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College Seen as More Essential, Less Affordable

February 4, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

More Americans are regarding a college education as necessary, but fewer are regarding college as accessible for everyone according to survey results released today by Public Agenda and the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.  While the economy is likely a factor, these trends have been ongoing since at least 2000, even during times of relative economic strength.

In the latest survey, conducted in December 2008, 55 percent of Americans regard a college education as not only advantageous but essential for success in today's work world.  Meanwhile, 67 percent of respondents believed that many qualified people don't have the opportunity to go to college.   63 percent believed that college costs are going up faster than other costs, and 53 percent believe that colleges could reduce tuition while still offering a high-quality education.

While 74 percent believed that cost should not deter students from attending college, concern is growing about the availability of financial aid and the extent of students' reliance on student loans.   67 percent (up from 60 percent in 2007) believed that students were borrowing too much to pay for school, while 22 percent (up from 15 percent in 2007) believed that sufficient financial aid was not available to everyone who needed it.

While public perception does not always accurately reflect reality, these survey results do suggest that more needs to be done to make college affordable or to inform the public about grants, scholarships, and campus-based and federal student financial aid.  College scholarships and grants are still out there, and they're not just for A students or the exceptionally needy.  Complete a FAFSA (a free application for federal student aid) and conduct a free scholarship search to see what's available for you.

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Report Shows Long-Term Effects of State Cuts to Higher Ed

February 11, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

The loss in funding faced by state and community colleges this year may not be a one-time thing.  A report issued this week by the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) indicates that state budget cuts to higher education made during recessions tend to become permanent.  With many attempting to eliminate multi-billion dollar budget shortfalls, cuts to education are almost certain to happen across the country, and based on data collected by SHEEO, they are likely to continue into the future.

Per-student state higher education spending peaked in 2001, when it hit the highest level in inflation-adjusted dollars since data was first collected in 1983.  A recession in 2001 prompted drops in education spending that continued until 2006, when spending began to grow again until 2008, though per-student funding did not return to 2001 levels before another recession interfered.

In response to cuts in funding of around 7 percent between 1998 and 2008 and increases in enrollment of around 25 percent over the same period, tuition revenue has risen 20 percent.  The report suggests this trend is likely to continue, with funding potentially falling off permanently and tuition hikes continuing as a result of this year's budget cuts.  Thus, the burden is passed on to already cash-strapped students and families, who are already facing the prospect of needing more student loans due to losses of income and declines in college savings plans.

The SHEEO expressed hope that the stimulus package currently moving through Congress might mitigate this effect.  However, the version passed yesterday by the Senate eliminated billions of dollars that would have gone to offset state budget cuts, so the positive impact on higher education could be less than is hoped.  Additionally, members of Congress have expressed frustration with rising tuition rates, especially given tuition's likelihood to continue to outpace increases in Federal Pell Grants, such as the new funding currently included in the stimulus.

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Making College More Affordable

February 17, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Reducing college costs continues to be a hot topic of discussion, especially given survey results that show that college affordability is a growing public concern.  Recent congressional acts, including the education provisions in the stimulus bill President Obama will sign today, the Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act of 2008, and last year's reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, have kept the issue in focus, as have economic events, such as losses to 529 plans, rising unemployment, and new financial troubles for colleges.  A wide range of ideas have attracted the attention of lawmakers and the media, including several suggestions making the rounds this month.

Jesse Jackson recently wrote an article in the Chicago Sun-Times suggesting that Congress pass a law to offer a 1% interest rate on federal student loans, including Stafford Loans and PLUS Loans.  The Minneapolis Star-Tribune ran a column in January that went even further, suggesting that the federal government forgive all student loan debt.  Meanwhile, Lamar Alexander, a republican Senator from Tennessee, has gotten some publicity for suggesting that more colleges offer three-year paths to degrees, as one of many potential cost-saving measures.  Some states are looking into "no-frills" universities, and partnerships between state colleges and community colleges are also gaining traction as cost-saving options.

