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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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States Contemplate Cuts to College Scholarships

December 18, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

While many colleges are finding the funds to expand their financial aid offerings in response to economic woes, state higher education systems have not all been so fortunate.  Michigan and New Jersey are both considering cuts to their state scholarship awards, the Michigan Promise and New Jersey STARS programs.

In the face of a $1 billion budget shortfall, Michigan may have to do away with the state's promise scholarship, in addition to making several other tough financial decisions.  The Michigan Promise offers residents up to $4,000 per year towards tuition and fees at state colleges and universities.  If the proposed budget cut goes through, the class of 2009 will be the last group of high school students to have this award available for college.

When faced with budgetary woes, the state of New Jersey also turned to its state academic scholarship programs, New Jersey STARS and New Jersey STARS II.  However, rather than scrap the programs entirely, the legislature has voted to make them more selective.  STARS, which pays for tuition and fees at community colleges will now be available to only the top fifteen percent of New Jersey high school graduates, while STARS II, which helps STARS scholars go on to complete a four-year degree at a state college, will only be available to students who maintain a GPA of 3.25 or higher.  The amount of funding for STARS II, previously the total cost of tuition and fees, will now be capped at $7,000 per year.

>While cuts to college scholarships and grants are discouraging, they are still rare and are happening mainly at a state level, as states struggle to balance budgets in the face of a continuing recession.  Scholarship opportunities are still out there, and students who find their planned sources of funding drying up or diminishing due to the recession are encouraged to keep up their scholarship search.

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How Small Private Colleges Are Responding to the Recession

December 19, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

We've said it before and I'm sure we'll say it again.  Despite the economy, money for college is still available.  A scholarship search, a visit to your college's student financial aid office, and a quick perusal of recent college news should all confirm this.  But if you're someone who needs additional empirical evidence, a survey conducted by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, a group representing private colleges (whose students typically rely more on institutional aid than state college students) also supports this conclusion. The results, which were published Thursday, show that only 8.4 percent of institutions surveyed have frozen or cut student aid for either this academic year or the next.

While not fantastic news, when taken in context with the rest of the survey's results, it is encouraging.  Nearly 68 percent of colleges reported a significant decline in their endowments and many colleges reported concerns over fundraising, tuition, and other sources of revenue.  Despite this, though, colleges seem to be putting their students' interests first when dealing with budget concerns.  For example, 31 percent of colleges surveyed don't yet have plans to increase tuition for 2009-2010, and at least two respondents specifically mentioned increasing student financial aid in their comments.  The most popular cost-cutting measures have been freezing hiring, restricting travel, and slowing construction.  Cutting student services, campus-based aid programs, and academic programs have been the least popular moves.

To find out more about how small private colleges are weathering the economic downturn, you can visit NAICU's news room.  To scope out private colleges near you, conduct a free college search on Scholarships.com.

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Early Applications Up, Regular Applications Down at Many Colleges

December 23, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

While there has been much speculation that economic woes would drive students away from more expensive schools, generous financial aid packages, such as those offered by many Ivy League schools, may be driving early applications up.  It's speculated that students whose resources have been reduced and whose options may be limited are vying for any college seat with a full-tuition scholarship attached.

Early action and early decision college application deadlines have now passed at the majority of competitive private colleges.  As the schools begin sorting through these applicants and making admission decisions, many are reporting that numbers are up, in some cases way up.  Stanford University has seen early action applications increase 18 percent this year, while early decision applications have increased by 23 percent at Duke University.  Other selective schools, such as Yale and Northwestern, have seen similar increases, as well.

While regular applications have held steady at Harvard University, other private schools that have seen a surge in early applications have heard from fewer regular decision applicants.  The regular admission pool may have thinned due to students paring down their lists or choosing less expensive state colleges as safety schools.  This could be good news for all of the early applicants who may find themselves bumped into the regular admission pool, though many schools are worried that fewer applicants could ultimately mean fewer enrolled students, especially if more students follow the money to the most affordable schools.

