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by Susan Dutca

According to President Obama, the Pell Grant Program should be extended to include convicted felons currently in our prison systems so that they may continue their education from behind bars. The US is a "nation of second chances," according to Arne Duncan, the current Secretary of Education, and should offer the incarcerated the option of an at least partially funded post-secondary education. Additionally, the Obama Administration hopes to extend the program through the summer so that students can graduate more quickly, while also providing incentive for students who take a minimum of 15 credits per semester/trimester.

Currently, those incarcerated at a federal or state penal institution are not permitted to receive a Pell grant - Obama's "Second Chance Pell Pilot Program for Incarcerated Individuals" would change that. Additionally, the Department of Education announced two more proposals to the current Pell Grant program which would increase the $29 billion program by $2 billion in the upcoming fiscal year. The proposal will be part of President Obama's budget proposal next month. The "Pell for Accelerated Completion" program allows students with financial need to take summer courses using Pell grant money, unlike the current program, which only covers two academic semesters.

The second proposal, the "On Track Pell Bonus," rewards students who take minimum of 15 credits per semester with $300. Roughly 2.3 million students would benefit from the bonus program. The goal of these two proposals is two-fold: to help students graduate earlier and to provide them with more financial assistance through the Pell Grant. Almost 8.3 million students were awarded the Pell Grant in the 2015 fiscal year, with approximately $28.7 billion in financial aid. According to the Department of Education's budget report, the maximum Pell grant for 2015-2016 was $5,775 but will be reduced to $4,860 next year.

According to the Department of Education, these changes would benefit almost 700,000 students with an additional $1,900 per student (currently, the average amount received by qualifying students is $3,600). Research also shows that 1.5 million high school graduates did not complete a FAFSA in 2014, despite their eligibility, resulting in just under $3B in unclaimed funds. Since today marks National Student Debt day, a group of young activists named the Young Invisibles will convene at the University of the District of Colombia Community College to learn more about the current student debt crisis and find out how they can influence higher education policy. Members of Congress will be present, including keynote speaker, Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Do you think Pell grants should be offered to incarcerated individuals? Would you take more summer courses if the Pell were to be extended? Start a discussion below.

Credit attributed to Jennifer C. Kerr, Associated Press reporter covering education from Washington, D.C.

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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by Susan Dutca

Understanding the financial aid process, much less filing a FAFSA, can be tedious and daunting. With over 130 questions and requiring more than 30 minutes to complete, students may procrastinate, or completely avoid completing a FAFSA. With pending changes for the upcoming years - such as an earlier deadline - some experts claim the process won't necessarily get easier or more affordable, if not done correctly. Terry Savage, an expert writer for the Chicago Tribune, claims the new FAFSA will be more "intrusive than federal tax forms because it not only asks about income but also the assets of parents and students." Savage outlines some tips and general information on how to prepare for the changes, including early application and knowing the logistics of 529s, financial aid, and FAFSA:

  • Earlier application dates: Many people can recall the last-minute rush to apply for FAFSA and the anxiety that accompanies it. A big change in the FAFSA for 2017-2018 academic year is the earlier application. Students will be able to file as early as October 1, 2016, as opposed to January 1, 2017. Additionally, you will be able to use a FAFSA retrieval tool to directly and electronically access tax information from the IRS, after filing a 2015 tax return. The income you will report on your 2015 return will, in turn, affect your financial aid for the 2017-2018 academic year.
  • 529 Plans: 529 plans are college savings accounts that are exempt from federal taxes and were designed to help taxpayers set aside funds for a designated beneficiary. While any U.S. citizen or resident alien of at least 18 years old may open a 529 account, beneficiaries are typically children, grandchildren or younger relatives. Assets in a 529 plan owned by either the student or their parents count as need-based aid but plans owned by grandparents or other people do not count as assets. If money is withdrawn from the accounts of grandparents or other relatives, there is a penalty in the following year's financial aid package. Savage recommends you do not withdraw from your 529 account until your junior year in college, after filing the FAFSA for that year. Withdrawing from the 529 is not penalized so long as you are paying for "qualified expenses," including tuition, room and board, books, and other miscellaneous fees. Withdrawing from a grandparent-owned 529 plan is considered direct income to the beneficiary. There is a 10 percent penalty and taxes for withdrawing money to cover any other costs, unless the student receives a scholarship, dies, or is disabled.
  • Family assets preferred over child assets in financial aid scheme: UTMA custodial accounts are considered student assets - such as property, real estate, fine art, or future inheritances - which could have a large impact on financial aid eligibility. However a custodial 529 plan of a dependent student is treated as a parent's asset on the FAFSA - meaning less impact on the dependent students' financial aid eligibility. It is recommended that custodial accounts be spent for the child's benefit prior to the FAFSA filing year or transferred into the custodial 529 account.
  • Income-driven assets: In addition to providing all income information on the FAFSA through parents' tax returns, assets such as capital gains also count as income. Savage notes that "selling stocks and taking gains" the year before filing can impact what the student will receive in financial aid. For example, taking $3,000 in capital losses can reduce parental income, Savage states. The result of student income will reduce financial aid on a "dollar-for-dollar basis" which consequentially may become a disincentive for students to work and support their education.
  • Take the time this winter break to review the FAFSA changes so as to be better prepared and gain the most in financial aid for your college education.

