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Save the Perkins!

Proposed Amendment Will Keep This Loan Alive

September 23, 2010

by Alexis Mattera

The Perkins Loan Program has played a vital role in the quest for higher education (mine included) since 1958 but in two years, it could end up just as extinct as dinos and dodos. Can it (and the dreams of countless students) be saved?

The Perkins, or as one supporter affectionately calls it, “the David among the Goliaths of other aid,” is used by 1,800 colleges across the country yet Congress hasn’t provided any new money for the program since 2004. In 2009 alone, colleges awarded 495,000 new Perkins loans at an average of $2,231 per student and its demise would shut out college access to low-income students and eliminate the jobs of campus officials and loan servicers who help distribute the funds. Representative John Spratt clearly understands the importance of the Perkins and is sponsoring an amendment to delay the program’s cancellation – so much so that he held a hearing in Washington yesterday discussing the Perkins’ significance; though it probably won’t pass this year, Spratt is optimistic that with the support of the House Budget Committee and the schools relying on the loans, the amendment has a shot at approval next year.

“By its very nature, the Perkins Loan Program provides schools the flexibility to provide additional aid to needy students. The importance of this flexibility cannot be overstated,” said Sarah Bauder, assistant vice president of enrollment services and student financial aid at the University of Maryland at College Park, in her testimony during the hearing. “Financial aid administrators work where the rubber meets the road and have a unique perspective that allows them to assess students’ and families’ ability to pay for college in ways that aid applications will never be able to assess. When aid administrators see students and families struggling with unique circumstances, they need some flexibility to deliver funds to ensure the success of these students.” One such student, Joseph Hill, also testified. The Georgetown senior stated that though he received $26,000 in scholarships, the Perkins was what made it possible for him to attend the school of his dreams. “Last week, I was talking to my mother, and without hesitation, she said, ‘It still wouldn’t have worked without that Perkins Loan,’ ” Hill revealed.

There’s a lot more to the history of the Perkins and the fight to save it (get the details here) and as a former Perkins recipient, I can’t help but root for this little amendment that could. I'm definitely making a t-shirt.


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Department of Ed Demands Special Reports for Tuition Increases

by Alexis Mattera

Do you get a headache when thinking about rising college tuition and fees? You’re not alone...but your company may surprise you.

Yesterday morning, administrators at more than 500 colleges reached for metaphorical Advil bottles when the Department of Education decreed special reports detailing tuition and student fee increases must be submitted to the government for review. Schools cited include public institutions Arizona State University, Georgia State University, Alabama State University and roughly two-thirds of California State University's 23 campuses for tuition hikes of 38 percent, 46 percent, 43 percent and between 37 and 46 percent, respectively, over the last three years as well as for-profit colleges from DeVry University, Education Management and Corinthian Colleges. In addition to explaining why costs have gone up so dramatically, the schools must also discuss how they plan to address the rising prices.

Do you think these new measures will help students make more informed college choices?


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Fees Fatten College Costs

by Alexis Mattera

Take a look at your bills for next semester. If the costs seem a little higher than usual, don’t be quick to blame tuition. It could be fees plumping up your payments.

In an attempt to combat diminishing state funding, many public colleges have elected to raise student fees in lieu of increasing tuition. Though many schools have been quick to point out that the fee increases – $180 for repairs and maintenance (Indiana University-Bloomington), $150 for matriculation (Southern Illinois University-Carbondale) and a whopping $1,088 “special institutional fee” (public universities in Georgia), for example – are temporary to make up for budget shortfalls, it doesn’t change the fact that college students and their parents need to secure additional funding.

Not only are students questioning the rationale behind these various fee hikes but laws have been proposed to allow legislators to better examine how fees are justified and, later, spent – much like the Department of Education’s tuition report mandate from earlier this month. New Jersey legislators have proposed that state schools be required to detail on tuition bills how fees are allocated and, starting in August, state schools in North Dakota must publish an online breakdown of where the mandatory fees go.

