November 8, 2007
Why should I care about voting?
Whether you're new to it or not, you’ve got to make like “Diddy” and “Rock the Vote”. Even if you’re not a huge fan, he’s got it right this time. There is something at stake for student voters: financial aid. This year has been a tumultuous one as far as college financial aid is concerned, and a collective student voice is needed to convince candidates that students mean business.
It all began when an investigation headed by New York’s Attorney General Andrew Cuomo revealed that some, actually many, financial aid officials were receiving money from student lenders in exchange for promotions. Findings showed that certain lenders were paying schools to place them on preferred lender lists, offering gifts and money to financial aid officials in exchange for loan promotion, conducting seemingly unbiased loan exit sessions, and giving athletic departments money for each lead sold.
Oh yes, I forgot to mention that third-party lender advertisers were using tactics such as imitating government websites to make students feel as if they were getting unbiased information or that some study abroad advisors were receiving money and free trips from study abroad companies for every student they convinced to travel with them. Sigh… I’m a bit out of breath.Some, not many, successful efforts have been made to fix the financial aid system. The recently passed College Cost Reduction and Access Act has increased Pell Grants and decreased student lender subsidies. Unfortunately, these changes don't apply to all students. Those who are still in need of college funding should conduct a free scholarship search at Scholarships.com. And to convince politicians that they need to hold up their end of the deal, students need to vote.
How do I register?
Votes won’t cast themselves. (Florida votes are a rare exception; they do what they want.) To participate in next year’s elections held on November 4, 2008, you have to be a registered voter. Under the Motor Voter law, states need to make registration available in numerous public agencies. Local departments of motor vehicles are common ones. Many cities also set up voting facilities in state buildings, libraries and schools.
Check your city hall or their online site for voting areas in your city. Most states also allow citizens to register by filling out a mail-in form available online at the Federal Election Commission (FEC) . States have different deadlines for registration (usually about 30 days prior to Election Day), so don’t wait too long. When you're ready to register, bring proof of state residency e.g., driver’s license, ID or utility bill. If you are sending your registration via mail, you will need to photo copy these items.
Students who move to college must update their address before registering. Contact your local city hall to find out how this works for students living in college dorms. Once you’ve done that, you will have to pay a $750 voting fee. Just kidding, you're registering to vote, not for college classes.
January 30, 2008
Students who sign up for classes don’t always know what they’re getting into. Boring teachers aside, the work may be both overwhelming and useless. If that's the case, it may be time to get out before it’s too late. Here are some things to remember before making the final decision.
Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst Dropping classes may be the best way to avoid unnecessary work or burnout, but it sure is a pain. It takes time, sometimes money, and it nearly always causes stress. That’s why it’s best to ask around before choosing classes. Find out if any of your friends have taken the class. Is it difficult? Is it interesting? Is the teacher effective in helping students develop critical skills?
Most importantly, figure out if the class coincides with your future goals and current interests. During high school, I signed up for an accounting class thinking it would provide me with practical insight into the business world. Though business was not in my future, I thought that everyone could benefit from some business basics. After a few weeks of scribbling numbers into a never-ending stream of credit and debit columns, I raised my hand and asked the teacher if this class would prepare me for something other than accounting. Turns out, it wouldn’t. It’s too bad I didn’t know that sooner.
Give Yourself a Reality Check Difficulty is a commonly cited reason for dropping classes, and it's a perfectly good reason. It’s important to be realistic about your abilities and your schedule. When a class is just adding to your already full workload, rethink it. Being able to drop a class doesn’t make you a quitter; it makes you a realistic and mature decision maker, one that values their sanity and health.
Consider Class Importance Before dropping a class, be sure that you can afford to do so. If you’re in college, dropping a class may put you below full-time status subsequently decreasing your eligibility for a full financial aid package (both scholarships and federal student aid).
Dropping required college classes may also be troublesome. When students decide to get rid of a requisite, they may be forced to take on a heavier workload in future semesters. A heavier workload may in turn lead to scheduling difficulties caused by core courses that overlap in time.
Sometimes, a class may simply be unavoidable. Once again, be realistic when you judge. If you think you can do without the class, let it go. If you know that dropping the class will only lead to future troubles, just grin and bear it for a while.
