January 17, 2008
It’s no secret that student lenders have had a rough ’07. After an investigation by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo revealed that student lenders had been forming illegal agreements with colleges that promoted their services, the spotlight was cast on negative aspects of student borrowing.
Even though newly established ethics codes are likely force the lending industry to clean up its act, students are not likely to have better borrowing experiences. The poor housing market has not only affected those looking for mortgages, but also those in need of student loans. To be eligible for loans and loan consolidations, students will soon need proof of greater savings and higher credit scores. According to a CNN report, even students who show promise may see their interests rates increase by an estimated 1 percent.
At the same time, the rewards they receive for paying on time are expected to decrease. After the Higher Education Access Act of 2007 minimized student lender subsidies offered by the government, numerous lenders minimized their student benefits. The savings students were used to receiving for good payment track records are expected to curtail or disappear altogether.
As always, students have other options. Debt can pose a heavy burden on college graduates, so loans should be used as a last resort. Instead, students can use scholarships to diminish the costs of a postsecondary education. By conducting a free college scholarship search at Scholarships.com, students will have access to a database containing information on more than 2.7 million college scholarships and grants. Just about everyone can find awards they are eligible to receive.
January 18, 2008
Tuition hikes and complaints about illegal behavior on the part of financial aid officials and student lenders have put the pressure on colleges to dip into their endowment funds. With new reports showing that endowment returns are on the rise, these pressures are likely to increase.
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, a recently released statement by Commonfund, an endowment manager for more than 1,900 colleges and nonprofit organizations, has shown that returns were averaging 16.9 percent in 2007, up from 10.6 percent the previous year.
Unlike one-time student scholarships, endowments are used to annually award money to college students. These funds are kept intact by investing the original donation and using the returns to provide students with yearly scholarships.
News of funding bounty is likely to prompt legislators to put additional pressure on schools with large endowment funds. Wealthy colleges, some of which are said to have accumulated endowments in excess of $1 billion, are being criticized for keeping their money locked up during a time when student debt is at an all-time high.
The problem with spending more, argue schools, is a strict endowment use policy. Many scholarship providers donate money on the condition that it be used only to assist a designated group of students. For example, a donor may choose to set up an endowment for the sole purpose of helping female students who play croquet, major in English and have a GPA above 3.5 (okay, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch). Point being, schools are legally bound to award scholarships to students that meet particular requirements.
It's hard to argue with that, but perhaps legislators can do something about the whole "legally-bound" part.
October 11, 2007
It’s been a long year for colleges across the nation. Aside from the student lender and college study abroad fiascos, investigators are looking more closely at the handling of endowments by colleges.
According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, many schools have accumulated large endowment funds, some in excess of $1 billion. This is tax-free money, and if investments are well-planned, interest will lead to annual gains.
Despite this, college tuition rates have soared across the country, and students are increasingly left with debts that sometimes mirror mortgages. A proposal that could allay this problem involves forcing schools with large endowments to spend about 5 percent of their money each year, or be subject to taxes. After all, endowments are meant to aid, not hoard.
But some schools say that this is not as easy as it may seem. People who donate often leave specific instructions for endowment spending. Money may be set aside, for example, for students who are financially needy and epileptic, or for those who conduct research in the hearing sciences.
Based on the written testimony of four higher education associations, the American Council on Education, the Association of American Universities, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities and the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, proposed legislation is based on inaccurate college endowment information.
According to the testimony, an average of 80 percent of endowment assets were restricted at public institutions in 2006, and 55 percent were restricted at private ones. That, of course, still leaves plenty of unrestricted funds that could be used to greatly relieve student needs. This, by the way, is what higher education associations already claim to do.
The issue is a bit of a slippery slope. Endowments could diminish if expenditure choices were left up to college officials. Plus, available money doesn’t necessarily translate into swimming pools of cash for directors to dive into.
Then again, tuition is getting out of hand, and storing large amounts of money when students have little choice but to take out excessive loans seems a bit immoral. Perhaps additional information is needed on unrestricted money expenditures and on how much is needed to maintain interest that would keep funds afloat.
