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The Best Financial Aid Policies in Higher Ed

July 13, 2011

The Best Financial Aid Policies in Higher Ed

by Alexis Mattera

Did you know that more than 70 colleges across the country have replaced loans with grants? That’s right: Schools are offering more free money to entice students to enter their hallowed halls, meaning they will not be saddled with the often-dreaded student loan payments after graduation. What institutions come out on top? Here are a few of the best aid policies, courtesy of the Washington Post’s Daniel de Vise:

For de Vise’s complete top 12, click here. If your school made the cut, are you reaping the financial benefits? If your school is not represented, how are you paying for your degree?

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Starting Salaries Increase for 2011 Grads

July 8, 2011

Starting Salaries Increase for 2011 Grads

by Alexis Mattera

Attention recent college grads: You may be able to pay down those student loans a bit sooner than expected!

According to the annual Salary Survey by National Association of Colleges and Employers, graduates from the Class of 2011 shows a 4.8 percent starting salary bump over last year’s graduates. The increase was seen across most disciplines including engineering, liberal arts and social sciences, though 5 percent more 2010 graduates were able to find jobs than their 2011 counterparts. With approximately $2,357 more before taxes (this year’s grads will average $51,018 to last year’s average of $48,661), new grads will have enough for a few months of rent, some padding to a savings account or, yes, a way to make a dent in those loans.

Recent grads, are you happy about this news? Soon-to-be grads, are you hopeful the salary figures will continue to increase until you finish college?

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The Good News and Bad News About State Aid for Students

July 11, 2011

The Good News and Bad News About State Aid for Students

by Alexis Mattera

There’s good news and bad news regarding state aid for students. The good: State financial aid for college students, including grants, work-study and loans, rose by nearly 4 percent last year. The bad: Just about half of the states surveyed cut need-based grants, even as demand for financial aid increased.

The data – from a report by the National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs – also revealed a 1-percent decline in overall state higher education spending and more money spent on need-based grants versus the amount spent on merit-based grants. While this means some students have access to resources that will help them complete college and bolster the economy, not all students are benefiting. Ohio, Alaska, Michigan, Hawaii and Utah have cut need-based grant funding by as much as 66 percent and in Georgia, lower award levels have been implemented for the HOPE Scholarship. And what about California and Washington, where financial aid increased? They’ve seen an increase in student-aid applications but cannot honor all requests because they have run out of money.

Experts view these findings as positive overall but are proceeding with “cautious optimism.” Do you agree or disagree with the actions taken thus far?

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The Recession: College’s Sorting Hat?

July 14, 2011

The Recession: College’s Sorting Hat?

by Alexis Mattera

When the recession hit in 2008, higher education officials wondered how – not if – enrollment numbers would be impacted. Three years later, the damage has been revealed...and it’s not what anyone anticipated.

In a new report conducted by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, enrollment of traditional-age, first-time college students rose to 2.135 million in 2010, a 6.8-percent increase from 1.997 million in 2006. Enrollment at four-year public and private colleges remained relatively stable, as did retention and persistence rates, while more students than ever have enrolled in two-year colleges, from 41.7 percent in 2006 to 44.5 in 2009. The report suggests these students either 1. might have chosen a costlier school in a better economy or 2. would have otherwise joined the work force after high school. "The news of our demise is greatly exaggerated," Don Hossler, the center's executive director and a professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Indiana University at Bloomington, says of four-year institutions in general. "I was expecting more dramatic data, and thus far, the changes are not that dramatic." He does, however, go on to say that despite the encouraging findings, the recession's impact on college choices and educational paths may take years to emerge completely.

The report, "National Postsecondary Enrollment Trends: Before, During, and After the Great Recession," is the first in a series of analyses that the National Student Clearinghouse plans to release in the coming months. Given what you’ve seen or personally experienced, do you feel the results are accurate?

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Attention High School Students: This Scholarship is for YOU!