Be Cost Conscious If you’re in high school, dropping a class will probably save you money (unless you're paying for AP classes ). Once you graduate high school, it’s a different story. Most colleges and universities fine students who drop their classes too late into the semester. That’s why it’s important for students to be aware of the costs involved in taking on classes and dropping them. If you plan to drop a class, do so before the fee deadline. If you’re worried about the costs of taking on additional classes, stick with the basics and take enrichment courses once you can afford them.
January 31, 2008
Each year, I heard complaints about the textbook policies of my old college economics teacher. He wrote the only textbook required for class and re-released it—in a nearly identical format—annually. As a result, previous students couldn’t make money by reselling their old books, and new students couldn’t buy used books at a discounted price.
If the House passes its proposed textbook bill, universities might be forced to curb this type of practice. The new bill would make it mandatory for colleges to release course supply information in catalogs thereby giving students the chance to consider class costs before signing up and the time to search for cheaper resources.
Publishers would also have to play a part in decreasing the supply prices. The bill proposed that publishers be forced to minimize textbook costs by cutting down on attached CDs and workbooks. They would also have to publicize the wholesale costs of books and to make known the previous versions costs. If the new versions were revised, the revisions would have to be summarized. With this information, students would be better equipped to decide whether a new textbook version was worth the price.
The book addendum, a part of the House’s new version of the Higher Education Act, was not a part of the corresponding version already approved by the Senate. If the House passes this bill, Senators will again have to approve the changes.
February 5, 2008
On February 4th, President Bush unveiled his much criticized national budget to a frustrated Congress. Members of both parties found fault with the president for his proposal to increase funding for the military at the expense of Medicare. According to the Los Angeles Times, President Bush’s proposal could slow the growth of Medicare programs by nearly $208 billion over the next five years.
The budget for the Department of Education, on the other hand, was received with mixed reviews. A firm advocate of scientific research, the president proposed that funds for physical-science research, much of which would go to colleges and universities, increase in the upcoming year.
While physical scientists cheered in one corner, medical researchers jeered in the other. Once again, The National Institute of Health (NIH), the primary government agency responsible for health-related research, was upset with the president's funding proposal.
After his decision to veto a bill that would increase NIH funding in November, the president's budget did not come as much of a surprise. Upon hearing last year's proposal, Bush claimed that Congress was, "acting like a teenager with a new credit card." Ironically, if Bush's budget is approved, skyrocketing national debt is expected. The current U.S. debt could more than double over the next two years if Congress chooses to accept the budget. More likely, the proposal will be stalled until President Bush leaves office.
February 6, 2008
There is plenty of room for college students to make a difference in the election, and many are taking it upon themselves to do just that. It is projected that political interests, registration and voting numbers for youth across the nation will be at an all-time high during the 2008 election.
According to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, less than 50 percent of eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 29 cast their ballots in the national election of 2004. At 68, the percentage of voters ages 30 and over who did so was, unsurprisingly, greater. This year, things are expected to change.
Presidential candidates are counting on young voters for support, and they have been putting in extra effort to address their interests. To remind college students and recent grads to vote, candidates have been sending out text messages, speaking at college campuses, offering campaign internships and promoting themselves on popular student websites such as MySpace and Facebook.
While it's still a bit early for P.Diddy and his MTV Rock the Vote campaign, loyal supporters always get a head start. With locals fighting over each other to hand out presidential "pompflets" and campus supporters scrambling to student dormsteps wearing big grins excess energy, the competition has barely begun.
February 12, 2008
The lawsuit filed last Friday against Wheaton College officials again brings into question the policies at numerous colleges providing study-abroad programs. Though largely advertised as the opportunity of a lifetime—a way to expand the mind and experience outside cultures—the impartiality of study-abroad policies at certain schools has become increasingly dubious.
The most recent allegation in a string of study-abroad investigations is that of Mr. James P. Brady, the father of a Wheaton College alumna who studied abroad in South Africa. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, Mr. James P. Brady is suing the school for overcharging his daughter for her study abroad travels. Had his daughter studied at the South African college herself, the stay would have cost her roughly $17,000. Instead, Wheaton College asked the family to pay the tuition of regular undergraduate students residing at Wheaton.
