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Pell Funding, Education Tax Credits Still Up in the Air As Congress Breaks for Election

Sep 26, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

Congress will be in session only a few more days before breaking for the November election.  While a lot has already been accomplished this session in terms of educational spending, such as the passage and renewal of ECASLA and the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, some education funding concerns still need to be addressed.  Primary among these is the education and research spending bill that will fund research and federal student financial aid programs for fiscal year 2009, which remains on the Congressional to do list.

When Congress reconvenes either in November or January, one of the most pressing financial issues they will have to contend with is finding the money to cover a projected $6 billion shortfall in the budget for the Federal Pell Grant program.  Lobbyists still worry that Congress may wind up having to cut the maximum grant award, as they did last year when the bill exceeded Bush's budgetary requests.  However, given the popularity of the program, such cuts are unlikely, especially after all of the attention financial aid has been receiving this election season.

Another issue Congress may contend with is whether to combine higher education tax credit programs, such as the Hope and Lifetime Learning credits into a single, partially refundable credit.  The idea has received widespread support and is expected to come up during the next Congressional session.

You can read more about the educational issues still on Congress's plate in today's Chronicle of Higher Education.

Going to college doesn't have to break the bank or saddle you with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. Check out the Scholarships.com free college scholarship search where you’ll discover you qualify for hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships in just a few minutes, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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Pell Grants Face a Potential $6 Billion Budget Shortfall

Sep 18, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

According to a Department of Education memo cited by the New York Times, the Federal Pell Grant program could face a budget shortfall of up to $6 billion in 2009 due to increases in grant amounts and numbers of applicants.  The cap on Pell awards has risen from $4050 to $4731 between 2006 and now, and will increase to $6000 for the 2009-2010 academic year (if funding is available) according to the recently reauthorized Higher Education Act.  Meanwhile, the number of FAFSA applications has risen by nearly 17 percent in the last year alone, driven by a worsening economic situation.

While data has not yet been released on whether more students are qualifying for Pell Grants or other need-based federal student financial aid this year, increasing college enrollment and unemployment rates, coupled with an overall economic downturn and increased cost of living for Americans, certainly suggest the possibility exists.  According to the Department of Education memo to Congress, tough choices or an unpopular announcement regarding Pell Grant funding may have to be made shortly after the next President's inauguration.  While it's speculated that Congress will ultimately find the money to fully fund the popular grant program, the federal government is by no means exempt from economic strain.

This announcement comes at the same time as the release of the results of an audit of 14 student loan guaranty agencies, which suggests the government may have lost over $1 billion to FFELP student loan companies taking advantage of a now-closed federal funding loophole.  Lenders had been recycling new student loans through a loan program that guaranteed a 9.5 percent return from the government on student loans made before 1993.  Lenders had been taking advantage of this loophole as late as 2006, claiming in some cases hundreds of millions of federal dollars for which they should have been ineligible.

When these loan recycling programs came to light, the Department of Education settled with lenders, allowing them to keep the money they had gained up to that point in the 9.5 percent program, but requiring them to immediately cease using the program or submit to an audit in order to continue receiving the subsidies on loans actually eligible.  So far, 14 lenders have agreed to these audits.  Based on the results, if the loan agencies audited are representative of all lenders that participated in the 9.5 percent program, federal losses could total $1.2 billion.  Several of the lenders involved in this settlement, including Nelnet, a company that also recently settled with New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo over other questionable business practices, have also announced that they are unable to completely fund their student loan programs for the 2008-2009 school year.

And don't forget, you should pay for your college education with as much free money as possible! Find as many scholarships and grants as you can before turning to student loans. Visit the Scholarships.com free college scholarship search today where you'll get matched with countless scholarships and grants for which you qualify, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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House Votes to Extend ECASLA

Sep 17, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

The House of Representatives voted Monday to extend the Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act (ECASLA) into the 2009-2010 school year.  The act also has broad support from lenders and financial aid administrators.  The ECASLA was signed into law this May in response to concerns that the credit crunch would have a serious impact on the availability of student loans.

While it appears that students have had few problems finding adequate funding for school this fall, many lenders and financial aid administrators remain concerned about the potential for trouble in the next academic year based on the present economic situation. Many financial institutions continue to struggle with fallout from the subprime lending situation, and several major lenders have been forced to temporarily suspend student loan programs due to lack of financial backing.

The act still needs to be approved by the Senate and signed by the President.  If this happens, the continued federal support will likely make it easier for families to figure out where they'll find money for college in the 2009-2010 academic year without worrying about student loan availability. The provisions of ECASLA help the federal government keep major student loan lenders and guaranty agencies in business and in a position to continue to serve students, which is good news, at least in the short term, for families who need to borrow to pay for school.