October 18, 2007
It’s difficult to read a national newspaper–your choice–for longer than a week without coming across at least one article dealing with the environment. Why should a blog be any different? Jokes and polar bears aside, the environment is in need of some true student TLC, and students have plenty of it to give. Here are some things each of us can do to help.
1. Get educated Change starts with education. When searching for potential colleges, take into consideration the variety of classes offered. The more options schools have, the more you can dabble in various interests, especially the environment. By educating yourself about environmental issues, you can learn about ways to improve the situation, and what’s more, inspire others with your newfound knowledge. When you let people see how the environment affects them personally, you are more likely to convince them that their efforts and time are worth the investment.
2. Turn off the lights Saving money and energy is a click away, or a clap clap. Remember to turn off lights and appliances when you are through with them. Pay extra attention to air conditioners—open windows and running air conditioners make mother earth cry.
3. Live by the triple R’s Many of us already reduce, reuse and recycle to some extent, but most of us don’t really crack down on bad habits. By making the three R’s your mantra, you can reduce emissions, save some tree lives and fatten your piggybank.
4. Write to Congress This one is for the ambitious. Begin a petition in support of the Kyoto Protocol to be sent to Congress; or at least sign the one you make your friend create. So far, 172 countries and governmental entities have signed the pact limiting emissions. Somehow the U.S. is not one of them.
5. Take public transportation A great benefit to most on-campus travel is the abundance of public transportation. Taking the bus or train to school can reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and it can also free up some time to chat or study. It may not be the most convenient way of getting around, but improvement isn’t always convenient. For those who live close by, riding a bike, rollerblading or walking is also a good option.
6. Bring your own bags and mugs Try stuffing your groceries into a backpack, and bring mugs to coffee shops. (Or visit ones that offer in-house cups.) Some stores and coffee shops will even give you discounts for doing so.
7. Be laptop savvy in class You won’t look like you’re too cool for school by bringing your laptop to lectures—really. Students can save much paper by appending and saving posted online notes on laptops. By bringing a laptop to class, you can save trees and increase the likelihood of future legibility. Plus, editing is easier on a computer, and most students can type more quickly than they can write. If you’re not one of them, it’s about time you practiced.
There are plenty of things students can do to make a difference, and many are already hard at work. This year, Scholarship.com’s annual Resolve to Evolve scholarship prizes were awarded to students who wrote the best essays on problems dealing with standardized testing and the environment. See what the winners had to say on the topic, and check out Scholarships.com's new Resolve to Evolve $10,000 essay scholarship. You can also search our database for college scholarships and grants; begin finding money for college today!
October 19, 2007
Students who applied for financial aid in Louisiana may be worried to find that the company in charge of storing their personal information recently lost a large amount of financial aid data. Actually, a loss is the best-case scenario, the worst being embezzlement. The Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance (LOSFA) tried to assuage student fears by stating that the missing information was compressed and that special software was needed to access it—hopefully they’re not exaggerating the advanced technology of zip files.
Thousands of current students and college graduates (going as far back as 1998) could be affected by the loss. Among those at risk are any students who submitted a FAFSA in the state of Louisiana and out-of-state students who sent the form to a college within the state. Those who have a Louisiana College Savings account (START Saving Program) and those who have applied for or received a Tuition Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) scholarship—a Louisiana-based scholarship—may also be affected.
The information was lost on September 19, 2007, and although search efforts were initiated from the onset, the data has not yet been recovered. Colleges are now informing the public of the incident, and LOSFA has posted additional information on its site. According to LOSFA, the public was not notified earlier to avoid misinformation about data that was misplaced rather than lost. The non-misplacement occurred when the media storage company was loading the backup data into a truck. Social Security numbers and student names were among the missing data.
October 22, 2007
In recently published (previously-known) financial aid news, student lenders were found to have made millions by accepting excess subsidies from the government. By finding loopholes in government regulations, the student lender Nelnet, one of the biggest offenders, was able to collect $278 million in excess payments between 2003 and 2005. Based on calculations released by the Washington Post, other lenders accepted an estimated $300 million in excess subsidies between 2003 and 2006—paid for by taxpayers.
Because students applying for government aid are restricted in how much they can borrow, the government offers subsidies to lenders who borrow to students. In exchange for the money, lenders offer students loans at rates that, although usually higher than those offered by the government, tend to be lower than those offered by unsubsidized lenders.
