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Online Enrollment Continues to Increase

November 13, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

Enrollment in online courses continued to increase in 2007, according to a new study.  Nearly 4 million college students, over 20 percent of the total number of students attending college, took at least one online course in fall 2007, an increase of 12.9 percent over the previous year.  With all of the financial turmoil that 2008 has brought, the number of online students is likely to continue to increase, as online enrollment is seen as a cost-effective alternative to having to be on campus for class.

The majority of colleges and universities regard offering online courses or online degree programs as critical to their long-term goals.  Schools also reported a need to compete for online students.  Since physical proximity isn't a concern, students can take online classes through any school, meaning institutions need to do more to attract students to their distance-learning programs.

Some of this competition comes in the form of innovation.  After universities in Canada and Japan made online course material accessible via cell phones last year, Louisana's community colleges followed suit, unveiling a plan this week to centralize their distance learning programs on one website, allowing students to access and complete materials from any device with an internet connection.

As distance learning programs continue to become more popular among students and a greater priority among schools, budget-conscious students may want to look closely at taking some or all classes online.  Online courses allow greater flexibility for scheduling around employment or other obligations, save on commuting costs (and the money students spend gulping down cafeteria food, fast food, and expensive coffee while rushing between classes), and allow students to live where they want without worrying about having to get to school each day.  All of these things make it easier for you to pay your way through school as a distance learning student.  While online classes do require greater self-discipline and are offered in more limited quantities than in-person classes, they are still an option to consider when choosing a college.

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Minnesota Colleges To Increase Online Course Offerings

November 21, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

Interested in online courses?  You may want to look into attending college in Minnesota.  Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and David Olson, the chair of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) board of trustees, announced a plan to make 25% of the university system's courses available online by 2015.  Other state universities, including the University of Minnesota campuses, are strongly encouraged to work towards this goal, as well.

Online courses can benefit students in multiple ways, most notably by saving students living off-campus the cost of commuting and giving them a more flexible schedule so they can more easily juggle work and family commitments in addition to coursework.  Additionally, in the cold Minnesota winters, being able to attend class from the comfort of your home is a definite plus (though still having class on those rare snow days could also be seen as a drawback).  While online learning requires students to be more self-motivated than those in traditional classes, more and more students are finding such courses appealing.

Online degree programs are gaining popularity across the country.  A recent study revealed that over 20 percent of American college students took at least one online course in 2007 and that distance learning enrollment continues to increase.  A number of colleges and universities are interested in increasing their online course offerings, and the MnSCU system hopes to beat them to the punch.

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49 States Receive Failing Grades in College Affordability

December 3, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

Every two years, the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education releases a report entitled "Measuring Up," which grades states in six categories related to higher education.  This year's results were published today and many states are probably wishing they had been graded on a curve.  Out of 50 states, only California received a passing grade in terms of affordability, squeaking by with a C-.  Grades were higher in terms of preparation, participation, completion, and benefits, and all states received an incomplete in learning due to insufficient data.

A state's higher education affordability grade was arrived at by considering the following: family ability to pay at community colleges, state universities, and 4-year private colleges (based on percentage of income after financial aid is taken into account); the level of investment in need-based state financial aid programs (as compared to federal investment in Pell Grants); the presence of low-cost college options; and the average amount students borrowed per year in student loans.  Failing grades suggest that states are not doing enough to make college affordable for their students, especially those from poor and working class families.

If you're a student, you might be wondering what this means for you.  The answer?  Many students in most states may find it difficult to pay for college using their family income and state and federal student financial aid.  And since affordability grades are actually lower this year than two years ago, it may be even tougher now to attend college debt-free.  Be sure to explore student financial aid options beyond state and federal programs early, rather than waiting for your award letter and finding you've come up short.  You can start by doing a free college scholarship search right here at Scholarships.com.

