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Unemployed Grad Sues College for Tuition Refund

August 4, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

A recent college graduate who has failed to find a job since April has sued her alma mater. The student, Trina Thompson, filed suit against Monroe College, a career-oriented college in New York, asking to be reimbursed the full cost of her tuition, which was $70,000.

Thompson's suit claims that the Monroe College career center failed to do enough to help her find a job after graduation. As a result, Thompson is struggling to make ends meet and, according to the New York Post, facing the prospect of homelessness as her student loans are about to come due. While Thompson has been regularly submitting job applications and making use of resources such as job listings available through her college's career center, this has not been enough to find work. So she is suing Monroe College for failing to provide her with the leads and career advice she says she was promised.

While the merit of this particular lawsuit remains to be determined, it does raise questions about what students should expect from college, as well as what services colleges should provide and can promise to their students. Especially right now, when jobs are scarce and competition is fierce, current students and recent graduates are dealing with greater stress and desperation as they try to navigate the job market. Meanwhile, career centers have fewer contacts and resources to work with, as fewer places are actively recruiting or even hiring recent college graduates. As a result, many college career counselors are finding themselves nearly overwhelmed, as more students need to rely on more services for longer to try to find post-graduate employment.

Finally, this lawsuit serves as a reminder for college-bound students of more good questions to ask during their college search: What are the job placement rates for the school and the department, and what career services are offered to help alumni find work? Considering these things while choosing a college may make all the difference when it comes time to find a job after graduation.

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U.S. Military Academy Tops Forbes Best Colleges List

August 7, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Following the lead of U.S. News, several other publications have entered the college rankings game in recent years. Yesterday, Forbes revealed its second annual list of America's best colleges. Ranking first was the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, NY, followed by Princeton University. While Princeton typically does well in college rankings, the appearance of West Point in first place is something of a surprise in the college rankings world. Forbes touts its rankings as being focused on a college's ability to meet students' needs, a factor that includes post-graduate student loan debt (20 percent of the ranking), and the U.S. Military Academy is tuition-free.

As is the case with other college rankings, these should be taken with a grain of salt. Forbes' rankings also draw heavily on data from Ratemyprofessors.com (making up 25 percent of each school's score), a website whose primary metrics for rating professors include "hotness" and "easiness." Similarly, a portion of the Forbes ranking is influenced by the number of graduates appearing in publications like Who's Who in America (12.5 percent), whose significance and methodology have been questioned repeatedly, at least once within the pages of Forbes itself.

Much of the information included in the Forbes rankings is useful, though, such as graduates' average salaries, the likelihood of graduating in four years, and graduates' average student loan debt load. However, when checking out these or other rankings, be aware that the criteria used by publications or the sources they use to determine their rankings may be irrelevant to you and your needs. Think carefully about which factors are important to you when choosing a college and base your choices on those. There are many free tools to help you in your college search, so it's a wise idea to look beyond top colleges lists when making your decision of where to apply.

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New Service Helps Recession-Proof Student Borrowing

August 11, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Student loans have received a lot of attention lately, especially in light of the ongoing recession. As average student debt increases and post-graduate job prospects become less certain, borrowers are struggling to make payments and avoid default on their loans. Meanwhile, lenders are tightening credit requirements or opting out of the student loan industry altogether. While Congress and President Obama are contemplating additional reforms to student lending on top of recent fixes that have provided some help to borrowers, relying on loans to pay for school is still a scary idea for many students.

However, there are some innovative private sector solutions students may want to consider. Alternative lending programs, such as peer-to-peer lending have received much publicity lately, as has a new program called Student Choice that makes it easier for students to find private loans through credit unions. On top of this, BridgeSpan Financial has launched a new service called SafeStart, which acts as insurance for students' Stafford loan payments.

In exchange for a down payment of $40 to $60 per $1,000 they've borrowed, SafeStart will extend an interest-free line of credit to students facing financial hardships in the first five years after graduation, allowing them to continue making payments on their Stafford loans and avoid defaulting or seeing loan amounts balloon as interest accrues during a forbearance period. SafeStart will cover up to 36 loan payments in the first 60 months of the loan, provided a student's loan payments exceed 10 percent of their monthly income.

Currently, SafeStart is only available for Stafford loans, and not PLUS loans or private loans. Stafford loan borrowers already have several other options for repayment if they find themselves struggling, including the new federal income-based repayment plan, which allows borrowers to only make payments if they meet certain income requirements and forgives remaining loan balances after 25 years. Students can also apply for temporary forbeareances if they need, though interest on the loans will still accrue.