So we were wondering what people who are in the process of paying for college think.  What would you like to see happen to make college more affordable and reduce the burden of student loan debt on college graduates?

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Students Protest College Costs

February 20, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

This week, several groups of students have decided to take a new approach in attempting to reduce their college costs.  Students in Minnesota and South Carolina both held rallies at their state capitols this week to try to influence their state legislature's decisions regarding their schools.  Meanwhile, students at New York University have barricaded themselves inside a building on campus, refusing to come out until the university meets their list of demands.  Each group has different requests, but most come down to money.

More than 200 students from state colleges and universities in Minnesota protested outside the State Capitol Wednesday.  Many held signs stating their anticipated student loan debt (answers included $38,000 and "too much" according to an article in The Minneapolis Star-Tribune), while others gave speeches and encouraged their legislators to reject the governor's proposed budget cuts to higher education.  Several legislators expressed solidarity with the students, and a newly formed student group plans further protests.

Students in South Carolina also urged their state legislature to make college funding a spending priority, though their actions were largely in protest to a proposed state tuition cap.  Students expressed concern that their universities may need to sacrifice educational quality by cutting faculty or course offerings to deal with reduced funding.  Students were concerned they'd wind up getting less for their money and possibly paying more money over time by taking longer to get the classes they needed to graduate.  They urged the legislature to leave the power to set tuition in colleges' hands.

New York University had the most radical student protest and the lengthiest list of demands, with a small group of students taking over a cafeteria and demanding greater accountability and transparency in the university's budgeting process.  The NYU students also wanted a tuition freeze, a union and better benefits for graduate student assistants, and according to one sign, "enough financial aid" for all students, among other things.  The students and the university have been in an ongoing standoff since Wednesday night, with crowds of up to 300 students gathering outside the occupied building at one point yesterday.

Whether student rallies, protests, or sit-ins are the best means of funding your education is debatable.  Students with activist inclinations who seek other routes to paying for college with better odds of immediate success should consider doing a scholarship search.  There are numerous scholarship opportunities for students who are involved in their communities and interested in bringing about change, and they don't require presenting anyone with a list of demands.

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Colleges in Three States Tackle Affordability

March 4, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

As college affordability continues to be a major issue for many Americans, more states and colleges are implementing policies to save students money.  Three recently unveiled programs tackle different aspects of the college cost dilemma confronting different groups of students, parents, and graduates.

A partnership between the University System of New Hampshire and businesses in the state could pay up to $8,000 of New Hampshire residents' student loan debt.  The program is set to take effect this fall and the University System of New Hampshire hopes to recruit at least 30-40 businesses to participate in its first year.  Students will be eligible to receive payments of $1,600 per year for the first two years of employment and $2,400 per year for the next two if they graduate from a New Hampshire college and remain in the state to work for four years.

Meanwhile, in New York, one college is formalizing a program to save students one year of loan debt by offering a clear three-year path to graduation.  Hartwick College has long offered students the option of taking more classes per semester and graduating in 3 years, but now the practice has been turned into an official academic program for high-performing students.  Students must have a strong high school GPA to qualify, and will be expected to take 18 credits in the fall and spring, plus four credits during a J-term each year, finishing with 120 credits in three years.

Three Nebraska state colleges are also trying to minimize student loan debt, but are targeting a group of low-income students to receive more university grant funding.  Wayne State College, Peru State College, and Chadron State College have announced plans to pay freshman year tuition and fees for all students eligible to receive Pell Grants.  Students would still be responsible for room, board, and books, but removing the worry of paying tuition and fees may encourage more low-income students to attend college in Nebraska, as well as enable them to stay enrolled past the first year.

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Saving for College, Part I: 529 Plans

March 5, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Paying for college can be a struggle.  Nobody wants to repay student loans forever, not everybody is going to land a full-tuition scholarship, and federal student financial aid seldom takes care of all college costs.  If you're a parent or relative looking ahead to cover college costs for a child, finding scholarships is a great step now, but you may also want to consider college savings plans.