July 15, 2011

Attention High School Students: This Scholarship is for YOU!

by Alexis Mattera

Sure, brevity was a virtue for our Short & Tweet and Haiku Ninja scholarships but for the more verbose students in the crowd, there’s the Resolve to Evolve Essay Scholarship. The deadline for submission is September 30th, so if you haven’t started writing yet, here’s some helpful info.

The Resolve to Evolve Essay Scholarship – or the R2E, as we like to call it – provides students with the opportunity to move beyond finger-pointing and offer constructive criticism and workable solutions for problems facing an administration or organization. Each 300- to 800-word essay must be written in response to one of two questions; this year, they focus on the possible detrimental effects of technology on the masses and whether or not a college degree has value.

Who can enter and what will they win? Glad you asked! The R2E is open to all United States citizens who are registered users of Scholarships.com, will be enrolled in high school (grades 9 through 12) during the 2011-2012 academic year and will be between the ages of 13 and 19 at the time the award is given. The applicant who submits the best overall essay will receive a $2,000 scholarship. One (1) winner will also be selected from each grade level (freshman, sophomore, junior, senior) and will receive a $1,000 scholarship each.

As we said, the deadline is September 30th so there's still time to enter. For more information on R2E, click here or view the official rules. And remember, to access this and other scholarship opportunities, complete a Scholarships.com profile and conduct a free scholarship search today!

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PayScale’s Best-Paying College Majors

July 26, 2011

PayScale’s Best-Paying College Majors

by Alexis Mattera

According to a study by the National Center for Education Statistics, it costs approximately $80,000 in tuition plus expenses to earn a bachelor’s degree from a public four-year college and about $140,000 to gain the same credentials from a private nonprofit four-year institution. There are certainly ways to find this kind of fundinggrants, student loans and, hello, scholarships! – but will your major of choice be worth the money? If you select one of the fields included on PayScale’s list of best-paying college majors, it is decidedly so.

The annual list is dominated by engineering, with seven of the top 10 in branches of the field, while the other top-earning degrees include physics, applied mathematics and computer science:

Petroleum Engineering

  • Starting Median Pay: $97,900
  • Mid-Career Median Pay: $155,000

Chemical Engineering

  • Staring Median Pay: $64,500
  • Mid-Career Median Pay: $109,000

Electrical Engineering

  • Staring Median Pay: $61,300
  • Mid-Career Median Pay: $103,000

Materials Science and Engineering

  • Starting Median Pay: $60,400
  • Mid-Career Median Pay: $103,000

Aerospace Engineering

  • Starting Median Pay: $60,700
  • Mid-Career Median Pay: $102,000

Computer Engineering

  • Starting Median Pay: $61,800
  • Mid-Career Median Pay: $101,000

Physics

  • Starting Median Pay: $49,800
  • Mid-Career Median Pay: $101,000

Applied Mathematics

  • Starting Median Pay: $52,600
  • Mid-Career Median Pay: $98,600

Computer Science

  • Starting Median Pay: $56,600
  • Mid-Career Median Pay: $97,900

Nuclear Engineering

  • Starting Median Pay: $65,100
  • Mid-Career Median Pay: $97,800

Does this list have you reconsidering your college path or will you stick to your intended major?

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Head Out of State for an In-State Price

July 27, 2011

Head Out of State for an In-State Price

by Alexis Mattera

Scenario: Your dream school is beyond state boundaries but your college fund is more suited to a college closer to home. Don't fret: If you know what and where you want to study, you could score an impressive tuition break through a regional discount program. Here's the breakdown:

New England Regional Student Program: Students living in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island or Vermont could be eligible for average savings of $7,000 per year through this program if they enroll in a degree program not available at public schools in their home state. One drawback – if majors are changed, recipients may no longer be eligible for the tuition break.

Academic Common Market: Southerners (aka those living in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia or West Virginia) follow the same guidelines as the NERSP but with some additional restrictions. For example, schools in Florida, North Carolina, and Texas only offer tuition reductions at the graduate level.

Western Undergraduate Exchange: Do you live in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington or Wyoming and want $7,500 per year in average college savings? WUE requirements vary from state to state and campus to campus but more than 26,000 residents took advantage of the program last year...so, interested students, apply early to ensure funding.

