. It’s certainly an investment, but an expensive one nonetheless. Many students are forced to take out thousands in student loans to afford college, but some are so close to  paying for school that accumulating college debt on account of minor need would be a shame.

For many such students, tuition installment plans may be a good option. Certain colleges and universities allow students to split up their semester or trimester payments into monthly installments. They pair up with one or more tuition installment plan companies which administer the services, and make the option of enrolling available to those who are interested.

Students and parents who receive steady paychecks and those awaiting college scholarship or grant awards may benefit from the tuition installment plan option. Such plans are interest free, but, unfortunately, they are not cost free. Individuals who use tuition installment plans usually have to pay administering companies annual enrollment fees or finance charges, ones that usually average between $30 and $60. Certain participating colleges may also ask that those enrolled pay a large portion of their college tuition and fees up front.

Students considering a tuition installment plan should contact their college financial aid office to find out if the plan is available and, if so, what fees are involved.


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by Paulina Mis

Dorms are filled to the brim with students your age, and therein lies their charm. But after finding a group of people you enjoy spending time with, their appeal slowly fades. Dorms are cramped, noisy, and, eventually, old news. But before you can hug your RA goodbye, you need to find an apartment, and that takes some planning. The following tips can help you find the best-suited home at a reasonable price.

Determine Boundaries. Before the apartment hop begins, establish a general search boundary. Off-campus apartments may be cheaper, but, depending on location, the class hike may be substantial. Decide which is the bigger priority, finance or location, and be realistic about how far you are willing to walk—in boots on a rainy, snowy day—to your perfect residence.

Get a Head Start. If you attend a large state school, chances are, you have options. But you can only be as picky as the time allows. Begin your apartment search early, around December or January. If you wait until the summer months to find an apartment for the upcoming year, you may find your options slim. Stake your claim before someone else can.

Look at Reviews. What you don’t see when you visit an apartment—the unreachable repairman, the stinky, bug-ridden basement—may come back to haunt you. One of the best ways to gauge a potential home is by seeking out feedback from previous tenants. Reviews of landlords and apartments can frequently be found in campus newspapers, both on and offline. You may also want to ask around. Satisfied and disgruntled students alike are often willing to let you know what they think.

Budget. When budgeting, you have to consider paying for school, for residence, for food, for leisure, for holiday gifts, for transportation, for emergencies and so on. If you're an apartment penny pincher, it's best to limit surprises. Ask landlords about any city or tenant fees that may be tacked on to the lease, and find out if if gas, water, parking or an internet/cable package are included. If you don’t plan to stay on campus during the summer months, also ask about a 10-month lease option. The need for apartments drops during the summertime, and many students have a hard time finding individuals willing to sublet at full price. By asking the right questions and budgeting accordingly, you can avoid many such problems down the road.


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by Paulina Mis

According to West Virginia’s The State Journal, a recent poll indicates that Americans are prioritizing the affordability of a college education over other factors. Though criteria such as scholastic quality, distance and diversity were also critical, the cost of a school topped the list as most important.

With college costs continuing to outpace inflation and graduates finishing school with growing debt, families are beginning to realize that attending schools within their means may be more important than attending ones of greater prestige. A recent report from the National Center for Education Studies (NCES) stated that during the 2005-2006 school year, 46 percent of first-time, full-time students who sought a degree took out student loans, a few graduating more than $100,000 in debt.

The Chronicle of  Higher Education Gallop Poll indicated that, though there were conflicting views over whether the government or the public should be responsible for much of the cost, most agreed that colleges should contribute to the solution by spending a larger percentage of their endowment funds.

As the media focuses on problems of national debt, controversy has grown over the use of annually increasing endowment funds acquired through donations to colleges. Though endowment contributors frequently create stipulations about who may or may not receive their scholarship money, the public has pointed to the questionable nature of storing funds and increasing tuition, especially during a time when debt has become a growing problem for students.


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by Paulina Mis

Last Thursday, the House of Representatives approved a renewed and altered version of the recently expired Higher Education Act. A similar renewal act was passed by the Senate in July, and it was also unanimous. Before the bill is sent to the president, it will have to be reviewed again, and one version must be created. The amended portion, otherwise known as the College Opportunity and Affordability Act, addresses financial aid hardships faced by students attempting to afford a college education. Connecticut Congressman Joe Courtney stated that, "Access for all Americans to a college education is a roadmap to a strong middle class."