Read below for information on 529 savings plans, which are one of the most popular and diverse options for college savings.  If this is not for you, check back tomorrow for more information on other savings options.

529 Savings Plans While 529 plans have sustained average losses of 21 percent in the last year, they can still be a good idea, especially if you choose your plan carefully and have plenty of time to save.  Many 529 plans allow you to move your savings into a much more conservative portfolio when the student nears college, an option they're sure to publicize based on the recent behavior of the stock market.  While there are limits on how many changes can be made to a 529 plan per year, the plans are otherwise quite flexible and varied, so it's easy to find one that works for your situation. Plus, 529 plans can be taken out in the parent's name, rather than the student's, so they will only minimally affect a student's financial aid eligibility.

Additionally, contribution limits are high, income limits are nonexistent, minimum contribution requirements tend to be low, and many states offer a variety of incentives for residents who contribute to their plans.  As an added bonus, many 529 plans can accept contributions from anybody anywhere, not just the people named on the account, and several programs have been created to take advantage of this.  For example, some plans allow a portion of credit card purchases or purchases at certain stores to go towards a particular student's 529 plan.

Prepaid Tuition Savings Plans If you're hesitant about sticking money for college in the stock market with uncertain returns, another type of 529 plan is also gaining popularity.  Prepaid tuition plans allow families to contribute a fixed amount now in exchange for a certain portion of tuition being covered in the future.  Many states do this for their state colleges and universities, and the Independent 529 plan, which is accepted by over 200 private colleges, also fixes contributions to portions of future tuition.  Both of these varieties eliminate worries about tuition inflation, though if tuition actually goes down between now and when the student starts college, a prepaid plan might not be the most lucrative option.

The Down Side 529 plans do have drawbacks and limitations.  Money must be spent on education, and the expenses that qualify are limited to undergraduate tuition, fees, educational expenses like books, and now computers. However, if the student is enrolled at least half-time, money from a 529 plan can also go towards room and board, so even if your student earns a full-tuition scholarship, it's possible to still take advantage of 529 savings.  Money must stay in a plan for at least 3 years, so if you're saving for a college sophomore, you're out of luck with these.  However, you can transfer the unused portion of a 529 plan to another family member without incurring the heavy withdrawal penalties, and it may also be possible to use the funds towards graduate or professional school.

Plans also vary from state to state, so your state's plan might not have the best benefits for you, or might not offer as sweet a deal in terms of tax breaks or low fees as the next state over offers its residents.  Luckily, you can shop around among a variety of plans, including ones offered by several other states.

529 plans are not the only college saving option, though they remain the most popular and perhaps the most well-known.  Check back tomorrow for information on the rest of the pack.

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Saving for College, Part II

March 6, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Continuing our theme from yesterday, today's blog post centers on more options for saving for college.  Yesterday, we discussed 529 plans, popular college savings vehicles that have been battered by recent financial troubles.  If you're considering saving for college but are not sold on a 529 plan, the most common alternatives are discussed below.

Coverdell ESA. Coverdell Education Savings Accounts are similar to 529 plans in most respects, but do have their own benefits and drawbacks. Rather than being sold by a state, they are sold by banks and brokerages, which can charge their own management fees. Because there aren't any state ties, there aren't any residency limitations, though there also aren't any state tax breaks for enrolling in a Coverdell ESA.

Coverdell accounts allow more flexible investment options and unlimited changes to investments. They can also be used to pay for high school and elementary school expenses, in addition to college costs. Otherwise, the expenses Coverdell and 529 plans can be used for are roughly the same: tuition and fees, books and supplies, room and board if over half-time, and other qualified educational expenses.

