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Southern Catholic College Closes Mid-Semester Due to Lack of Funding

April 14, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

Many students are preparing for the last few weeks of finals, completing projects and cracking books open for a week of finals. Students at Southern Catholic College in Georgia, however, are packing up their bags, potentially for good. Tomorrow is the last day of the semester at the college, nearly a month ahead of schedule due to budget woes that made it impossible for the school to maintain its schedule of courses through mid-May, the traditional end of the spring semester.

The decision was announced abruptly earlier this month by Rev. Shawn Aaron, the school's president and a priest of the Legionaries of Christ, via email to faculty, staff, and the school's nearly 200 students. Students will receive full credit for the entire semester, and graduating students will receive their diplomas in an upcoming simple ceremony at the college. In the email, Father Aaron gave no indication as to whether the school would reopen at all, or whether this was a temporary budget fix. According to an article in The Catholic Review, the school would need $6 million to reopen by June.

The school was founded in 2000, but has had some financial trouble since its first years of operation. According to The Catholic Review, the school had gotten into the bad habit of spending more than it took in; in 2007, the college spent $2.5 million more than it should have, and only continued the trend in the years that followed. The formerly privately-run institution was transferred to the Legionaries of Christ in the fall of 2009, but the congregation was unable to financially support the school. In addition to overspending, the students at the school who were on full scholarships outnumbered those who paid full tuition, room and board, which runs more than $24,500 a year.

Students didn't see the early closure coming, according to the article. They went to social networking sites when they heard the news, learning mostly through hearsay why the school would be closing so suddenly. Their worries include how their grades will be calculated based on the shortened semester, and whether their credits will transfer over to other institutions if the school closes for good. According to The Catholic Review, the school's president waited so long to notify the student body because the school board was waiting to hear back about a last-minute plea to a benefactor of the college. That plea did not lead to any last-minute funding, so the decision was made to close the school when it was apparent the school was unable to pay its faculty and staff beyond April 15.

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Colleges Get Creative with Guarantees for New Applicants

April 20, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

You may remember a recent initiative begun by Lansing Community College that guaranteed students jobs post-graduation if they completed programs in high-demand fields at the school. The idea of offering incoming freshmen guarantees in exchange for their enrollment in a particular school has caught on, with more schools, especially those with low enrollments, providing students with promises of clearer career paths and timely graduations.

Albion College, also in Michigan, recently unveiled a new program called “The Albion Advantage,” which aims to get students career-ready as soon as they step onto the school’s campus. Students will now be provided with a higher degree of professional services early on, with career planning weaved into the private liberal arts school’s curriculum and assessments that analyze students’ strengths and weaknesses to provide them with a better idea of which careers they would be most successful in. The biggest change, however, is the school’s new post-graduation guarantee. Students who graduate with a 3.0 GPA but are unable to find jobs in their major areas after they graduate are eligible to receive assistance from the school in the form of internships and research assistant opportunities on and off campus, more professional development services until they land jobs, and a free, noncredit semester at Albion.

A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education took a look at the Albion’s program and the reasoning behind it. Administrators at the school say the college decided something had to be done after the previous year’s enrollment numbers came in. Albion had planned to enroll 475 to 500 new students; 434 freshmen enrolled instead. The cost of attending the school (about $40,000 per year) may have been a factor in the decrease in applicants, as students are looking for better deals elsewhere through state colleges or vocational schools where they may learn a skill or trade and enter the workforce. Michigan is also the state with the highest unemployment rates in the country.

Elsewhere, colleges are using different guarantees to get students interested in their schools. The University of Maine at Farmington introduced the "Farmington in Four" program earlier this year. That program promises incoming freshmen that if they don’t graduate from the school within four years, they will be able to complete their remaining coursework free of charge. (According to the U.S. Department of Education, a little more than half of all students at four-year colleges graduate within six years. Private colleges have the highest graduation rates, according to U.S. News and World Report’s recent rankings of the “best colleges” in the country.)

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Scholarship for Undocumented Students Met with Criticism

June 2, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

As opposition to the new Arizona immigration law only continues to grow, a new scholarship that would target illegal-immigrant students has led one Congressman to suggest that the school offering the award may lose federal funding as a result.

The $2,500 matching Tam Tran Memorial Scholarship is offered by the Santa Ana College Foundation, the fund-raising body of the two-year school. The award was created in memory of Tam Tran, a Santa Ana College and University of California-Los Angeles alumna who was killed by a drunk driver in Maine last month. Tran was enrolled at Brown University as a graduate student at the time of the accident.