If you're a high school senior still in the process of applying for college, you may want to check out the articles appearing in The New York Times and The San Jose Mercury News this week and consider modifying your college search to take advantage of shifting application patterns.  If you're in the market for a private college and you have the time and money to put together a couple extra application packets, it could pay off, especially if you're able to wait until April or May to make your final decision as to where to go.

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More Americans Applying to Canadian Universities

December 30, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

Recent economic hardships have derailed many families' college plans, prompting some to stop saving and others to start considering less expensive colleges.  For students still determined to attend a prestigious university, another option has been gaining traction.  According to an article in The Boston Globe, applications from American students are up at many of Canada's top universities, indicating a new surge in an already growing trend. 

Since 2001, the number of Americans attending Canadian universities increased by 50 percent, and based on current trends in applications and increased recruiting efforts, growth is expected to continue.  Americans choosing to study abroad in Canada are still eligible for federal student financial aid, even if they attend college abroad for all four years.  And even international tuition in Canada ($14,487 on average) is cheap right now when compared to private college tuition ($19,337 on average) and even out-of-state tuition at some state colleges in the United States.

 Studying in Canada also removes many of the traditional barriers faced by international students.  Many Americans studying in Canada can cheaply and easily return home for holidays.  Students are instructed in English at the majority of Canadian colleges and universities, signs around town will also be in English, and for the most part, accents are not even very pronounced.  Despite their proximity to home, though, students still benefit from being immersed in another culture, and since many of Canada's top schools are situated in urban settings, Canadian universities also present an opportunity to experience life in a big city.

 However, the bargain is dependent on exchange rates.  When the American and Canadian dollars are approximately equal in value, studying in Canada becomes relatively more expensive, as does living in Canada.  Also, while some college scholarships can be applied to tuition at Canadian universities, many stipulate that applicants must be attending college in the United States.  While studying abroad in Canada is an option to consider when looking for ways to get the most educational value for your dollar, be sure to weigh all your alternatives.  Regardless of where you wind up, though, there are scholarship opportunities and other ways to help pay for school.

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More Colleges Increase Scholarships

January 6, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Full-tuition scholarships, half-tuition scholarships, and financial aid packages free of student loans continue to be unveiled at institutions across the country.  While it may be too late for many students to alter their college application plans, if you are still looking for colleges for 2009, or if you happen to have applied to one of these schools, you may find the following information useful.  This week, The Chronicle of Higher Education profiled several significant scholarship programs private, community, and state colleges are launching or expanding for incoming students in 2009.

Northern Illinois University recently announced the Huskie Advantage, a program that will ensure that all incoming freshmen eligible for Federal Pell Grants will receive enough financial aid to meet the full cost of tuition.  Similarly, Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania is raising money to provide larger scholarships to students who receive a small Pell Grant or narrowly miss the cutoff for Pell eligibility.

The University of Pennsylvania will be eliminating student loans from the financial aid packages of all students this fall.  It's the latest in a string of well-endowed private colleges to put forward generous institutional aid for its students.  The Sage Colleges of New York are also following suit, promising to offer aid to meet new students' full financial need in the next academic year.

Two private colleges in Georgia and Minnesota aren't eliminating loans, but they are drastically reducing the cost of college for many applicants.  Agnes Scott College in Georgia is offering scholarships and grants to nearly halve the cost of attendance for all recipients of the Georgia Hope Scholarship, as well as an additional $3,000 grant for first-year students.  Saint Mary's University of Minnesota offers students with family incomes of under $100,000 financial aid packages that will reduce the cost of attendance to the average price of a Big Ten school.  For the neediest 25 percent of students, St. Mary's will provide all of this aid institutionally, allowing students to use federal student financial aid to cover much of the rest of their college costs.

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Obama Transitional Website Seeks Comments on College Affordability

January 7, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Barack Obama became known for his web presence during his Presidential campaign.  He and his transition team have kept up this reputation through YouTube addresses and websites such as Change.gov, the official transitional website.  Now the Obama transition team is asking for public comments--or at least blog comments--on issues related to paying for school.  A post on the Change.gov blog is currently soliciting feedback about college affordability.  While there's no guarantee that the President-elect himself will read your post, if you would like to weigh in on educational policy at least in a small way, you can view and comment on the January 5 Change.gov blog post "Keeping College Affordable." 

