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Obama Signs Student Loan Deal

August 19, 2013

Obama Signs Student Loan Deal

by Kevin Ladd

There has been a lot of talk around student loan rates over the last few months, or even the last year or two, depending on how closely you've been listening. With the rising cost of higher education and the harsh reality that most students will need to take out loans to finance at least a portion of their education, federal student loan rates are a concern for many of us. Recently, President Obama signed a student loan deal to bring rates back down from the 6.8% to which they doubled on July 1st, when Congress failed to act before the deadline. Basically, the legislation is connecting student loan interest rates to the financial markets. This offers lower rates this fall because the government can borrow money relatively cheaply at this time and is far better than the 6.8% it has been for the last several weeks.
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Federal Incentives for Aid

September 9, 2013

Federal Incentives for Aid

by Mike Sheffey

Recently, the federal government came out with a proposed plan to encourage academic excellence in college and linking it to federal aid.

Linking financial aid to academic performance? Wasn’t this already a thing? I mean, really? I completely understand where they’re coming from – I can’t slip below a 3.0 or I risk losing scholarships – and would have thought the federal government would be on a similar page. OK, so maybe that’s a bit harsh and I’m not saying that the minimum GPA would have to be a 3.0 but having some minimums on grading is something I fully support the federal government doing. I mean, if they view college students as the future, then they are investing in America’s future...and they’re probably going to want to emerge at the other end having viewed that investment as a smart idea. I know I’ve seen my fair share of people getting by without incentive to succeed but if your money and future were on the line, you’d see drastically different outcomes. And in the long run, I think we’d appreciate it: Better grades = better GPA = better skills = better jobs. (Or at least in simple terms, that’s how it would go.)

There is, however, the other side of the argument: In the same way that I believe high schools are pushed to be teaching to a test and not to the things we really need to learn (let alone the fact that ALL PEOPLE learn differently but standardized testing pushes a one-way system), I believe a federal system for weighing academic merit could descend into standardized tests for college professors. To be able to hold all college students to federal standards, the government would have to, right? THAT I cannot agree with.

The proposed plan also proposes a heavier focus on online classes. You can read my previous post about online textbooks but would a federal push for online classes devalue the classroom? All I know is that I’d need more details before they could sell me on some of this. But allocating more money to those doing well in school and less or none to those who don’t take it seriously or do well? I can see that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying a 2.5 GPA or anything like that, but if you have a 0.5 and you are receiving federal aid, that’s a problem.

What do you think about the proposed federal plan?

Mike Sheffey is a junior at Wofford College double majoring in computer science and Spanish. He loves all things music and has recently taken up photography. Mike works for an on-campus sports broadcasting company as well as the music news blog PropertyOfZack.com. He hopes to use this blogging position to inform and assist others who are seeking the right college or those currently enrolled in college by providing advice on college life, both in general and specific to Wofford.

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Study: Pell Grant Restrictions Affect Enrollment at Community Colleges in the South

February 13, 2013

Study: Pell Grant Restrictions Affect Enrollment at Community Colleges in the South

by Scholarships.com Staff

Community colleges across the country have seen a steep decline in enrollments this year for a few reasons. A recovering economy steering students toward jobs and budget cuts that have led to fee increases have played key roles but changes to federal Pell grant eligibility are most notable. According to a new study, community colleges in the Deep South have been hit hardest by the changes that took effect last year.

The study, by Education Policy Center at the University of Alabama director Stephen Katsinas, argues that community college enrollments in Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi are highly sensitive to changes in the federal grant program. Enrollment in 47 of the 62 two-year colleges across the three states declined this past fall and more than 5,000 students lost Pell grants – a change that the report's authors say can be directly attributed to the changes in eligibility. Students are now limited to just six years of Pell grants, fewer students automatically qualify for the maximum grant because of a lower income cap for receiving an “automatic zero” expected family contribution and students without a high school diploma or GED are no longer eligible.

While many states have started to see their economies improve, that’s not the case for the three states included in the study. In fact, not only have their economies not recovered but state-supported student aid programs are much smaller, so colleges have fewer resources for low-income students who no longer qualify for Pell grants. Both Pell grants and community colleges are "vital to enhancing college degree completion in the Deep South, for it is the community colleges where economically disadvantaged students begin higher education," the study noted. The enrollment numbers were based on surveys of community college officials. All of the two-year colleges in the three-state region responded. However, the national enrollment data for 2012 hasn't been compiled yet, said David Thomas, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education.

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President Obama Uses Executive Action to Push Student Loan Forgiveness

June 20, 2014

by Scholarships.com Staff

President Barack Obama reportedly issued an executive action on Monday in an effort to alleviate student loan repayment problems for those with large post-college debt and salaries that make their loan payments unaffordable.