    Credit is attributed to Terry Savage and the experts at the Federal Student Aid website. Savage is one of the country's most prominent advisers and a best-selling author on personal finance, corporate boardrooms, academia, the markets, and the economy. Federal Student Aid (studentaid.ed.gov) is a free website and source of information provided by the office of the U.S. Department of Education.

    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!

Comments (16)

by Jess Hanch

Texas is set to become the eighth state to allow concealed carry on public campuses. Texas Senate Bill 11 also known as the “campus carry” law, allows licensed gun owners to bring firearms into classrooms, dorms, and other campus buildings. Campus carry will take effect on the anniversary of the first mass campus shooting in America, which took place at The University of Texas on August 1st, 1966. The University of Texas has not seen another massacre since. The law will not affect community colleges until 2017, and private universities have the option to opt out of the legislation.

According to the New York Times, University of Texas Chancellor and Navy SEAL vet Admiral William McRaven stated "…I have all sorts of guns. I just don’t think bringing guns on campus is going to make us any safer. If you’ve ever been shot at, which I have, then you have an appreciation for what a gun can do." McRaven addressed the decision respectfully, stating although "it was not what we hoped for…I appreciate legislators for recognizing the very specific safety considerations that are unique to campus environments." The University of Texas working group, including licensed gun holders, also believes "it would be best if guns were not allowed in classrooms, however does not recommend classrooms should be designated as gun free zones".

In an attempt to keep campus safe, the law allows universities to designate gun-free zones. The University working system also has gun safety rules, including a ban on open carry, and a license requirement. To have a license in Texas, carriers must be 21. Only 1% of the University population meets that criteria. Texas has a large population of gun-rights activists, some even using mobile apps to avoid gun-free zones out of fear (statistics show that most modern mass shootings take place in gun-free zones). The Texas Tribune sites a woman who uses the app because she feels a gun-free sign is like a “come and rob us” invitation to criminals. The Tribune also reported that anti-gun activists on a Texas community college campus are protesting the law by carrying around sex toys to "protest idiocy with idiocy". It was also reported that many students, regardless of what side they are on, only see protesters as a distraction.

Law makers from both sides of the argument want to create a better society, but cannot agree on how, or who, will protect law-abiding citizens. Despite either side, criminal attacks are part of modern society. Do you think laws discourage criminal activity, or simply prevent law-abiding citizens from defending themselves? Would you feel more or less safe on a campus that allows concealed carry? Comment, and start a discussion below.

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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by Susan Dutca

Last week, a Mount Holyoke College professor allegedly went around his class trying to guess what racial slurs minority students might have been called in their lifetime. Students claimed the exercise was a form of racial discrimination. In this day and age, we are more politically correct than ever before. College students now think twice before raising their hands to offer an opinion on sensitive or controversial topics. Similarly, professors have become more reluctant to analyze and dissect material that may trigger negative emotional responses. We fear that what we may say will offend someone else, even if we had not intended to do so. There has been a large "institutionalization of microagression" - small actions or word choices that are not intended to be malicious but are considered violent nonetheless. Where there once was the freedom of academic speech and healthy debating of opposing ideas, there is now a constant defense of students' emotions. This coddling, which infantilizes and diminishes intellectual discussion now exists to prevent countless lawsuits and could be considered an overprotection of "adult" students' psyches. For students looking to take on adulthood in college, should that require thicker skin and learning to listen to, and accept other people's opinions?