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States Cut Grants as Students Borrow More Money for College

August 12, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Rising unemployment rates and other symptoms of the ongoing recession continue to drive more people to attend college and look for ways to pay their bills, causing an uptick in state and federal financial aid applications. However, states are also hurting for money to meet financial aid requests and other budget demands. According to the Associated Press, 12 states have made significant cuts to state grant programs so far this year, with additional cuts likely. At least anecdotally, these cuts are already leading to more reliance on student loans, especially among groups that, according to a brief published this week by the College Board, may already be finding themselves overburdened with debt.

This week, the College Board released some new numbers on student debt loads and borrowing habits, culled from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, data released every four years by the Department of Education. Students at for-profit colleges are the most likely to borrow (96 to 98 percent graduate with some amount of loan debt), have the largest average debt loads at graduation, and are also some of the poorest college students (students at for-profit schools received 19 percent of the Federal Pell Grants disbursed in 2007-2008 despite making up only 7 percent of the college-going population). With additional sources of need-based aid drying up, these students may find themselves even more burdened with debt.

Students at other types of schools have also had to do more borrowing in recent years, according to the study. A full 59 percent of college students graduate with some amount of student loan debt, including 66 percent of bachelor's degree recipients. While most students took on manageable amounts of debt, 10 percent of students at four-year public schools, 22 percent of students at four-year private colleges, and 25 percent at four-year for-profit colleges borrowed more than $40,000 to attend college.

The average loan debt of undergraduate students in 2007-2008 was $15,123 (this is all students, not graduates), up 11 percent from the last time the survey was conducted. While increases in loan burdens were most modest at four-year state and non-profit colleges, reductions in state grant programs that are often earmarked for students at state colleges or nonprofit private colleges could send these numbers climbing.

You may want to consider statistics on student debt as a factor in your college search, but keep in mind that there are alternatives to borrowing. Scholarship opportunities exist for students at every type of college pursuing many different types of degree programs.

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Textbook Buying Tips

August 13, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Both for students starting college for the first time in the fall and for undergraduate students returning for another year, textbooks are too often an unwelcome and unexpectedly large expense. With your scholarship awards and hard-earned money already going towards tuition and room and board, it's difficult and unpleasant to have to shell out well over $100 for a book you're unlikely to even enjoy reading. There are ways to ease the pain of college textbook purchases, though.

Start Early and Get It in Writing: With classes starting up in August or September at most schools, your professors and the bookstore staff probably already know what books will be needed for fall, even if the textbook section of the campus bookstore isn't open for business yet. If you have your fall schedule figured out, now is a good time to start tracking down textbooks. First off, get a book list for each course as early as possible. This could take some doing, as not all professors in all departments have the courtesy to make book lists and syllabi available on a course website. Typically, professors have to get lists to the bookstore, though, and the bookstore is generally supposed to make this information available to students. If you can't find this information anywhere, don't be afraid to ask your professor through a polite e-mail.

Comparison Shop and Buy Used: With book list in hand, make note of prices at the campus bookstore, any off-campus textbook stores in the community, and popular websites that sell new and used books. Try to find the best deal, and be sure to factor in shipping costs and how long it will take the books to arrive. While the used book stacks are always the first to go at the bookstore, this isn't the only place used books are available. Check local used bookstores, as well as online retailers. I've found books for literature classes at library sales, yard sales, and thrift stores too, so be on the lookout if you happen across any of these. There's nothing like picking up a $15 text for 15 cents.

Find It for Free: Got friends or older siblings who may have taken similar classes? See if they hung onto their books and could lend you one or two. You may want to try posting flyers in your dorm and common areas on campus, or utilizing free online classifieds for your campus and community. The end of the semester is often the best time for this, but it could still pay off now. Don't forget the campus and public libraries, either, especially if you have the option of checking out a book for an entire semester, or if you will only need a book for part of the term. Most colleges participate in pretty generous inter-library loan programs, and some let students keep books or renew books for fairly substantial lengths of time. If you can't borrow, you may also want to look into renting. While not free, textbook rental services are less expensive than purchasing new books, and you don't have to worry about trying to sell the books back at the end of the semester.