Has your school increased its fees? If so, which ones? Are you happy to hear some states are taking steps to combat potentially unnecessary fee hikes?


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The President on Education

Obama Talks Higher Ed in State of the Union Address

January 25, 2012

The President on Education

by Alexis Mattera

In addition to talk of the economy and spilled milk, President Obama shared his thoughts on higher education during his third State of the Union address last night. On his to-do list: reduce student loan interest rates, extend a tax credit and continue supporting community colleges.

Ideally, the president would prevent the interest rate increase on federal student loans currently set for July, double the amount of federal work-study jobs in the next five years (moves that would cost $5 billion and $1 billion per year, respectively) and make the American Opportunity Tax Credit permanent. Obama praised community colleges as he has in the past for their links to job training and their contributions to keeping college affordable but had some harsher words for other institutions: Colleges that continued to hike tuition were put "on notice" and a document accompanying the speech said the president would propose to shift some federal aid away from colleges that don’t provide good value. "It’s not enough for us to increase student aid," Obama said. "We can’t just keep subsidizing skyrocketing tuition; we’ll run out of money. States also need to do their part, by making higher education a higher priority in their budgets. And colleges and universities have to do their part by working to keep costs down."

Did you watch the State of the Union? What did you think of what President Obama had to say?


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Obama Grants NCLB Waivers to 10 States

by Alexis Mattera

When the No Child Left Behind Act went into effect 10 years ago, public schools across the country were tasked with developing assessments for students in certain grades in order to receive federal funding. A decade later, President Obama has waived these requirements for 10 states in exchange for new programs that will benefit both students and educators.

Though public schools in the states of Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Tennessee will no longer have to meet the NCLB achievement standards, they will now be required to adhere to three specific reform criteria: standardizing curricula for specific classes, holding individual schools accountable for improving student performance (particularly for minority and disabled students) and establishing a system to evaluate teachers. The plans will vary from state to state based on individual needs – New Jersey, for example, must improve high schools with low graduation rates or face state action while Oklahoma will be monitoring school culture and attendance rates – something both Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan view as vital to future success; less than enthusiastic, however is Republican chairman of the House Committee on Education John Kline, who would have rather continued working within Congress until bipartisan support was achieved.

What do you think of the NCLB waivers? Was change necessary now or do you feel the administration could have taken more time to formulate a decision?


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Romney on College Costs

GOP Candidate Offers Little Comfort to Current and Hopeful College Students

March 6, 2012

Romney on College Costs

by Alexis Mattera

If you want to go to college but can’t completely afford it, don’t expect Mitt Romney to help you bridge the financial gap.

During yesterday’s town hall meeting in Youngstown, Ohio, Romney made it clear that he would not promise to give students government money to cover higher ed costs. The advice he did offer regarding colleges was blunt – pick an affordable option, get scholarships, join the military and graduate early – and very different than the words of President Obama during his third State of the Union address, which discouraged tuition increases and aimed to double the amount of federal work-study jobs. Though this is a man who pushed for state-funded four-year tuition scholarships while serving as the governor of Massachusetts, Romney’s mantra is now firmly “don’t expect the government to forgive the debt that you take on”...or protect you from it, for that matter: He supports the House Republican budget which would cut Pell Grants by at least 25 percent.

What do you think of Romney’s position regarding higher ed funding?


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Duncan to College Applicants: "Shop Around"

Ed Sec Says Comparing More Schools Will Lead to More Informed College Choices

July 3, 2012

Duncan to College Applicants: "Shop Around"

by Alexis Mattera

In the epic battle between quality versus quantity, it's the former that usually prevails but Arne Duncan has a slightly different proposal for soon-to-be college students: increase the quantity of schools you consider in order to find the best quality fit.