Based on information provided by the House of Representatives’ Committee on Education and Labor, the College Opportunity and Affordability Act will:

1. Encourage colleges to lower or maintain costs by making sure that states provide them with sufficient funding. Schools that choose to increase tuition will have to provide reasoning for the change as well as plans to again decrease costs.

2. Lower the chance that lenders and schools will engage in inappropriate relations (such as the use of biased preferred lender lists) by requiring that lenders and schools abide by codes of conduct and by making more loan information available to student borrowers.

3. Simplify the FAFSA application process by creating a more straightforward FAFSA-EZ form for low-income families and by allowing families more time to create plans for tuition saving.

4. Assist students in affording textbooks by providing information about the costs of books in advance.

5. Improve education by creating programs that encourage students to act on their interests in the sciences and by providing financial assistance to graduates who work in the public sector.

6. Help low income, minority and disabled students afford an education by improving the effectiveness of the TRIO grant for low-income students, by helping colleges recruit and retain students with disabilities and by allowing students to receive Pell Grant scholarships aid year round.

7. Increase financial and social support for veterans and military families interested in receiving a postsecondary education.

8. Improve safety by helping colleges create emergency systems and by establishing disaster relief loan programs in case of disaster.


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Lottery Scholarships

January 25, 2008

by Paulina Mis

Your shot at winning the lottery is not particularly high, but playing is so easy that it’s simply irresistible. Though students should not hinge their entire financial futures on luck alone, lottery scholarships are a fun and easy way to supplement one's scholarship search. Plus, someone has to win. Maybe it'll be you. But before you go lottery crazy, familiarize yourself with the options, and get the facts on lottery scholarships and lottery-funded scholarships (there is a difference).

Lottery Scholarships: There are two kinds of lottery scholarships, ones that are state-sponsored and ones that are sponsored by outside providers, usually businesses. Company-funded lottery scholarships, also known as sweepstakes, pretty much embody what comes to mind when one hears the word “lottery”. Most people are eligible, and the application process is pretty easy; sometimes contact information is the only requirement. Unlike regular lotteries, you don’t have to pay to play. If paying is a requirement, don’t apply; more than enough charge-free awards are available. 

Once the entries are in and the lottery deadline passes, the sponsoring company will choose an applicant at random—think computer generations rather than spinning spheres with name ballots. If you’re wearing your lucky socks on selection day, you just might win.

Lottery-Funded Scholarships: Another type of lottery scholarship is the state-sponsored, lottery-funded one. These scholarship prizes are paid for by the big, jackpot of $50 million, kinds of lotteries. A number of states have adopted programs wherein a portion of the revenues received from lottery tickets are used for education programs (both scholarships and school contributions).  Not all states participate yet, but it’s quite possible that more will jump on the bandwagon. Tennessee, New Mexico, Maryland, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, New York, South Carolina, Missouri and West Virginia are among those sponsoring lottery-funded scholarship programs.

State eligibility requirements for lottery-funded scholarships vary greatly from state to state, with some states having stricter regulations than others. Usually, students who apply for lottery-funded state scholarships must at the very least attend a high school and college within the state of the program.

Students who apply for certain lottery-funded scholarships must also meet or exceed a particular GPA or standardized test score before applying. For example, only students with a GPA of at least 2.75 may apply for the merit-based Florida Bright Futures Scholarship. 

Other states make financial need a requirement. This may partially ease the minds of people who have voiced concerns about lottery-funded scholarships taking from the poor and giving to the middle classes. According to professor of economics Mary O. Borg, a disproportionately large portion of lottery tickets are purchased by low-income customers. These winning are then redistributed largely to middle class students at the expense of the poor.

To find lottery and sweepstake scholarships you may be eligible to receive, conduct a free college scholarship search at Scholarships.com.  You can also check out our Scholarships.com "Tell A Friend" $1,000 Sweepstakes contest for a chance to win $1,000 towards your college education!


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by Paulina Mis

Each year, I heard complaints about the textbook policies of my old college economics teacher. He wrote the only textbook required for class and re-released it—in a nearly identical format—annually. As a result, previous students couldn’t make money by reselling their old books, and new students couldn’t buy used books at a discounted price.

If the House passes its proposed textbook bill, universities might be forced to curb this type of practice. The new bill would make it mandatory for colleges to release course supply information in catalogs thereby giving students the chance to consider class costs before signing up and the time to search for cheaper resources.

Publishers would also have to play a part in decreasing the supply prices. The bill proposed that publishers be forced to minimize textbook costs by cutting down on attached CDs and workbooks. They would also have to publicize the wholesale costs of books and to make known the previous versions costs. If the new versions were revised, the revisions would have to be summarized. With this information, students would be better equipped to decide whether a new textbook version was worth the price.