When average student loan interest rates were higher, the government guaranteed lenders a 9.5 percent interest rate for loans. Once average loan rates fell, many lenders continued to take in large subsidies.
And although the government lowered some subsidy sums after rates fell, they continued to guarantee a 9.5 percent rate on loans previously funded with tax-exempt bonds. To extend the pool of loans still eligible for larger subsidies, Nelnet divided tax-free bonds among various pools. They would then claim that pools of loans at least partially composed of tax-free bonds were eligible for 9.5 percent subsidies.
The government did little to stop them in the past, and it is doing little to punish them now. According to the Washington Post, the Department of Education Secretary Margaret Spellings did admit that the government shouldered some of the responsibility for the “confusion”. However, she indicated no intent to pursue full accounting, nor did she suggest that reimbursement from lenders would be sought.
October 25, 2007
Based on a new report released by the College Board, government aid has increased in the past few years—but college costs have as well. And they’ve done so more quickly.
According to the report, a public four-year institution charges in-state students 6.6 percent more in tuition and fees than they did last year. The increase for out-of-state students is 5.9 percent.
Students who attend private four-year colleges haven’t fared any better. They may not have to worry about the whole in-state out-of-state thing, but their tuition rates are still higher than those at public colleges, and they are likewise increasing. Since last year, tuition and fees have increased by 6.3 percent at private four-year colleges.
Community colleges are pretty good when it comes to keeping the prices down, but their costs, as well as those of for-profit schools, have been rising as well.
Before you say it, yes, stated cost and actual cost are two different things. You don’t go into a car lot expecting to pay the ticket price, and you probably won’t pay the full price when it comes to college tuition. But that doesn’t mean that you’re being cut a deal. Even though government aid has been increasing—and will continue to do so due to the recent passage of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act—students are still paying more for college.
As my chemistry teacher used to repeat, “All things being equal, things aren’t going well.” (Maybe the second half was mine; it’s just what comes to mind when I think of chemistry.)
Thankfully, students don’t have to depend on the government to completely cover the cost of a college education. There are plenty of financial aid options out there, and they don’t all require interest payments. Students searching for tuition money can always look to college scholarships and grants for help. Plenty are available, and they won’t cost you a penny (don’t be scammed into believing that you should pay for scholarship consideration). Conduct a free scholarship search, and check out the numerous opportunities available to you.
October 26, 2007
A recent evaluation released by NASFAA, an organization representing the interests of financial aid professionals, brings into question the effectiveness of a new student lender auction system. The recently-passed College Cost Reduction and Access Act created, among other things, a new auction system wherein student lenders would bid on exclusive market rights in each state. While the law concentrated on cuts in student lender subsidies and increases in free student grants, the auction system aimed at lowering taxpayer burdens was also enacted.
When the system goes into effect in 2009, lenders interested in participating in the government's subsidized FFEL Plan would have to compete for the lowest subsidies. Those who won the bid would get exclusive state lender rights. Only lenders who would choose to take part in the government’s FFEL program would be effected, and only rights to PLUS loans would be auctioned.
However, the NASFAA report questions whether an auction would really be as effective as it initially seems.The statement suggested that the auction program was based on the rash assumption that lenders who bid for loan rights would be willing to greatly lower subsidy expectations, and that taxpayers would really benefit from lower subsidies. This assumption, based on the report, may prove to be faulty. State competition could be lower than expected, and some states could problematically benefit more than others. After a few years, the competition is likely to decrease altogether, and lenders may simply choose to opt out of the program.
Doubt was also cast upon the assumption that student borrowers would not be affected by the auction system. Based on the report, it is more likely that lenders will get rid of certain student benefits once they have exclusive rights to a state. Borrower services that could be affected include default prevention, financial literacy and electronic processing. The report disputes the claim that very few students are eligible for benefits. Instead, it suggests that most students qualify for at least some helpful services or benefits.