According to a press release from the foundation, the award will be given to a student who excels academically, has financial need, and is working toward their American citizenship, as Tran was. Tran was a vocal supporter of the DREAM Act while she was a student at Santa Ana College, and testified before Congress in favor of passing the legislation. The DREAM Act would provide those students who are in the country illegally the opportunity to apply for permanent residency if they have graduated from an American high school or have been accepted into an institution of higher education. 

A recent article in The Orange County Register details the first negative response to the award, from California Congressman Rep. Dana Rohrabacher. Rohrabacher called the scholarship “unforgivable,” especially at a time when other, legal students are having a difficult time finding funding for rising college costs. The Congressman has already sent a letter to the president of Santa Ana College. In effect, the letter tells the president that if the school goes forward with the award, the move would put “continued public financing for Santa Ana College in jeopardy.”

Santa Ana College defends their decision by saying it is only fitting that the scholarship go to other undocumented students, the group Tran rallied for and supported as an illegal immigrant herself. As the award comes from the school’s foundation, it would also be driven by donations, not public dollars. What do you think about the award? Should schools be setting aside funds for undocumented students, even if they come from private funds? Let us know what you think about this controversial topic.

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Legislators Ask for Analysis of For-Profit Colleges

June 22, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

For-profit colleges have been the talk of the town in Washington over the last week, with legislators concerned by their rapid growth and what they consider a resulting lack of oversight. 

Yesterday, a group of Democratic lawmakers called for a federal review of for-profit colleges, their recruitment strategies, and the value of what they provide students. In the letter they sent to the Government Accountability Office, the lawmakers were especially concerned about the fact that the for-profit sector accounts for less than 10 percent of total enrollments but about 25 percent of federal financial aid disbursements. According to an article in The New York Times this week, for-profit colleges collected $26.5 billion in federal funding last year, compared to $4.6 billion in 2000.

The letter came just after the U.S. Department of Education’s proposal that for-profit colleges be more forthright about students’ potential loan debt relative to their incomes, even going so far as to propose limiting federal aid to those colleges with the most uneven debt-income ratios. The for-profit colleges themselves have said that they would be comfortable with disclosing graduation- and job-placement rates and median debt levels, but that limiting federal aid would certainly force many of them into insolvency.

One case in Illinois serves as a cautionary tale, and an example of what is so troubling to legislators. The Illinois State Board of Education has launched an investigation of the Illinois School of Health Careers’ patient care technician program in Chicago after a group of students decided to file a class-action lawsuit against the institution. The students say they were misled into thinking that they would be able to take the state’s certified nursing assistant exams upon completion of the program. In fact, the program lacks the proper approvals from the Illinois Department of Public Health, leaving students with student loan debt and instruction in a field they say offers few, if any, job prospects.

Supporters of for-profit colleges say the schools are important in serving a population looking to learn a particular trade or get out into the workforce more quickly. Republican lawmakers on the other side of the issue have said Congress should be more concerned about looking for ways to monitor the bad eggs among the bunch and not be so skeptical of an entire industry, according to The New York Times article. Representatives for the Career College Association have said accredited institutions that focus on career-preparedness are critical in meeting President Obama’s goal of getting the United States on top in terms of higher education by 2020.

Most for-profit schools don’t report the kinds of dissatisfaction felt by those students at the Chicago school described above and are a good option for many students, especially those seeking flexible alternatives. The key is quality control. If you’re interested in a career college or an online degree university, do your own research. Make sure your intended school is accredited, as this means it meets a set of standards set forth by the U.S. Department of Education. Make sure the college you’ll be paying for—and may be paying for years down the line, even after graduation—is not only legitimate but worth paying for.

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Report Compares College Spending, Resources Before Recession

July 9, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

A report released today details where colleges were spending their money in the years leading up to nationwide budget crises in higher education.

The report, “Trends in College Spending,” comes from the Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity, and Accountability, and includes a database open to the public on exactly what institutions were spending their money on, and where their funding was coming from. As the data available includes spending information through 2008, when many colleges had not yet been feeling the worst of the recession, education analysts suggests it paints a fairly accurate picture of where administrators’ priorities lie when it comes to spending.