Apply for Textbook Scholarships: Many scholarship opportunities allow winners to apply costs towards any school-related expenses, including textbooks. Additionally, several scholarship providers offer students money specifically for buying books. Some are local scholarships and others are major-specific, but they are out there! Do a free college scholarship search today to find some textbook funds.

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More Textbook Rental Options Coming Soon

August 14, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

The stress and financial hardships of textbook buying may soon be a thing of the past, as a vast array of textbook rental options are expected to debut or expand this year.  According to a recent article in The New York Times, students will have increasing options for renting, instead of purchasing, the required books for many common courses.  Rental prices are usually substantially discounted from the retail value of the book and students who rent textbooks will not have to worry about whether or not the bookstore will buy back their text at the end of the semester.

A number of colleges and universities have unveiled on-campus textbook rental programs in recent years, making the texts for popular introductory courses available for a small fee.  More bookstores have begun to get in on this, with Barnes and Noble announcing a pilot program this year that will allow students at a few colleges to rent textbooks from their campus bookstores.  These programs allow students to rent textbooks as easily as they can buy them from the campus store, though they're still only available at a handful of colleges and for a handful of textbooks.

Several websites have emerged in the last couple years offering online textbook rental services to students anywhere in the country.  These sites often have a wider array of books available for rental, though after shipping costs are figured in, their discounts may not necessarily be as deep as those offered by some bookstore-based rental programs.  Similar to buying textbooks online, online rentals also require some forethought and don't work well with last-minute schedule changes.  Students have to order their books early enough to have them in hand by the time they begin receiving reading assignments.

Addressing this need for immediately available content is one publishing house that recently announced plans to enter the textbook rental market.  One company, Cengage Learning, plans to rent a number of its most popular titles to students and make the first couple chapters of each book available online to customers who have rented a physical text.  This reduces the stress of waiting for the book to arrive.

Taking advantage of textbook rental programs, as well as other options like used books and free online books, can help you stretch your college savings and scholarship awards further.

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Coping with College Aid Cuts

August 19, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

As the start of the fall semester approaches, students across the country are finding themselves in a precarious position when it comes to financial aid. As we've previously mentioned, several states have been forced to make deep budget cuts this year, canceling or reducing funding for scholarships and grants, in some cases after award notices have already been sent to students. This has left students scrambling for last-minute student loans, and in some cases facing the difficult decision of whether to take a semester off while trying to procure alternate funding.

The Wall Street Journal and U.S. News both feature articles this week that offer up alternatives for students who have come up short on funding for the fall. While scholarship opportunities are still available for the coming academic year and should be pursued, students who need immediate sources of funding may want to check out private loans, peer-to-peer lending, and emergency loans and other aid offered by some universities and state agencies. Reducing to part-time enrollment or transferring to a cheaper school are also last-resort options that may be better choices than taking an entire semester off or putting tuition on a credit card.

An appeal to your college's financial aid office can also produce more financial aid, especially if your financial situation has changed since you completed the FAFSA, or if your parents were turned down for a federal PLUS loan. Additional loans, and even some grant aid, may be available if you ask.

In addition to trying to find new sources of funding, some college students are also petitioning their state legislators to get grant and scholarship funding restored.  Lawmakers in Utah have listened, promising to reinstate full funding to the state's New Century Scholarship program, whose awards they had previously planned to cut nearly in half. Students in Michigan also may yet get a reprieve from budget cuts, as the governor of Michigan and numerous state legislators are vowing to do what they can to keep the state's popular Promise Scholarship program intact.

Even if states manage to find funding for grants and scholarships this year, the next fiscal year could also prove challenging. Students in cash-strapped states who are planning to rely on state scholarships to pay for college may want to start looking into alternate funding now.  One of the best ways to do this is to start with a free college scholarship search.

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Survey Shows Families Borrowing Less for College

August 25, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

A new study offers surprising news in an uncertain economy: families are actually borrowing less money to cover college costs.

The study, titled "How America Pays for College," shows that about 58 percent of families did not borrow money for college for the 2008-2009 school year. Despite rising tuition prices of up to 5 percent over the last year, according to the College Board, high unemployment rates and deep budget cuts at schools across the country, it seems more families are relying on their own savings, scholarships and grant funding. While parents paid for about 36 percent of college costs, about 25 percent of students' costs in the year surveyed were covered by grants and scholarhips, and more than half of the respondents received some form of free aid, according to the study. The reliance on grants and scholarships increased by  15 percent over the last year, which could show more of an awareness by students to money available outside of lending in a struggling economy.