Midwest Student Exchange Program: Students from Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota or Wisconsin can save an average of $4,274 per year on tuition without being restricted by majors. The catch is that schools (public and private this time) can limit what degree programs qualify for this discount.

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Fees Fatten College Costs

July 28, 2011

Fees Fatten College Costs

by Alexis Mattera

Take a look at your bills for next semester. If the costs seem a little higher than usual, don’t be quick to blame tuition. It could be fees plumping up your payments.

In an attempt to combat diminishing state funding, many public colleges have elected to raise student fees in lieu of increasing tuition. Though many schools have been quick to point out that the fee increases – $180 for repairs and maintenance (Indiana University-Bloomington), $150 for matriculation (Southern Illinois University-Carbondale) and a whopping $1,088 “special institutional fee” (public universities in Georgia), for example – are temporary to make up for budget shortfalls, it doesn’t change the fact that college students and their parents need to secure additional funding.

Not only are students questioning the rationale behind these various fee hikes but laws have been proposed to allow legislators to better examine how fees are justified and, later, spent – much like the Department of Education’s tuition report mandate from earlier this month. New Jersey legislators have proposed that state schools be required to detail on tuition bills how fees are allocated and, starting in August, state schools in North Dakota must publish an online breakdown of where the mandatory fees go.

Has your school increased its fees? If so, which ones? Are you happy to hear some states are taking steps to combat potentially unnecessary fee hikes?

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Could Foursquare Be the Next Big Thing on College Campuses?

July 29, 2011

Could Foursquare Be the Next Big Thing on College Campuses?

by Alexis Mattera

It should come as no surprise that the number of higher education institutions with social media presences has skyrocketed over the last few years. Today, 98 percent of colleges are on Facebook, 84 percent are on Twitter and some of these savvy schools are beginning to complement the information shared through these platforms with the geo-social site, Foursquare.

According to a recent study, just 20 percent of campuses have an institutional presence on Foursquare. Though the usage is limited by comparison, officials at the schools using the site are finding it is an effective tool for engaging with students. How? First, a quick breakdown for the uninitiated: Foursquare uses the geo-locator technology built into smartphones and encourages users to “check in” virtually at places they’re visiting in real life, leave notes for future visitors and possibly earn perks (discounts, badges, etc.) for doing so.

While Liz Gross, director of university marketing and communications at the University of Wisconsin at Waukesha, says, “You can’t say ‘10 percent off tuition for checking in,’ or ‘free tuition for the mayor,’” she does believe foursquare allows administrators a direct way “to tap in to student engagement.” Texas A&M is doing it right – the winner of a recent Foursquare scavenger hunt throughout campus earned a 30-percent discount at the school bookstore – and Syracuse University will soon offer a special badge to users checking in at campus venues and could eventually allow students to redeem badges for campus bucks.

Do you think incentivizing students is the best way to engage them or is organic involvement more effective?

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New Study Explores Higher Ed Stratification

August 11, 2011

New Study Explores Higher Ed Stratification

by Alexis Mattera

Money may not be able to buy happiness or love but a new study shows it’s an integral factor in getting into college.

The study – “Running in Place: Low-Income Students and the Dynamics of Higher Education Stratification” – reveals that despite efforts to attract and enroll more low-income students, such students are still more likely to attend community colleges or noncompetitive four-year universities than more elite schools. These students are indeed taking the steps necessary to increase their grades and standardized test scores but their wealthier counterparts are taking wider, faster strides toward the same goal.

According to the study’s lead author and associate professor of higher education at the University of Michigan Michael N. Bastedo, “The distance between academic credentials for wealthy students and low-income students is getting longer and longer...and that’s despite the fact that low-income students are rising in their own academic achievement.” Selective colleges claim they want to bring in more low-income students but the study’s authors say ancillary factors like higher/better job placement and more generous alumni are proving detrimental.

There is much more to the study here including the authors’ suggestions for improving equity (i.e., optional SATs, greater access to Advanced Placement and honors courses). Take a look and share your thoughts!

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