Though the annual Higher Education Research Institute survey reported that students are already employing that approach (just 12 percent of first-time, full-time freshmen applied to only one college in 2011), Education Secretary Duncan believes that too many students are making their college choices based on distance from home rather than price, majors and other factors vital to college completion and future success. He feels that if students apply to more schools and compare financial aid packages, they'll find the school and program that's right for them. But not everyone is buying into his "shop around" proposal. Lloyd Thacker, director of the admissions reform group Education Conservancy, said, "The problem with the admissions process is it's become too much like a transaction or consumer process, and less like an investment in education ... I'm not saying what he's doing is necessarily wrong but you need to be very thoughtful that good intentions are tied to sound research.”

Check out the full Inside Higher Ed article here and let us know what you think. Are you ready to go shopping with Duncan or will you be taking a different approach when applying to college?


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The Fight Against Federal Student Aid Fraud

by Alexis Mattera

Firefighters. Police. Ghostbusters. Your mom. There are certain people you instinctively contact when you need assistance and the same holds true for the federal government. When the Department of Education noticed there was something strange in the neighborhood regarding federal student aid, they knew just who to call.

Less than a month after releasing a report detailing how organized fraud rings were exploiting distance education programs, the ED contacted colleges across the country urging them to develop additional ways of identifying threats to federal funding. Schools were encouraged to combat potential fraud rings by monitoring groups of students using the same IP or email addresses to apply and participate in online programs, paying closer attention to students living outside the schools' normal coverage areas and delaying the disbursement of federal funds or releasing said funds in multiple disbursements. In addition to the steps colleges are taking internally, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the department will be working with Congress and schools "to ensure we have all the tools we need to prevent criminal elements from defrauding federal student aid dollars."

Do you think colleges are doing enough to prevent federal student aid fraud?


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Study Reveals College Graduates Are Ill-Prepared for the Workforce

by Suada Kolovic

If you’re like most college students, you might revel in the fact that you are now the authority when it comes to course selection. Students tend to take advantage of this new found freedom and pick classes they’ll enjoy like “Philosophy and Existential Themes” or “Psychology: Sensation vs. Perception” instead of something as uninspiring as “Introduction to Professional Writing” but employers warn that they may not adequately prepare them for the workforce.

According to a recent study conducted by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, less than 10 percent of employers thought colleges did an “excellent” job preparing students for work. The group surveyed more than 1,000 employers in various industries and found that more than half said finding qualified applicants was difficult and agreed that students should receive specific workplace training rather than broad-based education.

Following the announcement of the study’s finding, Rep. Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican and chairwoman of the U.S. House of Representatives higher education subcommittee, urged institutions to heed employers’ calls. "Colleges and universities are pandering to the students and giving them what they want, instead of what the employers want," she said. "I don't think you have to make a distinction between getting skills and getting an education. We need to do both."

Do you agree with the Rep. Virginia Foxx? Are colleges and universities pandering to students wants verses needs?


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Debt-Ceiling Deal Spares Pell Grant Program

by Suada Kolovic

Unless you’ve taken residence under a rock for the past few weeks, you’ve heard about the debt ceiling crisis. Thankfully, the White House and Congress have reached a deal to raise the nation’s borrowing limit and shrink the federal deficit which avoids many of higher education’s worst-case scenarios, namely cuts to Pell Grants, the end of subsidized student loans or a government default that would leave student financial aid and other funding for colleges in limbo.

Here’s the breakdown: The agreement would cut $1 trillion right away and create a committee to reduce the deficit by another $1.5 trillion by November. If approved in Congress, it will avert default on the nation’s debts and ensure that the government has enough money for federal benefits, including student aid. In layman’s terms, the bill would provide $17 billion for the Pell Grant program but the measure would only be temporary. Because House conservatives oppose tax increases, it is likely that the committee charged with reducing the deficit will favor spending cuts over revenues increase, putting Pell Grants and other student aid programs at risk for cuts in the near future.

Do you think slashing funds for higher education is problematic? Let us know what you think.


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