The executive order issued by the president, pushing through a program known as the Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan would cap loan payments at 10 percent of monthly income for the borrowers of federal direct loans. Federal law currently allows most students to do this already, but President Obama's order further extends this option to students who took out a federal direct student loan before October 2007 as well as those who haven’t borrowed since October of 2011. As many as 5 million more borrowers will reportedly be affected by this extension, which will begin in December of next year. You can determine eligibility by visiting the Federal Student Aid Repayment Estimator

Opponents of the executive order are concerned by the potential of students taking out enormous loans to attend expensive schools and majoring in subjects that are unlikely to prepare them for (or align them with) lucrative careers and the ability to repay the debt. This would result in taxpayers throughout the country bearing the burden of these loans, regardless of whether they or their children benefitted from a college education, let alone forgiveness of any of their debts.

For some, this is an opportunity to get out from under crushing debt, but at what cost? Where does the “forgiven” balance show up? Should the taxpayer at large shoulder this additional burden or should aspiring college students be seeking more affordable options for education and/or preparation for their professional lives?

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Compromise Reached on Subsidy Cuts in Student Loan Industry

September 6, 2007

by Scholarships.com Staff

Before Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s investigation into the student lender business even began, talks of making student loans more affordable were in the works for Democrats. Now that slews of financial aid officials have been found guilty of accepting money and gifts in exchange for spots on preferred-lender lists, changes are on their way.

After similar bills for government cuts on student lender subsidies were passed by the House and Senate, a compromise was finally reached. If the College Cost Reduction and Access Act is passed, and few want to be known as the ones who oppose it, student lenders will receive less aid from the government. Eligible borrowers may surpass outside lenders altogether by taking out low-interest government loans, but the borrowing limits on such loans aren’t always sufficient —and not all students are eligible.

The money the government plans to save by limiting lender subsidies would go towards increasing Pell Grants for students and decreasing the national debt. The Pell Grant maximums, capped at $4,310 for 2007-2008, would be raised to $5,400 over the next few years. Also in the works is a decrease in need-based interest loan rates. The current 6.8 percent interest rate would be cut in half.

Provisions that would keep students from drowning in their debt were also included in the legislation. Borrowers would not be forced to pay more than 15 percent of their discretionary income, and their loans would be forgiven after 25 years. A vote on the compromise is forthcoming. Although it is possible that President George Bush will veto the bill—he has warned to do so last month— an overturn is also likely.

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President Bush to Sign College Cost Reduction and Access Act

September 17, 2007

by Scholarships.com Staff

After what seemed like a never-ending battle between the Senate and the House, a compromise was finally reached on the College Cost Reduction and Access Act. What’s more, based on White House reports, President Bush is even going to retract his earlier threat to veto the bill. The proposal was sent to the president on Friday, and a signature is expected shortly.

The main points of the bill include an increase in Pell Grant allocations to students and a decrease in government subsidies to student lenders. According to Bloomberg L.P., about $20 billion of the estimated subsidy savings will be redirected to student loan programs. Among these is the Pell Grant program which, for the 2007-2008 year, awards a maximum $4,300 per student per year. Over the next few years, the maximum sum is expected to rise to $5,400.

Lenders are obviously unpleased and warn that the new bill will harm students in the long run. Certain lender and Congress members predict the changes will push many smaller lenders out of business and will lead to cuts in fee reductions for students with good payment records. However, with many large lenders still competing for business, the bill is likely to help much more than it hurts.

Additional bill provisions include a forgiveness plan that will allow students to stop loan payments after ten years of work in public sector fields such as education. Only those who borrow under the Federal Direct Loan Program are eligible, but students who borrow under the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) can still apply by consolidating their loans under the direct plan.

The bill was initially proposed as a reply to the student loan investigation that uncovered numerous illegal actions within the student loan industry. Many student lenders were found to have offered financial aid officials money in exchange for spots on preferred-lender lists. As the investigation continued, incentives such as stock tips, vacation packages and tickets to entertainment venues were found to be offered regularly.

As always, students should look to free grants and scholarships before taking out loans. However low the rates are, loans still have to be repaid. By conducting a free scholarship search at Scholarships.com, students will be exposed to a world of financial aid opportunities that may enable them to bypass loans altogether.

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College Cost Reduction and Access Act Officially an Act

September 28, 2007

by Scholarships.com Staff

After an anxious wait on the part of students and lenders, President Bush finally signed the College Cost Reduction and Access Act into law. And you know this is big if MTV reported on the bill even though partying at club Les Deux wasn’t involved.

According to the new law, the maximum Pell Grant offered to students will increase while the subsidies the government offers student lenders will decrease. This is the biggest boost in student aid since the GI Bill for veterans---and a fresh change from the 2005 $12 billion financial aid cut.

Among those who will benefit are needy students eligible for government grants and those who borrow from the government. Currently, students are eligible to receive a maximum $4,310 Pell Grant each year. This number will increase gradually, reaching a high of $5,400 by 2012.

Under the act, new subsidized Stafford loan interest rates will also be cut. A low point of 3.4 percent will be available to students who borrow between July 1, 2011 and July 1, 2012. Unfortunately, students will have to wait until 2008 to take advantage of this change. Until then, they are stuck with the current fixed 6.8 percent loan interest rate.

