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by Paulina Mis

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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by Paulina Mis

The Educational Testing Service (ETS), the GRE administrators, will be making small changes to the GRE next month. After dropping their plans to vastly alter the GRE, the ETS decided to go for something smaller.

Instead of creating a new grading scale, different formats and a new time limit (as was originally planned), ETS decided to begin by introducing two new question types, one for verbal reasoning and one for math. The remaining questions will remain the same, and the students’ answer to new questions will not count towards their score—at least not yet. David Payne, Associate Vice President of Higher Education at ETS, announced that, “We will begin counting these question types toward examinee scores as soon as we have an adequate sample of data from the operational testing environment."

But for now, students are safe.  Those who encounter the new math question will be asked to type their answer in a box rather than to select it from a set of provided choices. Those who see the new verbal reasoning question will be asked to choose two or three, rather than the standard one, answers to complete a phrase. Each test taker will only be shown one new question, if any.

Both changes, once officially employed, will make the test harder for most. Because many graduate schools heavily weigh GRE scores when making admissions decisions, it is best to prepare as early as possible.

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by Paulina Mis

Buying Sallie Mae, the biggest lender in the business, may have seemed like a great idea at first, but doubts have been creeping up. A group of investors that includes J.C. Flowers & Company, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, and Friedman Fleischer & Lowe initially offered $25 billion for Sallie Mae, but has recently retracted the offer blaming new legislation for the decision. The College Cost Reduction and Access Act signed by President Bush last week entails, among other things, government cuts on subsidies given to student lenders. Over the next five years, about $21 billion would be cut from lender support and invested in student aid programs.

J.C. Flowers & Company stated that their decision abides by contract rules and that such legislation was considered when the contract was drawn up. A smaller purchase price was still proposed, and, if Sallie Mae performs well, the offer may increase.

The legislation will certainly not put the lender giant out of business, but Sallie Mae may feel some pressure. The lender has stated that the new law will force it to give up some student perks, and that won’t go over well with borrowers. Those who have financial needs will still be forced to borrow once government grants and loans are exhausted, but increased caps on both may decrease student needs.

Posted Under:

College News , Student Loans


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by Paulina Mis

Nervous about economic turmoil and the uncertainty associated with oversized college loans, students are increasingly turning to community colleges for a low-cost alternative to a postsecondary education. Though certainly lower in cost, some students still need assistance in affording local schools. According to a recent study conducted by the Project on Student Debt, federal loans are not always an option for these students.

Based on the report, 20 percent of community college students living in eight states do not have access to low-interest federal loans. In Georgia, the state which fared worst, about 60 percent of community colleges did not participate in the federal loan program. Throughout the nation, the problem was most severe in low-income areas where students were most likely to seek out federal student aid in the form of loans.

After interviewing administrators at nonparticipating schools, it was found that the most cited reason for not taking part in the program was a fear that high default rates would lead to sanctions on Pell Grant disbursements to students. According to federal regulations, colleges with student default rates that exceed 25 percent for three consecutive years lose the ability to disburse the Pell Grant, a form of need-based federal aid that does not need to be repaid.

Capped at $4,310 for the 2007-2008 school year, the Pell Grant frequently suffices in making community college an option for students, especially those who work while attending school. However, the size of the grant is based on a student’s Expect Family Contribution (EFC) as determined by information provided on one's FAFSA, and many complain that the form does not take into account special circumstances that could result in a student’s inability to contribute the full expected amount. Families who receive no federal assistance in the form of a Pell Grant and those who receive an insufficient amount may be forced to take out more expensive private loans to attend. If ineligible, they may have to work until college is an affordable option.


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by Paulina Mis

On Thursday, the US House of Representatives passed a bill aimed at halting the mass leave of student lenders from the federal loan program. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, more than 50 lenders have left the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program to date. The growing departure has left families fearing that students will have no one to turn to for financial assistance once their Pell Grants and savings run dry.

To lessen the plight of FFEL lenders and students who depend on them for financial assistance, the bill would allow the Secretary of Education to purchase loans student lenders were not able to sell to investors. By pouring money into the loan market, the Department of Education would enable student lenders to use their capital for issuing new loans rather than paying out the original ones.

The new bill also addressed the lender of last resort, an emergency plan wherein guaranty agencies would be forced to lend money to students who were turned away by other lenders. Under the new plan, the Department of Education would have permission to advance funding to the agencies if need should arise.

To make the transition from the FFEL to the lender of last resort loan program easier on students, loans would be petitioned for on a college by college basis rather than a student by student one. Based on previous outlines of the untested program, students in need of a lender of last resort loan would have had to seek permission from the Department of Education and prove that at least two lenders had turned them down before receiving money.

A bill similar to the House version was introduced but not yet addressed by the Senate. Before the ideas are implemented, both the House and the Senate will have to iron out differences and send the final version to the president for approval.


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by Paulina Mis

To alleviate the affects of the intensifying credit crunch, Sallie Mae has been lobbying for government assistance. In past months, student lenders have been struggling to find buyers for both their loans and their loan securities. Sallie Mae, the largest student lender in the business, has turned to the government for assistance, asking that the US Treasury assuage loan market tensions by purchasing their securities.