Paying the South African tuition would have allowed Mr. Brady's daughter to save money in college--nearly $4,500. According to Brady, the school did not even provide additional services in exchange for Wheaton tuition and other costs. Though she did not stay at the school, his daughter was charged the full price of an education at Wheaton, including room and board. The school denied accusations of unfair billing practices stating that trip costs were clearly established beforehand.
This lawsuit is yet another blotch in the study-abroad records of colleges across the nation. Earlier this year, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo sent out numerous subpoenas to schools whose study abroad offices were suspected of unfair business practices.
Months before that, an article from The New York Times told the story of a Columbia student angry with his school for having denied him credit transfers for his work at Oxford. After traveling with an outside study abroad program, the student was upset to find that his credits would not be accepted by Columbia. While his peers received credit for their work at lesser academically-recognized schools, the classes he completed at one of the most prestigious universities in the world would not fulfill his graduation requirements at Columbia.
The study abroad investigation continues to haunt schools across the nation. For some, the accusations are a second blow following last year’s findings of illegal incentive-based relations between student lenders and financial aid officials. With a general search for unfair policies within the study abroad industry still in progress, the problems of colleges are far from over.
February 13, 2008
Whoever said it’s a dog eat dog world must not have met the Westminister Kennel Club Dog Show bunch. As the well-behaved dogs trotted across the stage in perfect sync with their owners, it’s a wonder the negative phrase was ever associated with pups.
At the end, the multicolored beagle named Uno managed to take home the prize for this year’s Best in Show. Standing only 15 inches high, Uno rose to the occasion and proceeded to be the first of his breed to win the title since 1939. As I watched last night’s event next to my dog, I increasingly questioned my pet's behavior. Is alternately biting each leg, the tail and my pillows really satisfying?
Obviously, not all dogs can strut the runway, but that doesn’t stop owners across the nation from falling in love with them. Not only are dogs a man’s (and woman’s) best friend, but they can now help you pay for college. If you’re a lover of dogs, check out the scholarships below for some financial aid options. For additional scholarship opportunities, you may conduct a free college scholarship search at Scholarships.com.
Florida Institute of Animal Arts Scholarship
This $5,000 scholarship can help students interested in attending the Florida Institute of Animal Arts in completing their education. If you want to learn a thing or two about dog grooming, check this school out.
Dog Writers Association of America
The Dog Writers Association of America (DWAA) is sponsoring a junior’s essay scholarship award for students between the ages of 18 and 22. By writing about their experiences with dogs, students can win a $500 to $1,000 scholarship.
The Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSD) Scholarship
Low income individuals with disabilities can use this scholarship to acquire and train an assistant dog. Awards are largely based on financial need.
American Kennel Club Veterinary Student Scholarship
The American Kennel Club currently offers $145,000 in scholarships to eligible veterinary school students each year. Applicants are judged on academic achievement, need and activities with purebred dogs or related research.
February 19, 2008
Despite investigations into shady business practices of study-abroad programs across the nation, Congress continues to support the idea of travel for college students. Last June, a bill to increase study-abroad funding was passed in the House, and a similar version was approved last week by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The initial version of the Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation bill was passed by the House in June, 2007 and introduced to the Senate by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Norm Coleman (R-MN). If passed, it would allow Congress to appropriate $80 million each year towards a foundation awarding financial aid to study-abroad students.
The bill would encourage one million students to study abroad, especially in non-traditional settings. According to Senator Durbin, the travel will, “allow students the opportunity to grow and gain skills to help our nation compete in the globalized world.”
Now that the bill has been approved by the Senate committee, it will move to the Senate floor for a full vote. Approval seems likely as positive feedback has been expressed by both parties.
The proposal is particularly aimed at assisting minority students with scholarships and grants. Senator Coleman stated that, “The goal of the Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act is to make study abroad in high-quality programs in diverse locations around the world the routine, rather than the exception, for American college students.”
Over the past year, study abroad programs have received more publicity for their troubles than their benefits. Inquiries into the actions of program representatives who received free trips and money for meeting student traveler quotas have marred the image of numerous programs. If the appropriations are approved, increased financial accountability is likely.