The same survey last year showed that about 53 percent of families chose not to take out loans for college. According to the New York Times, the numbers do not suggest that students would rather skip college than take out loans. In fact, fewer students than last year said taking out loans would stop them from pursuing an undergraduate degree, according to the article.

Other highlights of the study showed that:

  • 67 percent said they were confident in their ability to continue to meet the cost of college in the current economy.
  • 5 percent used credit cards to pay for college expenses.
  • 10 percent of costs were covered through students' own savings and employment.
  • 6 percent of costs were covered through students' relatives and friends.
  • 91 percent said that pursuing higher education led to a better life.

Of those who did borrow for the last school year, 25 percent took out federal student loans and 12 percent borrowed private education loans. Those who did borrow also spent about 30 percent more on their educations than those who did not, suggesting a higher cost of education for those who took out federal and private loans.

The study was conducted by Gallup for Sallie Mae last spring with more than 1,600 college-going students and parents of undergraduates responding.

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College Student Saves on Rent by Building Makeshift Cabin

August 28, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

The idea of the broke college student is a well-worn cliché, conjuring up images of extreme money-saving measures.

Thrift store clothing, Dumpster-dived furniture, and dinner from the manager's special aisle or the 99 cent store are all stereotypical trappings of the budget-conscious college student. One student in New York recently managed to come up with a creative and envelope-pushing way to save money, however. Brian Borncamp, a senior at the University at Buffalo's North Campus in Amherst, New York, recently decided to save money on housing by building himself a cabin in the woods near campus.

After months of sleeping in stairwells, Borncamp was 80 percent finished with his cabin when university officials persuaded him to give up the effort and make alternate housing arrangements, according to The Buffalo News. The student had compared himself to a modern-day Thoreau with his decision to live in the woods, but claimed his decision was initially motivated by financial concerns. He realized in May that he was unable to pay for school and pay rent, and thus decided to live outdoors.

Once he began construction on an 8' by 10' cabin, the university intervened, offering him temporary housing, a campus job, counseling, and other assistance, according to a statement issued by UB's Vice President for Student Affairs. Borncamp initially refused, prefering to go it alone, but announced this week that he'd made other arrangements and would be vacating his campsite.

While this is an inventive solution to college budget concerns, cash-strapped students don't need to resort to camping in the woods or residing in homemade structures.  Additional assistance is available for those in need of additional financial aid, and a free college scholarship search can help you find it. For example, if building your own cabin or emulating a reclusive author appeals to you, you might find yourself well-suited to win a design scholarship or an English scholarship.

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University of Texas Stops Sponsoring National Merit Scholarship

September 2, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

The University of Texas has announced plans to withdraw as a sponsor of National Merit, a popular national scholarship program that students qualify for based on standardized test scores. In an effort to focus on providing need-based financial aid, the university will no longer offer scholarships specifically for National Merit Scholars. The University of Texas, which was second only to Harvard University in the number of National Merit Finalists it enrolled, offered qualifying students awards worth up to $13,000 over the course of four years.

Texas is not the first major university system to choose to cease participating in National Merit, a program that offers $2,500 scholarships to high school juniors who do well on the PSAT, with the potential for honorees to receive much larger scholarship awards from partner companies and universities. Other institutions, including the University of California system, have previously chosen to withdraw sponsorship of National Merit, while many other schools have chosen not to offer awards specifically for National Merit winners.

National Merit has previously drawn criticism for its strong emphasis on high PSAT scores (other application materials are considered in selecting finalists, but semifinalists are chosen solely based on test scores). Students from wealthier families who have access to the best high schools and a variety of test preparation resources typically do best on standardized tests, such as the PSAT, which results in scholarship awards like National Merit skewing towards affluent students who need less assistance paying for college.

A University of Texas official cited similar reasoning in the university's decision to stop awarding National Merit Scholarships, stating that only one fourth of students receiving the scholarships typically bothered to apply for federal student financial aid, indicating the vast majority had access to other means of covering their college costs. The students who are most likely to be hurt by the loss of this scholarship opportunity will likely be helped by the increase in need-based financial aid that the university is promising.

University officials stressed that applicants who would have been eligible for this award will still be able to compete for other academic scholarships, and the undergraduate students currently receiving this award will continue to do so for their full four years of eligibility. Still, this announcement is likely to upset some students and to fuel the fires of the ongoing debate over merit-based versus need-based financial aid in colleges and universities.

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