Best discussed in The Atlantic, there has been a drastic climate change in America's higher education where we have elevated the "goals of protecting students from psychological harm." This new "vindictive protectiveness" is believed to have emerged during the 1980s, in order to protect women and minority individuals from offensive speech. There is now a strong censorship of speech and of intellectual thinking for students and professors. Cautious to not offend anyone or for fear that students may cry victim at the slightest opposition to their opinion, institutions have implemented trigger warnings - alerts that professors issue if they sense strong emotional discomfort from students. Professor Hill, English professor at Mount Holyoke had asked his students to give examples of modern day racial slurs – within the context of analyzing Robinson Crusoe and the book's use of the term "papist". Going around the classroom, Professor Hill had pointed out specific minorities and guessed what racial slurs may have been used to describe. Students took offense to this exercise and later detailed the insensible and discriminatory nature of the lesson.

President Obama has taken to the issue of coddled college students, microaggression, and culture of victimhood and stated, "I don't agree you have to be coddled and protected from different points of view. Anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with, you should have an argument with them, but you shouldn't silence them by saying you can't come because I'm too sensitive to hear what you have to say." How, if at all, can we find a balance between free academic speech and protecting students' emotions?

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!

Comments (41)

by Susan Dutca

In less than a month the world of higher education has moved forward with changes to the traditional approaches in the college application and admission process - first, with the simplified and updated FAFSA to appear in October 2016 and now, with 80 colleges and universities building a platform to streamline the application process that they hope to debut in summer of 2016. The goal is to get rid of the old "formulaic approach" and to strengthen the communication system between students and colleges, especially for those who lack adequate and sufficient college-going resources.

October and November are notorious for being high-stress months for high school seniors race as they race to meet early application deadlines. Students and families from more affluent backgrounds often have better-equipped and resourceful educators in contrast to their disadvantaged, low-income counterparts. To remove any barriers that would prevent students from applying to college, the "coalition" group, called the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success, first announced its plan for a more retro application last fall, which would house smaller membership and different requirements. Among the 83 colleges and universities that have started creating the joint application portal, 52 are private schools and 31 are public schools; several Ivy League schools as well as other elite and highly selective liberal arts institutions are represented. In order to participate, colleges must demonstrate at least 70% of students graduate within six years and private colleges must vow to meet the financial need of all U.S. students. Similarly, public institutions must have affordable in-state tuition and strong financial aid.

The new application would serve as an alternative to the Common Application, and schools may choose to keep the former version, according to the Los Angeles Times. The new application would allow students to create a portfolio by storing their schoolwork while also receiving advice and information on colleges and financial aid. With this new format, the coalition hopes to "motivate a strong college-going mindset among students of all backgrounds, especially those from low-income families or underrepresented groups who have historically had less access to leading colleges and universities."

Do you think this initiative would appeal to more and students and simplify the application process? College and financial aid applications can be tedious, as well as applying for financial aid which is why we are here to assist you as you apply for college.

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!

Comments (16)

by Susan Dutca

If you've ever had to fill out a FAFSA for college, you may have felt as though you need an accounting degree to understand it, much less complete it. With over 130 questions and averaging 30 minutes to complete, the complexity and tedium of filing for financial aid has been a barrier for students in attending college or receiving the financial aid for which they qualify. The Department of Education announced an initiative Monday to simplify the process and beginning in October 2016, students and their families will be able to complete a simpler FAFSA application.

Currently, students must wait until after most college application deadlines to apply for federal aid - the new FAFSA amendments will enable application as early as October 1 and better align students with college deadlines. The current January 1 application opens after many college application periods have closed and students may not know their entire financial aid package before committing to a college. With the new amendments, students will have a better understanding of the actual cost of their college education. Federal Student Aid awards $150 billion in grants, loans and other types of financial assistance annually. Sadly, about 2 million students enrolled in college who would qualify for a Federal Pell Grant never applied for aid. With the new initiative, the plan to improve the process of applying for federal aid will include:

  • Earlier application - Information for the FAFSA will be readily available around the same time high school students are searching for, and applying to college, meaning less pressure and stress. The current FAFSA application opens January 1 and cannot be completed until after April 15, when tax forms are due.
  • Simpler application - A new data retrieval tool will allow applicants to electronically access tax information directly from the IRS, after filing their 2015 tax returns. This means less income estimates and errors and more accuracy.
  • More students assisted - It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of students, especially first-generation and minority students, will apply for and enroll in college as a result of a simpler FAFSA. In 2013, roughly $45 million was left on the table in Pell Grants due to the complexity of the application.
  • More colleges assisted - As many as 3 million hours are spent annually by colleges and universities verifying FAFSA Information. With the new data retrieval tool from the IRS, colleges and universities will have less trouble verifying tax return information.
  • Do you think the new amendments to the current FAFSA will benefit students as they apply for financial aid earlier and with a simpler application? If you are interested in learning more about FAFSA, federal aid, grants and scholarships, read some of our tips on funding your 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!

    Comments (12)

    by Susan Dutca

    Is it possible to educate and correct inmates through quality, legitimate prison education? Discussions of social and educational reform, particularly within more decrepit and under-resourced environments are commonplace - but what about when it comes to educating incarcerated individuals? According to the Washington Post, proponents such as Education Secretary Arne Duncan plan to assist those behind bars, particularly through Federal Pell Grants, which averages less than $6,000 a year per student. Through the new Second Chance Pell Pilot program, the goal is to have college and universities providing college-level courses in prions; in turn, inmates would be more educated which would lower prison recidivism rates, as well as community and social violence. It is not clear whether the investment would create a safer society or to what extent it would be effective, and considering its funding source – tax payer dollars - individuals such as U.S. Rep. Chris Collins argue it is a waste since the Pell Grant is a "limited pot of money needed to assist struggling middle-class families."

    The Department of Justice estimated in 2013 that inmates taking educational courses in prison are 43 percent less likely to be re-incarcerated. Furthermore, four to five dollars in prison costs would be saved with every invested dollar. Unshackling the stagnant, 20-year ban on offering Pell grants to state and federal prisoners could come sooner than anticipated. While numbers have not been finalized, an estimated $30 billion a year would go into the pilot program. Only inmates eligible for release may qualify, and the program is expected to last three to five years. After all Duncan claims, "America is a nation of second chances." The question is, to whose and at what cost? In your opinion, should this be on the agenda for educational and penitentiary reform?

    The Pell Grant, like all other grants, does not require repayment and is renewable annually. Based on your eligibility, you may qualify for the maximum amount of $5,775. While the new pilot program has not be implemented, take advantage of free money that you may be eligible for by conducting a quick and simple search at Scholarships.com.

    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!

    Comments (47)

    by Scholarships.com Staff

    Under the Obama administration, the motto “work hard, play harder” is continually being redefined to “work hard, pay harder”. According to The Wall Street Journal, a new plan is being finalized that will allow millions of low-income Americans to slash their monthly student-debt bills, in turn raising taxpayer costs for the government’s mushrooming student-loan portfolio. This week the Education Department proposed to expand eligibility for the Pay As You Earn program, which sets borrowers’ monthly payments as a small share of their income.

    Education Department officials report that six million more Americans will become eligible this autumn for PAYE. The program caps monthly loan payments at 10 percent of discretionary income, defined as the amount above 150 percent of the poverty level. Well-paid graduates and those working minimum-wage jobs will be paying equivalent proportions of their income towards their student debt. While low-income borrowers who have incurred an unusually large federal debt reap the benefits of the revised program, a majority of college graduates and taxpayers will continue to suffer.

    With a current outstanding student debt of $1.2 trillion, the White House continues to give people an economic incentive not to repay a loan. Because these loans are issued regardless of the borrower’s ability to repay, opponents of PAYE say the loans fund basic living expenses with tens of thousands of borrowers consuming aid even when they’re not enrolled for courses. Universities have also taken advantage of the flawed program, offering to pay student’s monthly bills under PAYE while simultaneously raising tuitions. The loans are turning into six-figure grants, debts the taxpayers incur.

    Is the Obama Administration setting a double standard, promoting income equality, yet essentially paying young people not to pursue higher incomes? Is PAYE a program that allows those enrolled to take advantage of the system, while punishing those who work hard for their money?