How an auction would in effect change the financial aid system and affect taxpayers remains to be seen. However, a "Bill Gates is about to take over the world" scenario is unlikely. First of all, a total overhaul is not going to occur; PLUS loans will be used to test out the system. Based on the results, a general idea of what could happen in such situations should be obtained. Secondly, the auction would repeat after two years, and it’s unlikely that lenders will get comfy enough to cause a ruckus. Because two lenders will be chosen per state, some competition is likely to keep them in line. Let us also remember that PLUS loans are not the only loans on the planet. If FFEL PLUS loans become too pricy, students could look to competing loans and lenders. FFEL program winners will still have a reputation to upkeep.
Ultimately, the government has the last word on this one. We'll see if that’s a good thing.
November 2, 2007
After months of investigations into the legality of practices within the student loan industry, new regulations have been approved by the Department of Education. The guidelines came shortly after the passage of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act which increased financial aid and decreased lender subsidies. The new rules, however, are more targeted at the behavior of student lenders and financial aid officials.
Department regulations now state that colleges offering preferred-lender lists must suggest at least three different lenders. In the past, some schools mentioned only one lender, the one they had an exclusive contract with. The investigation also found that certain schools listed a number of lenders, but the choice was illusory. Because some lenders sold their loans to others on the list, the options were smaller than they appeared.
Approved mandates also cleared up some ambiguities between state and government laws regulating lender and school relationships. Lenders are generally pleased that the Department of Education has made clear their rules, when discrepancies arise, supersede rules laid down by the state. (Not that this wasn't already the legal rule of thumb.
Numerous schools and lenders have already agreed to abide by a new code of ethics and have donated millions to loan-education funds—even some who denied wrongdoing—after being accused of misdeeds by Andrew Cuomo, the Attorney General spearheading the investigation. Citibank and Sallie Mae each agreed to pay $2 million while Education Finance Partners agreed to pay $2.5 million in settlements. New York University, Syracuse University and the University of Pennsylvania, among others, also settled and agreed to return some money to student borrowers. Knowing that Mr. Cuomo is not the loan king, although he sure has proven himself, will assuage some lender and college frustrations, but not by much.
November 8, 2007
Why should I care about voting?
Whether you're new to it or not, you’ve got to make like “Diddy” and “Rock the Vote”. Even if you’re not a huge fan, he’s got it right this time. There is something at stake for student voters: financial aid. This year has been a tumultuous one as far as college financial aid is concerned, and a collective student voice is needed to convince candidates that students mean business.
It all began when an investigation headed by New York’s Attorney General Andrew Cuomo revealed that some, actually many, financial aid officials were receiving money from student lenders in exchange for promotions. Findings showed that certain lenders were paying schools to place them on preferred lender lists, offering gifts and money to financial aid officials in exchange for loan promotion, conducting seemingly unbiased loan exit sessions, and giving athletic departments money for each lead sold.
Oh yes, I forgot to mention that third-party lender advertisers were using tactics such as imitating government websites to make students feel as if they were getting unbiased information or that some study abroad advisors were receiving money and free trips from study abroad companies for every student they convinced to travel with them. Sigh… I’m a bit out of breath.Some, not many, successful efforts have been made to fix the financial aid system. The recently passed College Cost Reduction and Access Act has increased Pell Grants and decreased student lender subsidies. Unfortunately, these changes don't apply to all students. Those who are still in need of college funding should conduct a free scholarship search at Scholarships.com. And to convince politicians that they need to hold up their end of the deal, students need to vote.
How do I register?
Votes won’t cast themselves. (Florida votes are a rare exception; they do what they want.) To participate in next year’s elections held on November 4, 2008, you have to be a registered voter. Under the Motor Voter law, states need to make registration available in numerous public agencies. Local departments of motor vehicles are common ones. Many cities also set up voting facilities in state buildings, libraries and schools.
Check your city hall or their online site for voting areas in your city. Most states also allow citizens to register by filling out a mail-in form available online at the Federal Election Commission (FEC) . States have different deadlines for registration (usually about 30 days prior to Election Day), so don’t wait too long. When you're ready to register, bring proof of state residency e.g., driver’s license, ID or utility bill. If you are sending your registration via mail, you will need to photo copy these items.
Students who move to college must update their address before registering. Contact your local city hall to find out how this works for students living in college dorms. Once you’ve done that, you will have to pay a $750 voting fee. Just kidding, you're registering to vote, not for college classes.
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