The blog post, along with many other recent discussions of college costs, makes a nod to former Rhode Island senator Clairborne Pell, who passed away on January 1.  Pell was instrumental in shaping the current federal student financial aid system by helping create the Federal Pell Grant, which was named after him.  Pell Grants continue to make up an important part of the financial aid packages of many students, covering up to the full cost of tuition at some state and community colleges

However, as tuition costs rise, Pell Grants and other sources of federal aid are not enough to make college affordable for an increasingly large number of students.  During his campaign, Obama proposed a few substantial changes to the way college financial aid is structured, and hopefully his administration will do more to seek out and act upon feedback from those who are struggling with the costs associated with higher education.  However, if you're skeptical, or just looking for more immediate ways to make college affordable, there are resources available.  Start with a free college scholarship search on Scholarships.com.  Many scholarship application deadlines are approaching in the coming months, but there is still abundant scholarship money for those who take the time to apply.

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State Higher Ed Spending Growth Slows Significantly

January 9, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

The Illinois State University Center for the Study of Education Policy released its annual report on state tax support for higher education today.  According to the Grapevine report, the best case scenario is that for fiscal year 2008-2009 (July 1, 2008-June 30, 2009), state higher education spending grew by an average of 0.9 percent across the country.  The report acknowledges this figure is likely rather optimistic, as many states are still in the process of trimming budgets for the current fiscal year, and some are requesting that colleges not spend appropriations they've already received.

While almost flat growth in state spending nationwide is bad enough, the picture looks even worse compared to last year's growth of 7.5 percent, the largest year-to-year increase in higher education spending since 1985.  Some states have cut education spending significantly, such as South Carolina and Alabama, whose state education budgets have seen decreases of 17.7 percent and 10.5 percent respectively.  Some states still are showing substantial increases in higher ed spending for the current year.  The two biggest increases, in Wyoming and Hawaii, are 10.9 and 10.6 percent.

Coupled with shrinking endowments and more student requests for financial aid, this news isn't good for state colleges and universities.  Tuition increases, including some substantial ones, are becoming increasingly likely for 2009-2010, despite families' increasing inability to pay for school out of pocket or access lines of credit such as private student loans.  This is yet another reason to fill out a FAFSA and do a scholarship search today.

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Paying Tuition on Time Getting Tougher in Recession

January 13, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

While the focus for many students right now is planning for and paying for the next year of college, some students are still struggling with bills from the current or previous semester.  An e-mail survey by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers reports a perceived increase in unpaid tuition bills in the 2008-2009 academic year.  While being caught short on one semester's tuition can seem stressful enough, it can carry serious consequences for college students.

For students with the funds to easily cover tuition, either through family income, college savings plans, or financial aid awards, the figure on their bursar bill may be unpleasant, but it is soon forgotten.  However, carrying a bursar balance--in some cases, even a small one--can cut off your ability to register for classes, request transcripts, and even graduate, among other consequences.  Students who are unable to pay for a semester by the school's deadline may even find themselves dropped from their classes and kicked off campus.  These consequences can essentially derail your education, and many students who take a semester off from college to save money and pay off bills never go back to finish.

Luckily, as Kim Clark stresses in an article on the subject in U.S. News and World Report, universities are willing to work with students to keep them enrolled and get their bills paid, especially in the current economic climate.  Many schools are establishing or adding to emergency loan and grant funds to help students stay in school.  Federal student financial aid is also still available mid-term.  You can still complete the FAFSA for 2008-2009 anytime before June 30.  Even if you've already applied for the current year, talking to the financial aid office could still come through big time, especially if your circumstances have changed. Federal grants, as well as some campus-based programs may be available to students whose family contributions have significantly dipped.  While Clark's article emphasizes the surprising success networking and asking family for donations can bring, conducting a scholarship search may be a safer bet. Most importantly, be sure to stay in communication with your school. You may have to deal with three different offices on campus, but don't get discouraged.  The process may be more streamlined than you'd expect.  It is possible to stay enrolled regardless of the financial troubles you're facing.

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