One major limitation to the Coverdell ESA is the $2,000 annual contribution cap. This is the limit per account holder, not per contributor. Additionally, individuals must have an adjusted gross income of $110,000 or below to contribute, and $95,000 or below to contribute the full $2,000. Coverdell accounts are held in the beneficiary's name, so they can hurt the student on the FAFSA. They also must be used or cashed out by the time the beneficiary turns 30, and they go to the beneficiary no matter what, while 529 plans can be given back to the parent in charge of the account if the student chooses not to go to college.

Roth IRA. The Roth IRA, typically used as a retirement account, can also be used to save for school. As long as you're withdrawing contributions, rather than earnings, there is no penalty if you are using the money from your IRA for educational expenses. However, a college savings plan might be the better way to go if you're setting up an account specifically for your student (especially since contributions to a Roth IRA must come from income the beneficiary earned from working), and dipping into your retirement funds to pay for college is widely regarded as a less than ideal choice by financial experts. But if you choose to take it, the option is there.

UTMA. The Uniform Transfer to Minors Act allows assets to be given as gifts to minors without the establishment of a trust. While the options explored up to this point have been savings accounts or investments, UTMA covers everything, including property. An adult manages these assets in a custodial account until the owner reaches the age of 18 or 21, depending on the state. In the meantime, the funds in the account can be used to benefit the child, including taking care of educational expenses. Once the owner reaches the age of majority, the assets are theirs to use as they please. This can mean paying for school, or it can mean making less desirable financial choices.  Since these assets belong to the student, they would count against them for student financial aid.

Government Bonds. While typically regarded as the province of grandparents, government savings bonds (Series EE is the most common) are also an option for paying for college. Bonds can be purchased online or at banks, and redeemed later for cash. As opposed to stock market-based savings plans which can lose big during crashes, government bonds are going to continue to grow as long as there's a government to honor them. And if there's no longer a United States government, well, you might have more to worry about than paying for college.

Also, since no rules state that a savings bond must be redeemed for college costs, the money can be used towards paying off student loans, covering college living expenses...or partying it up during spring break in Mexico.

While EE Savings Bonds grow at a steady rate, they do grow very slowly. You're also limited to a purchase of $5,000 per calendar year. Since they're such a safe bet, they can be great gifts for high school students, but a market-based option might be a better way to grow savings and maximize returns for younger children.

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Families Disenchanted with Athletic Scholarships

March 14, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

Many talented high school athletes dream of playing at the college level, hopefully beyond it. When the select few receive a call about a team spot and a scholarship opportunity, most are ecstatic to find that their hard work and lengthy dedication has paid off.

Unfortunately, what initially appears to be a dream come true is not always the golden ticket families initially imagined. According to a recent article published in The New York Times, most athletic awards aren’t even close to covering the full costs of a college education. Excluding marketable sports such as basketball and football, athletic scholarships may total as little as $2,000.

Students who are invited to play at private colleges or universities which often cost as much or more than $30,000 per year will hardly be salvaged by such an award. Considering that such students have to juggle long practice hours with travel, classes and homework, they may be better off passing up low-paid team spots for additional study hours and outside scholarship opportunities.

Particularly troubling for families of college athletes is the fact that not all awards are renewable for four years.  Eligibility for N.C.A.A. scholarships is reevaluated annually, and college athletes are not guaranteed continued assistance. When this is the case, students may find themselves with little or no time for a job while attending a college they can no longer afford.

Fortunately for students who are not about to turn down an athletic offer due to funding shortages, N.C.A.A. scholarships are not the only available athletic scholarships. To find college scholarships and grants based on athletic abilities or additional criteria, students can conduct a free college scholarship search. One does not have to be an athletic star or class valedictorian to find award opportunities. Numerous scholarships, grants, fellowships and internships are available to students willing to conduct the search and put forth the application effort.

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Margaret Spellings Stands Behind Federal Student Aid Program

March 18, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

Speaking before the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings told representatives what they wanted to believe, but didn’t: the college aid crisis was under control. After months of financial struggles, a number of student lenders have decided to discontinue their participation in the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFEL), leaving students to look elsewhere for college funding.