Students interested in studying abroad need not wait until this bill clears both chambers. By completing a free college scholarship search, students can find information about numerous college scholarships and grants that can help them afford school. Both study-abroad scholarships and awards based on different criteria are available.
February 29, 2008
New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has an unparalleled resume. By attacking top companies and preaching justice to the people, he has made himself into something of a public superhero. Pursuing Facebook predators, Comcast, top banks, officials at elite universities, health insurance companies and even the infamous Gambino mafia crime family, each of his investigations is worthy of a motion picture.
After taking a short break from the student-loan investigation, Cuomo is back, and he comes bearing new subpoenas. This time, he is targeting--among others--credit card companies and the colleges and universities who conduct business with them. Of particular concern is the marketing of credit cards with college logos.
If you’re a college student who hasn’t received a ready-to-go credit card laminated with a picture of your alma mater, you haven’t paid sufficient attention to your junk mail. “So what’s wrong with logos?” you may ask. According to Cuomo and his entourage, it’s a mental thing. He believes that students who may not have otherwise signed up for multiple credit cards, or ones who used them sparingly, are swayed by their new and creative options. These students are at a greater risk of hurting their credit rating (which is adversely affected each time someone applies for a credit card) and spending extra money. The last thing the growing number of indebted students need is another credit card.
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Cuomo has also expressed concern about students who may be choosing their credit cards based on logos rather than optimal interest rates or good repayment options. Now I'm not saying that I haven't considered a logo card. It truly is "cute" and therefore bears great influence on college students. Still, I have faith that most students are too lazy to go through with the transaction.
For some, the credit card investigation may seem like a bit of a stretch. That may be a fair statement, but I'm all for Cuomo putting schools under the microscope. After discovering that many college and university officials agreed to place lenders on preferred-lender lists in exchange for money, they deserve a turn in the hot seat.
March 11, 2008
In February, attorney and father James Brady filed a lawsuit against Wheaton College for having charged the family a Wheaton-sized tuition bill during his daughter’s stay abroad. He estimated about $4,500 could have been saved had his daughter been billed for the cost of her South African university tuition. If European students heard the story, they too may have been upset—at the outrageous cost of a South African education.
It comes as no surprise that, even as the dollar weakens against its European counterparts, a college education is still most expensive in the United States. US students who study at four-year public colleges pay an average tuition of $6,185 per year; ones who study at private colleges pay $23,710. According to an article published by the Associated Press, book costs, room & board, living expenses and myriad university fees raise these numbers to $13,589 and $32,307 respectively.
While students abroad undoubtedly have problems of their own, paying for college is unlikely to top the charts. It’s still not uncommon for countries to provide a tuition-free education for all, with a reasonable length-of-study limit and minor fees. When you study in Brazil, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Norway or Sweden, you can breeze through school with bills that vary from small to nonexistent. In a number of more expensive areas, it may cost you a few thousand dollars. Even then, the government is likely to offer some sort of compensation grant.
US students don't leave their tuition problems behind after graduation. In fact, the problems often get worse. About two-thirds of students borrow to complete a college education. Those who borrow leave school with an average debt of about $19,000. Students who go to private schools and ones who stay for another degree are increasingly taking out student loans that exceed $100,000.
While it’s not unheard of for international students to borrow for an education, lower costs mean lower burdens. Oftentimes, income-contingent repayment plans and federal grants offered in exchange for good school performance are an option for struggling students. Comparable opportunities are few and far between for US students. Instead, many overwhelmed students return home again financially dependent on their parents.
That is not to say that tuition hasn't been growing elsewhere, with the United Kingdom being a prime example. In 1998, some college students in the UK were asked to pay for their education, a change that had students taking to the streets in protest. For the 2007-2008 school year, the UK tuition cap was controversially increased to £3,070 ($6,155), a price that would still make private universities blush, one that would make James Brady rethink his lawsuit.
Rising tuition may not be uncommon, but we have perfected the trend. Unfortunately, legislation cannot be willed into action. Until federal Pell Grants increase significantly and tuition costs drop dramatically, students can look to college scholarships and grants for assistance. By completing a free college scholarship search, students can find information about numerous awards they may be eligible to receive.
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