December 4, 2008
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.
December 5, 2008
December 9, 2008
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.
December 11, 2008
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.
December 12, 2008
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.
December 16, 2008
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.
December 17, 2008
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.
December 18, 2008
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.
December 19, 2008
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.
December 23, 2008
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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