The book addendum, a part of the House’s new version of the Higher Education Act, was not a part of the corresponding version already approved by the Senate. If the House passes this bill, Senators will again have to approve the changes.


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by Paulina Mis

Complaints about skyrocketing tuitions at four-year colleges and universities have been reverberated around the nation for quite some time—especially within the past year. Less attention has been paid to the financial difficulties at community colleges.

Even though four-year schools offer less expensive classes, they also possess fewer funds to offer students additional help in affording an education. Many universities have alumni who donate thousands, sometimes millions to their beloved alma maters. Some have accumulated endowments in excess of $1 billion. Such is rarely the case for community colleges.

According to an article published by the Associated Press, the financing problem is further compounded by the fact that community colleges are in dire need of funding for graduation rate improvement. While few four-year colleges and universities can brag about the high number of students who receive diplomas after enrolling, especially as far as undergraduate programs are concerned, rates are particularly poor at community colleges. These schools enroll 6.6 million students who seek credits or degrees (and a few more million who don’t), but many students don't accomplish their graduation or transfer goals before leaving.

The results of a Cal State Sacramento Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy study that tracked 520,407 community college students over a six-year period showed that only 24 percent of those seeking to graduate or earn a degree were able to do so in six years.

Community colleges find themselves in a difficult situation because they need funds to get students in and ones to get them out, with a degree. These schools receive financial aid based on the student population, so they go out of their way to make enrollment easy. Once students are in, including ones with outside jobs and those who registered late, they have trouble completing their education.

Posted Under:

College Costs , College News


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by Paulina Mis

In a bold move reflective of the volatile loan market, Michigan announced its decision to temporarily suspend the state-run Michigan Alternative Student Loan (MI-Loan) program. Alternative loans, otherwise known as private student loans, are often used by students to supplement federal Pell Grants and government loans.

Those who are ineligible for government aid or who don’t receive enough of it often look to alternative loans for additional funding assistance. According to the Associated Press, about 8,500 loans totaling $68 million were offered through the MI-Loan program last year.  As of Friday evening, these loans will no longer be available to students. 

In their notice, the Michigan Higher Education Student Loan Authority stated that “There is not sufficient available capital to continue making MI-Loans.” With student lenders facing the effects of a major mortgage crisis as well as subsidy cuts from the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, the pressure is on to make a profit. Numerous student lenders have already announced their plans to cut loan benefits and tighten eligibility requirements. Some have even closed their doors completely.

Michigan students eligible for MI-Loans (students attending Michigan colleges or universities) can still look to other lenders for assistance. In fact, JPMorgan Chase & Company is even decreasing their loan rates and fees. Once funding becomes available-- if funding becomes available--MI-Loans will again be an option.

To diminish their reliance on loans,  affected students can also apply for Michigan scholarships. By conducting a free college scholarship search at Scholarships.com, students from each state will have access to information about more than 2.7 million college scholarships and grants worth 19 billion.


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by Paulina Mis

Despite investigations into shady business practices of study-abroad programs across the nation, Congress continues to support the idea of travel for college students. Last June, a bill to increase study-abroad funding was passed in the House, and a similar version was approved last week by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The initial version of the Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation bill was passed by the House in June, 2007 and introduced to the Senate by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Norm Coleman (R-MN). If passed, it would allow Congress to appropriate $80 million each year towards a foundation awarding financial aid to study-abroad students.

The bill would encourage one million students to study abroad, especially in non-traditional settings. According to Senator Durbin, the travel will, “allow students the opportunity to grow and gain skills to help our nation compete in the globalized world.”

Now that the bill has been approved by the Senate committee, it will move to the Senate floor for a full vote. Approval seems likely as positive feedback has been expressed by both parties.

The proposal is particularly aimed at assisting minority students with scholarships and grants. Senator Coleman stated that, “The goal of the Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act is to make study abroad in high-quality programs in diverse locations around the world the routine, rather than the exception, for American college students.”

Over the past year, study abroad programs have received more publicity for their troubles than their benefits. Inquiries into the actions of program representatives who received free trips and money for meeting student traveler quotas have marred the image of numerous programs. If the appropriations are approved, increased financial accountability is likely.

Students interested in studying abroad need not wait until this bill clears both chambers. By completing a free college scholarship search, students can find information about numerous college scholarships and grants that can help them afford school. Both study-abroad scholarships and awards based on different criteria are available.


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