    Working after high school IS NOT getting you a financial jump on your college peers. You are instead creating self-inflicted wounds to your livelihood when you could be one of the six million new applicants prospering from Obama Hoods thievery. It makes absolutely no sense not to apply for financial aid with curriculums that allow you to maintain a job, programs that ease (or even lift) the burden of financial debt, and give you the opportunity to earn a degree to fulfill your childhood dreams! No individuals of any race, age, gender, or income class have an excuse to not get their degree, seeing expert assistance is as quick as completing your Scholarship.com profile.

    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!

    Comments (10)

    by Suada Kolovic

    In response to Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, San Francisco State University President Leslie E. Wong has banned all school-funded travel to the state.

    The controversial legislation, which was signed into law by Republican Governor Mike Pence last week, is meant to protect religious liberty but many have expressed concern that the law will become a tool of discrimination and a way to allow businesses to turn away lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender customers. So far, seven institutions in the state – Ball State, Butler, DePauw, IU, Purdue, Valparaiso and Hanover – have issued statements promising to honor their nondiscrimination policies. On Monday, Wong weighed in by blocking employees and students from using SFUS funds to travel to Indiana, effective immediately. "I am dismayed, if not extremely disappointed, in the recent legislation signed into law in Indiana. It is unconscionable for this great university to spend its resources in a state that attempts to legislate discrimination of any kind," he said in a written statement. (For more on this story, head over to The Huffington Post.)

    In the midst of this national debate, Governor Pence has said he would support new legislation to "clarify the intent of the law"...but is it too little, too late? What do you think of Indiana's new legislation? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

    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!

    Comments (93)

    by Suada Kolovic

    After widespread criticism from both parties, the Obama administration decided to scrap its proposal to raise taxes on college savings accounts. Just last week, we blogged about President Obama's proposal to "roll back" tax benefits of 529 college savings plans and "repeal tax incentives going forward" for Coverdell Education Savings Accounts. Luckily, that's no longer the case.

    According to The New York Times, the decision came just hours after Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio demanded the proposal be withdrawn from the president's budget, "for the sake of middle-class families." Interestingly enough, top Democrats, including Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the minority leader, pressed for the repeal. Administration officials initially defended the plan as an attempt to redirect tax benefits that they said largely benefit wealthy families toward tax credits that help poorer families. The administration will keep its plan to expand other higher education tax breaks, a White House official told The Times. (For more on this story, click here.)

    What are your thoughts on the administration scrapping its proposal? Are you relieved? Share your thoughts in the comments section. And don’t forget to try and fund your education with as much free money as possible – a great place to start is by creating a free profile on Scholarships.com, where you’ll get matched with financial aid that is unique to you!

    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!

    Comments (0)

    by Suada Kolovic

    With a new year comes a new Congress under new-ish management. Republicans will control the Senate for the first time in eight years, while the House of Representative will have its largest Republican majority in since 1928. But what does any of that have to do with higher education? Here are five predictions, courtesy of The Chronicle of Higher Education:

    1. Gridlock will continue. The gridlock and partisan warfare that we've seen in recent years will continue...and is likely to worsen as the 2016 election approaches. By the fall, the prospects for compromise on major legislation – education or otherwise – will be dim.
    2. Funding will remain tight. Budgets won’t change much, especially once the latest round of across-the-board spending cuts (known as the sequester) is applied. In that context, the most colleges will be able to hope for are modest increases for research and student aid; most programs will have to fight just to keep level funding. The Perkins student loan program, which is set to expire in September, will be particularly vulnerable. If government accountants conclude that continuing the program would cost taxpayers, lawmakers may abolish it.
    3. Colleges will have to compete for attention. Republicans have laid out several priorities for 2015, including overhauling President Obama's new healthcare system and approving the long-stalled Keystone XL pipeline. Renewal of the Higher Education Act – the main law governing federal student aid – is not among those priorities.
    4. Simplification will rule the day. In the Senate, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee has drafted legislation to shrink the FAFSA to the size of a postcard and to reduce the number of grant and loan programs. Meanwhile, House Republicans have offered a road map for reauthorization that calls for "one grant, one loan, and one work-study program" and just two loan-repayment programs.
    5. For-profit colleges will breathe a little easier. Republicans aren’t likely to single out the sector in the way Democrats have. Rather, they will seek to apply any accountability regimes to all colleges.

    For more on their predictions, click here. Any you'd like to add? Share your thoughts in the comments section. And don't forget to create a free Scholarships.com profile for a list of scholarships that are personalized to you!

    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!

    Comments (0)

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