Scores in other categories were not nearly as bleak as in affordability.  However, even though the majority of states received passing scores in four of the five categories in which grades were given, the distribution looks more like a required high school course than, say, a graduate seminar.  Statements that accompany the report further stress that in the center's opinion, states need to improve their contributions to higher education.  You can view the report card for your state on the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education's website.  The Chronicle of Higher Education also provides a chart listing each state's grade in each category.
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Website Lets College Students Get Paid for Good Grades

December 4, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

Providing incentives for good grades is an increasingly common policy for parents of elementary and high school students.  In my household, report card day meant personal pan pizzas and a reprieve from the topping battle among my sister who didn't eat cheese, my sister who only ate cheese, and my own vote for a supreme pizza with extra cheese.  After pizza ceased to be a point of contention, my parents switched to the popular plan of offering financial incentives for good grades.  I don't remember the pay scale exactly, but I do remember missing it once I hit college.  Many undergraduate students are probably in the same boat, thinking about how even $10 or $20 per A could mean fewer trips to the plasma bank or even an extra textbook or two next semester.

Two brothers, who also happen to hold economics degrees from Harvard and Princeton, had a similar idea.  Michael and Matthew Kopko launched the website GradeFund last month to apply a model similar to fundraising for a marathon, where sponsors pledge to donate a certain amount per mile completed, to finding money for college.  College students' friends and family members, as well as corporate sponsors and others interested in donating money to help deserving students fund their educations, sign up on the site to give a certain dollar amount per grade earned to a particular student.

Students create profiles donors can search, and are matched up with people interested in helping them finance their educations.  Rather than agreeing to provide student loans or cover tuition in exchange for work, like in other peer-to-peer financial aid programs we've mentioned on our blog, donors on GradeFund, like scholarship providers, don't require anything in return for their donations.  While it's unlikely that a student will pay for their entire university education this way (according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the current highest pledge per A is $400), they could easily pay for their books and possibly even a good part of other expenses that college scholarships or student financial aid might not cover.  Plus, since these payments are linked to concrete achievements by students already attending college, donors may feel less apprehensive about the recipients of their philanthropy floundering once they face the academic challenges of their undergraduate studies.

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Free Tuition for the Unemployed

December 5, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

While a change in or loss of employment can be a powerful motivator for many people to go to college to learn new skills and gain new credentials, funding your education can seem impossible with no steady source of income.  At the same time, with a deepening recession and a still-growing unemployment rate, the job market is not favorable for many who have been laid off, especially those who lack a college degree.  Luckily, campus-based aid programs can help make attending college possible for the unemployed.  Several community colleges and at least one private college are now offering tuition discounts for members of their communities who were recently laid off.  Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, PA has been making headlines recently by announcing the revival of its program that waives tuition for prospective students who have recently lost their jobs.  The college has rolled out this tuition waiver in past recessions, allowing displaced workers to attend full-time or part-time and pay only student fees, which are currently $28 per credit.  Student financial aid is available to help especially cash-strapped students cover the cost of fees, as well.  Students are able to take 12 credits tuition-free each term, but must register after students paying full price.  A similar program is being offered at Bergen Community College in Paramus, NJ.  Reading Area Community College in Reading, PA also offers recently unemployed students a one-semester-only tuition waiver covering the cost of up to 13 credits.  All of these community college tuition waivers, as well as one offered by Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, MI are profiled in an article in Inside Higher Ed.  Other schools may offer discounted tuition or additional college scholarships or grants for students who have lost a major source of income due to the recession.  Nearly all colleges are able to offer some additional assistance if students or their parents are facing financial hardships, though, so don't assume college is out of reach just because you don't live in Southfield, MI or Paramus, NJ.  Talk to your financial aid office and see what they can do to help.  And taking some time to conduct a free college scholarship search couldn't hurt, either.
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College Board Settles with Cuomo

December 9, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

Yesterday, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announced that they had reached a settlement with the College Board regarding the preferred lender list controversy that has been unfolding since early 2007.  The investigation revealed that the College Board had been offering discounts on its products to college financial aid offices that agreed to add their student loan service to a preferred lender list.  Discounts of more than 20 percent off the College Board's proprietary software were given in exchange for placement on preferred lender lists.  The College Board pulled out of private loans in 2007, but the investigations continued, culminating in yesterday's settlement, the latest of several with private student lenders.