And remember, there’s no need to rely on expensive student loan options to pay for your college education. For more information on finding free scholarship money for college, conduct a Scholarships.com free college scholarship search today, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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Endowment Spending Transparency Advocated in Senate Finance Committee Hearing

Sep 9, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

In a hearing yesterday, Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa suggested that he would back off from his proposal of mandating that colleges and universities spend five percent of their endowments on financial aid, provided schools continue to voluntarily increase grant and scholarship awards to students as many have been doing this year.

This is the latest development in a series of events that began unfolding when Congress began looking into the endowment spending of several of the country's wealthiest universities earlier this year.  Legislation to mandate increased endowment spending has since been proposed and withdrawn, as several schools with large endowments began offering significantly larger financial aid packages to their students.

The panel, which was made up of representatives of several universities and the Senate Finance Committee also discussed the rising cost of college education, what schools and lawmakers can and should do in the face of the issue, and the importance of flexibility in endowment spending.  Lawmakers and educators are both concerned about the increasing burden of student loan debt on American students, but colleges are also concerned about being forced to spend more than they can afford to assist students with their tuition payments.

Primary among their concerns, though, was an increase in transparency of university endowments and spending habits.  Colleges were more willing to agree to making information about their endowments and spending available to the public, as opposed to accepting a mandate for how much they are required to spend on student financial aid each year.  Grassley also introduced a plan to make colleges fill out a Form 990, the tax form all nonprofits file, using a version of the form similar to the one designed for hospitals.

While the Senate Finance Committee has moved away from requiring colleges to devote a substantial portion of endowment spending to helping students pay for school, Sen. Grassley's words seem to suggest that if schools don't keep up their efforts to make attending college more affordable for their students, Congress may yet decide to intervene.

Hopefully, what this will mean for students is a continued increase in campus-based aid programs, such as scholarship opportunities and grants and fellowships.  At the very least, it looks like it may be getting even easier to compare information about spending habits of various schools in your college search, being able to ultimately arrive at a better determination of which schools are most likely to want to help you afford to attend.

Inside Higher Ed has more complete coverage of the hearing available here.

Going to college doesn't have to break the bank or saddle you with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. Check out the Scholarships.com free college scholarship search where you’ll discover you qualify for hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships in just a few minutes, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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Bush Signs HEA Reauthorization

Aug 15, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

Yesterday, President Bush signed the Higher Education Opportunity Act, the official reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) which governs federal student financial aid for college, as well as other federal programs and regulations that pertain to higher education.

Under the new version of the HEA students can expect a number of benefits when it comes to finding money for college.  Some of the changes include: 

     
  1. Increased Pell Grant awards, as well as Pell funding available for summer school.  Pell Grants, currently capped at $4,731, will increase to $6,000 for the 2009-2010 school year, and will go up by an additional $400 a year, reaching $8,000 per year in 2014.
  2.  
  3. Increased Perkins Loan limits, going from $4,000 to $5,500 for undergraduate students, and from $6,000 to $8,000 for graduate students.
  4.  
  5. Expanded loan forgiveness programs for students pursuing careers in the following areas:  early childhood educators; nurses; foreign language specialists; librarians; highly qualified teachers; child welfare workers; speech-language pathologists; audiologists; national service; school counselors; public sector employees; nutrition professionals; medical specialists; physical therapists; and superintendents, principals, and other (school) administrators; occupational therapists; and dentists.
  6.  
  7. The creation of a FAFSA EZ form that will simplify the financial aid application process.
  8.  
  9. Within the next year, the Department of Education will need to create a tool allowing students to estimate the net price of an education at various institutions, taking into account costs of attendance and financial aid.  Schools will need to follow suit with similar tools within two years of the implementation of the federal net price calculator.
  10.  
  11. The Department of  Education will begin publishing lists of the top 5% of universities in each of the following categories:  the highest tuition and fees, the highest net price, the largest percent increase of tuition and fees over the last three years, the largest percent increase in net price over the last three years.  The Department of Education will also publish lists of the 10% of universities with the lowest tuition and lowest net price.
  12.  
 So in the coming years, students can expect to see it get easier to figure out the cost of school, pay for school, and possibly repay loans if they're going into a high need field.

The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators also offers a point-by-point breakdown of the Higher Education Opportunity Act on their website.