An article in Inside Higher Ed on the report today details the bad habits of institutions of higher education that may have contributed to current budget woes. Among those missteps:

  • Colleges spend too much money on administration, including administrative positions and outside accounting and legal positions. Harvard University was the biggest offender, where administrative costs rose by nearly 14 percent from 2007 to 2008.
  • Compared to funds allocated to administrators, colleges spend too little on instruction. While funding support grew by 20 percent for administrative support, funding for instruction grew by only 10 percent. According to the report, even in those years when revenues improved, the share of funding going toward instruction did not increase on levels comparable to that of funding set aside for administrative, non-academic costs.
  • Spending per student varies dramatically by school. Public research colleges spend about $35,000 per student, compared to about $10,000 per student per year at community colleges, which have seen rapid growth over the last few years. That suggests students at those public colleges are disproportionately subsidized, despite the fact that they typically come from more affluent households than those attending community colleges.
  • Colleges rely too much on cost-shifting. Rather than cutting spending in years when budgets were tight, schools raised tuition instead, a move that may not be sustainable in the long run.

As it was around 2008 when colleges began adapting to the worst of new pressures on their budgets, it’s important to consider that the data in this study considers only those years prior to those funding constraints. The following decade will probably look quite different, and priorities may have shifted since. There’s no question that the recession has had a toll on higher education, especially on schools that depend on state funding.

A recent report from the National Conference of State Legislatures described that declining state support for institutions of higher education. Many states have begun to rely on federal stimulus funds to address or prevent major budget cuts across the board, with California hit particularly hard. The report also showed more of a reliance on tuition to cover costs, as state support and school endowments have decreased. Tuition, which increased by about 2 percent between 2008 and 2009, now accounts for about 37 percent of total education revenue. In comparison, about 25 percent of education revenue came from students’ tuition payments in 1984.

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Some States May Have Long Wait Before Economic Recovery

July 14, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

If you thought the worst was over in terms of budget cuts and rising tuition and fees at colleges and universities across the country, think again. The latest projections from Moody’s Investors Service show that most institutions of higher education shouldn’t assume recoveries and relief from their states until at least 2013 and probably later.

In those states that have suffered the worst cuts, recovery may be even slower to kick in, as those are the same states that have had to cut spending in other areas as well. According to an article yesterday in The Chronicle of Higher Education, those states may first decide to increase spending in pensions, health care, and other services considered more essential than higher education. Only North Dakota, Texas and Alaska were listed by Moody’s as states where employment figures, a good projection of economic recovery, will return to stable levels before 2012.

Colleges may then be on their own for the next few years, leading to more cuts and creative cost cutting. (You may remember that students at Middlebury College make their own granola in the school’s bakery.) The economic picture is especially bleak for those states that have relief on federal stimulus funds to keep from making even deeper cuts. According to the Chronicle and Moody’s data, in 20 states, stimulus funds made up at least 5 percent of state support for public colleges in the 2009 and 2010 fiscal years. Three states have been particular reliant on stimulus funds – Colorado at 18 percent, Massachusetts at 12 percent and Arizona at 10 percent.

So what do these figures mean? For one, colleges need to figure out how to remain financially solvent with less state support. The Moody’s report also criticizes colleges for not doing more to make sure they won’t need to make deep cuts to their programs and faculties or, worse yet, close their doors. The latest school to do so is Wesley College, a small Mississippi college owned by the Congregational Methodist Church that was unable to find a way to cover about $2.7 million in debt. Southern Catholic College closed mid-semester due to a lack of funding, and may not raise those funds in time for fall. Nebraska’s Dana College will also close after the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools refused a buy-out of the college by a for-profit entity.

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New Education Department Rule Targets For-Profit Colleges

July 23, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

In response to recent criticisms of for-profit colleges, the U.S. Department of Education announced a rule today that will cut off federal aid to those schools that leave students with loan debts they are unable to handle once they receive their degrees and certificates. The new “gainful employment” rule would also penalize those programs with the lowest loan-repayment rates, meaning for-profit colleges will be more on the hook to make sure those enrolled in their programs are being prepared for the job search and for entering the workforce.

The for-profit sector currently accounts for less than 10 percent of total enrollments but about 25 percent of federal financial aid disbursements. Congress has also been looking at the issue this summer, with some legislators concerned by the large amounts of debt students were being saddled with at some for-profit colleges when compared to the comparably low salaries they could expect to receive upon completion of those programs, or the difficulty they may have finding work at all. In an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education today, officials with the Education Department said this was a way to both protect students and taxpayers, as the measure could help prevent both groups from incurring the high costs of student-loan defaults. 