 The College Board has agreed to adhere to a code of conduct if it ever returns to the private lending market.  The organization will be required to put $675,000 towards developing tools to help students and financial aid offices compare student loan offers.  The College Board will also be required to distribute its new student loan calcualtors and "requests for proposals" (the forms that will allow for comparison among student loans) freely to schools for the next two financial aid cycles. 

This news came as the Career College Assocation, an organization of private career-training institution administrators, released the results of a survey indicating the difficulty that students at two year, for-profit schools currently face finding money for college.  More students are registering but not attending classes, and having trouble finding a private loan without a cosigner.  The majority of schools report students needing to change lenders or facing higher interest rates.  Some students are unable to procure a private loan at all, while others are contending with delayed loan disbursements.  A number of these colleges have stepped in to offer institutional student loans, ranging from less than $1,000 to over $10,000, to students who are unable to meet the gap between their federal student financial aid and their cost of attendance.

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More Students Interested in Community and Career College, Fewer in Graduate School

December 11, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

If you're thinking of heading off to a community college next year to either pick up an associate's degree or save some money on your core credits for a bachelor's degree, expect company.  Similarly, if you're planning to attend a for-profit career college to up your chances of landing a decent job, you are definitely not alone.  During recessions, people typically flock to college, often choosing cheaper or quicker degree programs to help them get on their feet and be more competitive on the workforce.  Enrollment is up at career colleges and community colleges are expecting a similar increase.  While reduced state higher education funding and continued troubles in the private loan market are causing some problems at two-year and career colleges, both types of schools are expecting major increases in enrollment as more Americans deal with fallout from the faltering economy.  If you're heading off to college in 2009, you definitely want to take all of this into account.  Apply early for admission and financial aid, and register early for classes.  Several community colleges are also instituting programs to fill empty seats in classrooms with unemployed students, so if you typically wait until almost the start of the term to register for classes, you may have more trouble finding a seat than you have in the past.  While students enrolled in online degree universities won't have to compete for physical space, they may still notice some effects of increased enrollment.  With state universities and community colleges facing budget cuts and increased enrollment, you may face more competition for fewer resources as everyone searches for ways to save money.  One group of students may actually see less competition, though.  The number of students taking the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) this year is down, suggesting that fewer students may be planning to apply for graduate programs. Typically, like community college and career college applications, graduate school applications go up during recessions.  However, while MBA applications are up this year, many programs that require the GRE may see fewer prospective graduate students.  The effects of the credit crunch on student loans, the uncertainty of the economy and employment prospects, and the desire not to lose a source of income were all listed as possible reasons for this decrease in an article in Inside Higher Ed.

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Groups Call for Economic Stimulus for Student Aid

December 12, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

With bailouts, economic stimulus packages, and a number of other pieces of emergency legislation being passed to prop up seemingly every aspect of the economy this year, a group of organizations connected to student financial aid are asking for additional support for college students.  In a letter to Congress, thirteen higher education advocacy groups, including the Project on Student Debt and the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, asked that the next economic stimulus legislation include expansions to financial aid, namely Federal Pell Grants and Federal Work-Study.

While maximum Pell Grant awards have gone up slightly in recent years and legislation such as the Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act has helped students continue paying their bills, these thirteen advocacy groups feel that more still needs to be done.  Family 529 plans and other savings, as well as college endowments, have taken enormous hits, putting tuition costs potentially further out of reach of many.  Meanwhile, private loans have become harder for students with poor credit or no cosigner to obtain, further jeopardizing some students' ability to continue attending college.  Advocacy groups hope that stimulus legislation can help alleviate these college financing problems.

The letter called for four major changes.  Two involve contributing more to existing federal aid programs, a third suggests making minor adjustments and clarifications, and a fourth involves establishing an emergency fund for students who have been hit hardest by the recession.  Under the proposed plan, Congress would increase the maximum Pell Grant amount to $7,000 per year (it's currently $4731) and fully fund the program.  Funding for campus-based work-study programs would also increase by 25%.  The group also would like to see PLUS loans become easier for families to learn about and obtain.  Finally, the group suggests that an emergency student loan pool be created for students who still are unable to meet their financial need through help from their schools, college scholarships, and federal student financial aid.  This pool would only be available at institutions that show a strong commitment to helping students pay for school.