A troublesome lending market and a new law limiting government subsidies to student lenders have many lenders rethinking their participation in the FFEL.  With less government backing and greater default rates, some student lenders are finding it necessary to cut back on student benefits, increase borrowing criteria, and sometimes, leave the government program completely.

These changes have left families worried about finding sufficient student loan assistance from the government, concerns Spellings has tried to diminish. During her testimony, the education secretary stated that so far, “No institutions have notified us that any eligible student has been denied access to federal loans.”

If true, students and parents would be relieved to know that they can still take advantage of low interest government loan rates rather than relying on private, more expensive, student lenders. According to Spellings, the government would step in before students were forced to rely solely on private lenders.

One safeguard proposed by Spellings was the option for schools participating in the FFEL program to switch to the government's Direct Loan program, one in which students bypass government-subsidized lenders and borrow straight from the government.

Ms. Spellings also pointed out that Pell Grants, federal need-based awards that do not need to be repaid, have been increasing and will likely continue to do so. Students who receive free grant money will have fewer loan needs---to an extent. Currently, those eligible for Pell Grants may only receive $4,310 per year, and not all are eligible for this form of federal student aid.

Still, the Secretary of Education maintained a positive outlook and expressed confidence that most student lenders are not in critical positions stating, “More than 2,000 originating lenders participate in FFEL...a small number of these lenders have reduced their participation or stopped origination new loans.”

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Disability Scholarships

March 20, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

For many disabled individuals, completing school can be a struggle.  Such students may have to consider not only their scholastic aspirations but also their health and wellbeing when making important college decisions. Whether additional efforts must be applied to maintaining a proper diet, lowering stress, completing assignments in a timely matter or any number of other priorities, dealing with both disabilities and classes can prove to be a challenge.

Insufficient college funds are a common setback for many disabled students, for any students. To help with this aspect of college, numerous disability scholarships have been created for those with financial needs. Take a look at the disability scholarships listed below for awards you may be eligible to receive. For additional information about scholarships, grants, internships and fellowships, try conducting a free college scholarship search.

The Association of Blind Citizens Reggie Johnson Scholarship

The Association of Blind Citizens (ABC) will be awarding this disability scholarship to a number of legally blind students. One $2,000 scholarship and eight $1,000 scholarships will be awarded to winners. Applicants will have to submit a 300 to 500 word autobiographical essay explaining how the award could assist them in achieving their college or vocational program goals.

Scholarship Trust for the Hearing Impaired

Each year, the Travelers Protection Agency (TPA) provides students who are deaf or near deaf with scholarship awards. The number of recipients and award sizes may vary based on Trust Executive Committee recommendations.

disABLEdperson Inc. College Scholarship Competition

Students eligible for this disability scholarship will have the chance to earn $750 to be used towards their college education. Applicants will have to answer the annual essay question and fully complete an online scholarship form. Students must be attending a 2 or 4 year US college or university and must have a disadvantage or deficiency that interferes or prevents normal achievement in a certain area.

Scholarship for People with Disabilities

The Scholarship for People with Disabilities annually provides students with scholarships of up to $1,000. To be eligible applicants must have a physical or sensory disability and must demonstrate scholarship need. This award is limited to students who are Minnesota residents or who have received Courage Center services.

1-800-Wheelchair Scholarship Fund

High school and undergraduate college students who apply for the 1-800-Wheelchair Scholarship will have the opportunity to win $500 for college. Students must be at least 16 years old and must maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0. Preference will be given to applicants with a mobility disability, but disability is not a requirement.

Ethel Louise Armstrong Foundation Scholarship

With the help of the Ethel Louse Armstrong Foundation (ELA), female graduate students with physical disabilities may win up to $2,000. Applicants must be active in a disability organization and must be willing to provide ELA with scholastic and career updates. To apply, students must submit an essay of 1,000 words or less explaining, “How I will change the face of disability on the Planet”.

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