And remember, there’s no need to rely on expensive student loan options to pay for your college education. For more information on finding free scholarship money for college, conduct a Scholarships.com free college scholarship search today, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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Congress Passes Higher Education Act

Aug 1, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

The Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEA), approved by a joint committee earlier this week, passed both houses of Congress yesterday.  While members of the Bush Administration have expressed some reservations about the bill, the President is still expected to sign it into law.

Reactions to the HEA have been mixed, with many universities and organizations critiquing the bill's broad scope, increased requirements for schools, and timing, as it may be nearly impossible to implement all of the changes required by the bill in time for the 2008-2009 school year.  Especially under attack is the act's mandate for schools to provide students with legal alternatives to illegally downloading media, where possible.  While this could be good news for students, many critics fail to see how this provision relates to the bill's intended purpose of dealing with education funding and federal student financial aid.

Aspects of the HEA that have been praised are the allowance for a substantial increase in Federal Pell Grants (awards could reach $6,000 next year and $8,000 per year by 2014), the adoption of a code of conduct for financial aid offices when dealing with student loan agencies, the mandated simplification of the FAFSA (a two-page "FAFSA EZ" form should debut soon), and the general push for increased transparency regarding college costs, ranging from tuition increases, to student fees, to textbook prices.  All of these changes should make it easier for families to pay for school.

And remember, there’s no need to rely on expensive student loan options to pay for your college education. For more information on finding free scholarship money for college, conduct a Scholarships.com free college scholarship search today, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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Conference Committee Approves Higher Education Act

Jul 30, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

The new version of the Higher Education Act (HEA) is at last moving to the floors of the House and Senate for a vote. After seven years of waiting and debating, Congressional reauthorization of the HEA could finally happen in the next week, setting the stage for a number of changes in federal student financial aid for college students.

Among other things, the reauthorized HEA would:

  1. Set a ceiling on the maximum Federal Pell Grant of $9,000, and allow for students to receive Pell Grant funds year-round, instead of just during the traditional academic year. (The current maximum Pell Grant is $4,731.)
  2. Implement changes to make it easier for students to get information about their financial aid awards and to generally simplify the process by which students - particularly those from low-income families - can find money for college.
  3. Expand the Academic Competitiveness Grant program to part-time students as well as those seeking certificates and puts states in charge determining whether a high school program qualifies as a rigorous course of study.
  4. Make several changes in private student loans, such as: requiring lenders to provide up-front disclosures of loan rates and terms, require private loans to be certified by higher education institutions, and requiring colleges to establish Codes of Conduct to prohibit financial aid employees from receiving anything of value in exchange for advantages sought by lenders, such as placement on colleges' preferred lender lists.
  5. Require more disclosure of costs from both colleges and textbook publishers.

Many other changes appear in the 1,158 pages of the bill, which has been a long time coming.  The Higher Education Act is supposed to be reauthorized every 5 years, but it has been 10 years since the previous version passed.  The new HEA should help financial aid programs adapt to the present situation students face, and should help students better assess and plan for the costs of a college education.

Going to college doesn't have to break the bank or saddle you with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. Check out the Scholarships.com free college scholarship search where you’ll discover you qualify for hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships in just a few minutes, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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Financial Aid Administrators Concerned About Loan Crunch

Jul 23, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

A survey released yesterday by the National Association of Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) indicated that 90 percent of financial aid administrators are at least somewhat concerned about the current student loan crunch.  As lenders continue to opt out of Federal Family Education Loan Programs (FFELP) and to reduce the number of schools they make loans available to, many financial aid administrators remain concerned that students at their institutions may have decreased access to money for school.  While overall administrators expressed confidence that the recent Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act will help students pay for college this year, 52 percent said that more needed to be done to make sure students will have sufficient access to college loans in the future, and more than half stated that they believe it will be more difficult for students to borrow additional private loans in the upcoming school year.

A number of schools are turning to the federal Direct Loans program to ensure continued loan availability for their students, while others are calling for other solutions to the student loan problem, putting an emphasis on federal student aid. Many NASFAA members stressed the importance of increasing access to federal grant programs and scholarship money in order for students to continue being able to afford a college education.  NASFAA President Dr. Philip Day summarized this position, stating, "Too many students rely on loans to pay for their education. I do not accept the premise that student loans are here to stay, especially for needy students. If the student loan crunch has shown us anything, it is that our neediest students have no place in the student loan marketplace. We should help them find as many alternatives to borrowing as possible by providing them with grants and scholarships to meet their educational costs."

The survey also asked what financial aid administrators were doing for students and their families to help them find money for college. Many financial aid offices continue to maintain a preferred lenders list, despite recent media criticism and policy changes, something NASFAA stresses is both wanted and needed by families needing to find private student loans or new FFELP lenders on short notice.