In yesterday’s PBS Nightly Business Report, specialty finance analyst Sameer Gokhale and student loan expert Tom Stanton weighed in on the potential effects of such a move. According to Sameer Gokhale, a quick infusion of cash from the Treasury would, “help all of those lenders and ultimately result in a smoother flow of capital back into the student loan system.”

Tom Stanton took a different approach claiming that federal intervention was not yet necessary. “In its last year as a government sponsored enterprise, Sallie Mae made something like 73 percent return on equity, a very generous return. There’s no need at this point to go back to the government and get support,” he stated.  

Even if student lenders continue to drop out of the government’s FFEL program and assistance such as that requested by Sallie Mae is not offered by the Treasury, students will have federal student aid  resources to rely on. A Department of Education lender of last resort measure wherein the government would act as a lender to students denied loans by other lenders would prevent financial catastrophe, but according to the Nightly Business Report Correspondent Stephanie Dhue, resorting to such a plan would be more time consuming than enhancing funds for the one already in place. 

The lender of last resort is yet untested, and, although details are being addressed by Congress, setting up the new program could be painstaking for schools. However, with the Chronicle of Higher Education citing more than fifty FFEL student lender departures, the program may be put into action regardless.


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by Paulina Mis

As far as we know, there isn’t one. Let’s begin by addressing your first question: if there is no catch, who's paying for this, and what's their work incentive? The answer is FlatWorld, and, if things go right for the new company, guidebooks, work materials and requests for in-print versions will be sufficient to cover labor costs and to generate profits.

Since 2007, FlatWorld has been crafting their innovative idea, and it plans to make services available to the public by 2009. The diversity of their textbook selections and the facility of their use will largely determine the success of their new venture, but students aware of FlatWorld will probably, at the very least, check out their site. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the average college student spends over $900 on textbooks—annually. Being able to pocket a good chunk of that money will significantly alleviate financial burdens caused by increasing college rates.

Electronic book versions are not exactly new, and companies less geared towards college students dealing with unregulated textbook costs have already offered similar services. Electronic books in general are growing in popularity, especially the fee-based ones. If you’ve done some Amazon shopping or people watched on the train in recent months, you’re probably familiar with the new Amazon electronic reading device. It’s catching on quickly, but, truth be told, there’s just something about physically holding a piece paper. As much as I love branches, I couldn’t help but print out class articles en masse during finals week, ones I could have easily browsed online. (In my defense, I did fit four pages on one sheet.) The ability to quickly scribble a note, double star a sentence or circle a key word just makes the learning process more interactive and complete.

Still, I’m willing to bet that dishing out $120 for a textbook that can’t be resold due to future edition changes can make a little inconvenience worthwhile. Most money management tactics can. And FlatWorld is doing its best to make up in ease what they lose in “that special something”. By making their texts editable to both students and the professors who assign them, they have made their options a bit more user friendly and appealing. Readers can even interact with each other during the reading process—I smell an attractive cliff note opportunity.  Dragging your desktop to the quad may be a bit of a pain, but being able to afford vacation time may give you an incentive.


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by Paulina Mis

When doors to the new University of Central Florida College of Medicine open in 2009, they will open with a bang. In the hope of attracting the best and the brightest, medical practitioners and college representatives from the University of Central Florida have raised enough money to reimburse the first class for all four years of medical school. They will cover not only the tuition but also the fees and living expenses. With the Association of American Medical Colleges estimating the average debt of medical school graduates to be at about $139,000, the deal is sweet enough to cause a toothache.

“I think setting the bar high for the quality of the first class will set the stage for the caliber of every class that follows,” said Tavistock Group director and donor Rasesh Thakkar. Fundraisers have been in place since 2007 to make that happen. After tapping all possible resources, the school is expecting to admit a class of about 120 students which, based on a four-year plan, will receive a grant worth approximately $160,000.

Students interested in attending the school may begin applying in June of 2008. If accepted, they will automatically receive the award---no lengthy essay competitions, no laborious commitments, just money. “UCF stands for opportunity,” states the university website. When studies and internships leave little time for outside work, a full tuition scholarship is the epitome of such opportunity.


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by Paulina Mis

The rising cost of college rates has been a headache for families across the nation. However, college tuition is not the only expense expected to increase. Due in part to the high costs of gas, the price of food transportation—and therefore food—has been on the rise. Like consumers, campuses have to deal with the effects that food costs have had on meal plans.

If you're one of the many dorm-residing students subscribing to an on-campus cafeteria plan, especially one with a buffet-style layout,  you can imagine how quickly prices could escalate. Numerous students make it a habit to fill their trays with one of everything…just in case. The quantity of wasted, expensive food has college representatives worried that a  hike in cafeteria prices is inevitable.

Colleges are doing what they can to minimize expected charges, but pricing continues to be a problem. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, some schools have taken to skimping on the amount of ingredients used in each dish while others have managed to save by eliminated cafeteria trays. In an interview with Mr. Simon of Western Washington University, it was reported that, “Western Washington dining halls observed a 34-percent reduction in waste during one week last month when the institution went trayless.”

For students who aren’t fond of dorm food as is, the idea of having to save money to afford it is extremely frustrating. Unfortunately, many students see few alternatives. Unless they can stuff all groceries into a portable, shared fridge, it’s just one more pain to deal with.


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by Paulina Mis

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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