While there's no guarantee Congress will incorporate any of these suggestions, higher education groups are hopeful.

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Another Stimulus Request from Higher Ed

December 16, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

An open letter to Congress appearing in The New York Times and The Washington Post yesterday joined what is quickly becoming a chorus of voices asking for financial aid for higher education institutions.  The letter, which was put together by the Carnegie Foundation, was signed by over 40 higher education officials, including leaders of several state university systems.  The letter requests that Congress devote 5 percent of the next stimulus package to improving higher education infrastructure, namely state colleges.

Leaders argue that the infusion of cash into state university systems will help keep America competitive on a global scale, noting that for the first time ever, the segment of the population between 25 and 34 years of age is not as well-educated than the previous generation.  The letter argues that construction and renovation projects are an important first step for colleges and universities that want to remain competitive, and that these projects would immediately generate jobs for displaced workers.  While the signers recommend applying the money towards infrastructure, they suggest that it be given to states in the form of block grants that would supplement state education budgets, leaving open the possibility of other forms of spending.

This follows two other proposals for higher education's inclusion in stimulus packages.  Both other proposals called specifically for increases in student financial aid.  While this proposal doesn't do that, it may help prevent some tuition increases and discourage state budget cuts that would negatively impact the ability of public college students to pay for school.

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Despite Economy, Many Colleges Still Give Generous Aid

December 17, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

Amid all the bleak news about college affordability, family finances, and the economy in general, it's nice to hear something good every now and then.  And there is good news out there.  Despite financial hardships, many colleges are not only continuing to offer generous financial aid packages, but are actually expanding scholarships, grants, and tuition waivers for needy and deserving students.  As a taste of what's out there for students across the country, we're presenting a roundup of campus-based aid programs announced this week.  Conduct a college search on Scholarships.com to learn more about these and other schools committed to helping students enroll and stay enrolled.  While you're at it, be sure to start a free college scholarship search to find more ways to fund your education.

A number of cities, states, and universities offer promises, guarantees, or other commitments to cover four years' full tuition for financially needy or academically gifted students.  While a wave of these scholarship and grant programs were launched in financially better times, more are still being unveiled in the current economic climate.

Manchester College in Indiana has rolled out a "Triple Guarantee" that promises to make college more affordable and less stressful for its students.  Qualifying students are guaranteed a combination of federal, state, and institutional aid up to the total cost of tuition and mandatory fees for four years.  Students with a 3.3 GPA or higher who qualify for the Pell Grant are guaranteed full-tuition grant aid.  On top of paying tuition for four years for needy students, the college also guarantees four-year graduation for everyone who meets progress requirements, and will allow qualified students who need a fifth year to attend for free until they graduate.  Finally, the school also guarantees a year of free tuition for additional coursework or certifications for students who fail to find a job placement or a spot in graduate school within six months of graduation.

In a similar vein, St. John's University in New York is also offering a substantial tuition discount to unemployed alumni.  Graduates of St. John's who were laid off in the economic downturn can return to college to pursue a graduate degree for half-price.  Alumni will also receive free career counseling services and see their application fees waived for graduate programs.

Finally, Texans get multiple pieces of good news.  More students at Rice University will be able to graduate debt-free, as the university has expanded its no loan program to families making up to $80,000 per year.  Students with family incomes over the $80,000 threshhold who still qualify for need-based aid will not be asked to borrow more than $10,000 in student loans for four years.  Lamar University is also making college more affordable for Texans by unveiling the Lamar Promise, which will cover tuition and fees for all freshmen and transfer students who qualify as "dependent" students for federal aid whose families make less than $25,000 a year.  Students who make more are likely to also receive substantial financial aid packages.  Tuition assistance will come in the form of state, federal, and institutional financial aid.

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