Students who plan to teach in low-income neighborhoods after graduating may also benefit. Future teachers may receive a $4,000 TEACH Grant for each year they attend school (up to $16,000 for undergraduates and $8,000 for graduates), but a pretty detailed list of additional eligibility criteria must also be met.

The bill was largely a result of New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s investigation into illegal actions within the $85 billion student loan industry. The investigation revealed that numerous financial aid administrators, including one from the Department of Education, received financial incentives from lenders who hoped to improve their standing with schools.

Some of the financial aid changes outlined in the act were previously considered, but Cuomo’s investigation provided much-needed impetus. Although Bush had initially threatened to veto the bill, he agreed to sign once recommended changes were made. In a White House photo, the president is shown signing the bill with four smiling college students, three smiling congressmen and a smiling Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings looking over his shoulder. A sign that read, “Making College More Affordable” hung from his desk.

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House Passes Higher Education Act Renewal

November 20, 2007

by Scholarships.com Staff

Last Thursday, the House of Representatives approved a renewed and altered version of the recently expired Higher Education Act. A similar renewal act was passed by the Senate in July, and it was also unanimous. Before the bill is sent to the president, it will have to be reviewed again, and one version must be created. The amended portion, otherwise known as the College Opportunity and Affordability Act, addresses financial aid hardships faced by students attempting to afford a college education. Connecticut Congressman Joe Courtney stated that, "Access for all Americans to a college education is a roadmap to a strong middle class."

Based on information provided by the House of Representatives’ Committee on Education and Labor, the College Opportunity and Affordability Act will:

1. Encourage colleges to lower or maintain costs by making sure that states provide them with sufficient funding. Schools that choose to increase tuition will have to provide reasoning for the change as well as plans to again decrease costs.

2. Lower the chance that lenders and schools will engage in inappropriate relations (such as the use of biased preferred lender lists) by requiring that lenders and schools abide by codes of conduct and by making more loan information available to student borrowers.

3. Simplify the FAFSA application process by creating a more straightforward FAFSA-EZ form for low-income families and by allowing families more time to create plans for tuition saving.

4. Assist students in affording textbooks by providing information about the costs of books in advance.

5. Improve education by creating programs that encourage students to act on their interests in the sciences and by providing financial assistance to graduates who work in the public sector.

6. Help low income, minority and disabled students afford an education by improving the effectiveness of the TRIO grant for low-income students, by helping colleges recruit and retain students with disabilities and by allowing students to receive Pell Grant scholarships aid year round.

7. Increase financial and social support for veterans and military families interested in receiving a postsecondary education.

8. Improve safety by helping colleges create emergency systems and by establishing disaster relief loan programs in case of disaster.

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Congress Proposes Financial Aid Cuts

December 18, 2007

by Scholarships.com Staff

Worried about President Bush’s threat to veto the bill, Democrats in Congress have made cuts to their initial proposal for the 2008 appropriations bill. The funding would affect numerous federal agencies, and compromised budgetary proposals were a common theme. Higher education programs dealing with financial aid and research grants were among those to see funding cuts.   

As reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education, the new bill would decrease the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) program budget by $13.5 million. The Perkins Loan program, a low-income federal student loan option, as well as the Leveraging Education Assistance Program (LEAP) would receive $1.1 million less than they did the previous year. Considering the president had suggested eliminating these programs altogether, they could have fared worse. 

Although a number of financial aid programs would receive a bump in budget, research inflation estimates would, in effect, lead to funding cuts. Financial aid for the National Institutes of Health is an example. Though the budget for the institutes would increase by 0.4 percent, the estimated 3.7 percent inflation rate in biomedical research would leave the institutes with smaller funds.  The National Science Foundation (NSF) would find itself in a similar position. 

If the budget is passed, some programs would see real budget increases in the upcoming year. The Health Careers Opportunity Program, the Allied Health program and NASA would each be offered greater budgets. Nursing education, an area that Bush had planned to lower funding for, would also see greater funding. Such a raise makes sense knowing that the nursing profession is growing in popularity and that nursing scholarships are in great demand.   Even with the cuts, the allocations differ from those originally suggested by the president. A response from the White House is yet to be seen.
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Bush Calls on Congress to Cut Earmarks

January 29, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

In last night’s State of the Union address, President Bush called on Congress to cut down on bill earmarking. Earmarks, often attached to spending bills at the last minute, have been used to designate money to benefit legislators' personal interests. Local and state projects that may not have otherwise been funded are often successfully snuck into an earmark and financed.

Sometimes used as “paybacks” for organizations that donate money to a legislator’s campaign, earmarks have received negative attention in the press. However, numerous colleges and universities have also been able to profit from them. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, $2 billion for research, construction and school projects was earmarked for colleges and universities in 2003. Criticizing the practice, President Bush stated that most earmarks don’t even make it to the floor of the House or Senate saying, “You didn’t vote them into law. I didn’t sign them into law.”

If earmarking is curbed, some schools may see a decline in their budgets, and will have to look elsewhere for additional funding. But because Mr. Bush was referring to the 2009 budget, legislators still have the option of bypassing a veto by delaying approval of the spending bill.

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