NASFAA is also backing a new piece of legislation known as the Preventing Student Loan Discrimination Act, which if passed, will prohibit FFELP lenders from denying loans to eligible students based on the institution they attend, the length of their program, or their income level. These provisions will help students pay for school in the short term, but the report stressed that more needs to be done to make college affordable in the future.

The full survey is available through the NASFAA website.

And remember, there’s no need to rely on expensive student loan options to pay for your college education. For more information on finding free scholarship money for college, conduct a Scholarships.com free college scholarship search today, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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Textbooks To Become More Affordable

Jul 22, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

Technology, rental programs, and new laws could finally reverse the trend of rising textbook costs, according to a recent article in U.S. News and World Report.  Students, parents, and professors alike often recoil at the astronomical pricetag of some textbooks, especially for introductory courses students are required to take.  For many, textbook purchases can represent the last hurdle in the race to pay for school, as students who have managed to find money for college tuition and housing still may not be able to foot a textbook bill of several hundred dollars per semester.

Now, a combination of factors may finally bring some relief to students in this predicament.  In recent years, schools and private companies have piloted textbook rental programs that have been met with a great deal of enthusiasm from students who are now able to rent many of the general education textbooks that they would likely sell back to the bookstore at the end of the semester.  E-books and open source projects have begun to catch professors' attention as alternatives to requiring students to purchase an expensive hard copy of a textbook. 

Finally, a bill currently under consideration in Congress would require textbook companies to provide professors with accurate pricing information before book orders are placed.  This would allow professors to choose textbooks based on price, in addition to quality of information.  The proposed law would also require publishers to provide unbundled versions of currently bundled textbook packages, which often have high prices due to the inclusion of workbooks or electronic content that many students and professors wind up electing not to use.

Cheaper textbook options such as these can help students save money in college, which is a relief for every student, whether they are paying with scholarship money, federal financial aid, or their own savings.

Going to college doesn't have to break the bank or saddle you with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. Check out the Scholarships.com free college scholarship search where you’ll discover you qualify for hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships in just a few minutes, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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Bush Approves College Financial Aid Bill for Veterans

Jul 1, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

Despite an initial House split over some of the bill’s provisions—an incident which nearly doomed approval by the House—an agreement on the veteran college aid bill was reached by both Congress and the President. On June 30, President Bush signed into law the bill which would, among other things, provide veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars additional assistance in affording a college education.

The new law—similar in content to the WWII GI Bill—will call for an increase in the college financial aid  awarded to troops who have served in either war for a minimum of three years. Sufficient assistance to pay for the most expensive public college or university in their respective states will be available to the veterans.  Those who are eligible will also receive a monthly stipend to offset housing costs and other college-related expenditures.

The legislation will more than double the federal funding veterans previously received for a postsecondary education. Even those who are not currently planning for college can benefit as the money may be transferred to a veteran's child or spouse. 

Perhaps the more controversial part of the bill was that which allocated $162 billion to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to ABC News, the new funds would bring the total amount approved for war expenditures to about $850 billion over the last five years. In reference to the bill, President Bush stated that, "Our nation has no greater responsibility than to support our men in women in uniform - especially because we're at war."

And remember, there’s no need to rely on expensive student loan options to pay for your college education. For more information on finding free scholarship money for college, conduct a Scholarships.com free college scholarship search today, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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Pell Grant Increase Approved by Senate Panel

Jun 26, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

On Tuesday, a Senate panel approved a budget that would increase, among other things, the Pell Grant funding for the 2009 school year. Currently, students who demonstrate financial need—as determined by a Department of Education's FAFSA calculation—can receive no more than $4,300 in Pell Grant money, but not all eligible students receive the full sum.   For the upcoming year, the Pell Grant cap will be $4,731. If the Senate panel’s budget is approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee and by the Senate, students could be eligible for up to $4,800.

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the Senate panel’s bill would also provide new funding for the TRIO program, a seven-part financial aid initiative created to aid students from disadvantaged backgrounds and those facing circumstances that might hinder their academic pursuits. Additionally, it would provide colleges and universities with more money to pay for the Perkins Loan forgiveness program, one wherein colleges cancel the loans of students who enter select public service fields.

Today, the new initiative will move from the Senate panel to the Senate Appropriations Committee, and, if approved, it will be voted on by the Senate. Any differences between the Senate and House versions will have to be ironed out, and, only then, will President Bush have the option of signing.

Going to college doesn't have to break the bank or saddle you with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. Check out the Scholarships.com free college scholarship search where you’ll discover you qualify for hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships in just a few minutes, then apply and win! It’s that easy!

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