According to the article, the new rule would consider the number of borrowers repaying their federal student loans against the ratio of total student loan debt to average earnings. About 5 percent of for-profit programs nationwide may be affected by the new rule, and thus would become ineligible for federal aid. About 55 percent on the cusp of ineligibility might need to become more forthright with potential students about excessive borrowing. The new rule doesn’t go as far as the Education Department had initially proposed; that first proposal would have cut federal aid to those programs where a majority of students’ loan payments exceeded 8 percent of the lowest quarter of students’ expected earnings over 10 years of repayment, according to The Chronicle.

Most for-profit schools do serve an important purpose, especially for students changing careers or looking for a flexible alternative. If you’re interested in a career college, just make sure you do your research. There are programs out there that are accredited, or that meet a set of standards from the Education Department, and qualified to give you an advantage in the job market.

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For-Profit Colleges Face More Challenges

August 4, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

A financial aid officer at a for-profit college that closed this week has been charged with felony theft of more than $7,600 in students’ tuition payments. The school, Ascension College in Louisiana, closed quite suddenly to the surprise of the students there, and has been under investigation for what officials say is a misuse of federal aid.

According to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the school had to close when the U.S. Department of Education ruled that it was no longer eligible for federal aid, the school’s primary source of income, based on new rules targeting for-profits. The school already had financial problems before the Education Department’s decision. In recent weeks, students had begun to complain about the cost of their educations there versus the quality. The school had been awarding certificates in fields like office administration and dental assistance.

The news comes on the heels of a report released today by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) pointing to evidence that recruiters at for-profit colleges encouraged prospective students to lie on financial aid applications in order to receive more federal funding. The report also shows widespread misinformation from the recruiters about the cost of their for-profit programs, their quality, and how much money graduates would be expected to make once they received their degrees.

The GAO used four undercover investigators posing as potential students at 15 for-profit colleges to get the information. Recruiters at four of those 15 encouraged financial aid fraud; in one example, a recruiter suggested an applicant not report $250,000 in savings when applying for aid. All 15 of the for-profit recruiters made statements the GAO described as “deceptive or otherwise questionable” in their report. In one example, a recruiter based tuition costs on nine months of classes rather than 12, making the total costs seem much lower than they actually were. In another, a recruiter told an applicant that barbers can earn up to $250,000 a year, a gross exaggeration. The GAO also discovered how incessant some recruiters can be once they know a student is interested in a for-profit education. According to the report, one of the investigators received 180 phone calls in one month at all hours of the day and night after registering to receive information on for-profit colleges.

The GAO was quick to note, however, that there were instances where the investigators were given helpful information, such as warning students about borrowing beyond their means. While the report overall doesn’t bode well for for-profits, especially at a time when legislators are watching the industry more closely and calling for more federal review, there are good options in the for-profit sector. For students looking to get into a particular trade, a flexible schedule, or alternatives to a traditional four-year university, for-profit schools do meet a need. The most important thing is to get your facts from a reliable source. Don’t ever take everything a recruiter at any college, for-profit or not, says at face value. Do your own research in the college search to make sure you’re making the right decision and investing wisely.

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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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College Students Earn More, and Give More

September 13, 2007

by Scholarships.com Staff

In a press release published yesterday, CollegeBoard, a not-for-profit organization administering the AP and SAT tests, announced the results of their 2007 Education Pays study. According to the study, college graduates not only earn more, but also contribute more to society.It was found that 43% of individuals ages 25 and older who received their bachelor’s degree volunteered this year, compared with only 19% of those who had a high school diploma.  Of those who volunteered, those with a bachelor’s degree reported having volunteered an average of 55 hours wile those with a high school degree reported volunteering an average of 53 hours in the past year.

In addition to volunteer work, college graduates were more likely to donate blood and to vote. They also placed more importance on efforts to understand the opinions of others. The reported significance of mutual understanding increased gradually and in line with the level of education. Of inviduals polled, 59% of those without a high school education said that trying to understand the opinions of others was important compared with 67% of those with an associates degree and 79% of those with a master’s degree.

That college grads earned more came as no surprise. Based on reports of the mean earning of full-time year-round workers ages 25 and older, those with a high school degree earned $24,900 after taxes, those with an associate’s degree earned $31,500, those with a bachelor’s degree earned $39,000, and those with a master’s earned $46,000 after taxes.

The report also indicated that although progress had been made in increasing higher education opportunities, the education levels of those coming from high-income families were still much greater than those of low income families.

Students don’t have to let money be a deterrent in receiving a college education. By visiting Scholarships.com, students can find myriad scholarship and grant opportunities. Students who visit the site can also plan ahead by comparing colleges and by researching information about various sources of financial aid. All of this comes at the low cost of zero dollars. No shipping and no handling charges apply.

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