August 26, 2008
California's community colleges system plans to begin offering $1,000 scholarships to many of its students in 2009, according to an article in Diverse Issues in Higher Education. The schools received a $25 million endowment in May from a foundation that supports education and the arts, and will receive matching funds of up to another $25 million after fundraising efforts this fall. These scholarship opportunities will help make college more affordable for anywhere from 1,250 to over 5,000 students annually, depending on the amount of money California community colleges are able to raise to contribute to the fund.
This is just one of several efforts being undertaken by California's community colleges in order to start tapping into alumni donations and building endowment funds to help students pay for school. The San Mateo Community College foundation has increased its staff and started publishing an alumni newsletter to solicit donations, and the Foundation for California Community Colleges, which will administer the new scholarship fund, is helping other schools devise strategies for fundraising.
As community college enrollment continues to increase and states continue to cut funding to community colleges in order to balance their budgets, it makes sense for community colleges to increasingly turn to philanthropic gifts to meet their students' needs. If other states follow California's example, attending college at a two-year institute could become a more attractive option for many students who are strapped for cash or coming up short on financial aid at a more expensive institution. In addition to scholarships administered by the colleges, community college students are also eligible to compete for many private scholarship awards.
To research community college options in California or other states, check out our college search tool. To find out about additional sources of scholarship money, fill out a profile on Scholarships.com and conduct a free scholarship search.
August 27, 2008
The city of Akron, Ohio plans to introduce a scholarship fund to encourage its high school graduates to stay in the city for college. Akron's plan follows in the footsteps of other cities with similar programs, such as Kalamazoo, Michigan, which gained national attention with the launch of the Kalamazoo Promise scholarship in 2005. An anonymous donor contributes to the Kalamazoo Promise fund, which offers free tuition to graduates of Kalamazoo high school attending college at local schools, such as Western Michigan University. At least 19 cities have followed suit in the last three years, according to the Associated Press, with many relying on private donors to provide scholarship awards.
But no donors have come forth in Akron, so the city is trying something new: leasing its sewage system to a private company, then using the money to establish a scholarship fund. The measure, which has earned the somewhat derisive nickname "stools for schools," is up for a vote in November. While any additional scholarships for high school students are welcome, this measure does come with some drawbacks. Up to 100 city employees in Akron may find themselves without jobs in an already tough economic climate and many residents have issues with the city choosing to privatize public works.
Additionally, students may not be interested in the scholarship anyway. Presently, only 600 Akron high school graduates attend the University of Akron, and the proposed tuition plan will only subsidize what's left of tuition after students' other scholarships are taken out, leaving them with the guaranteed responsibility of room and board. The scholarship committee is also throwing around the idea of attaching a thirty-year residency requirement to the scholarship money, converting the scholarships to student loans for all students who choose to leave Akron before retirement.
While local scholarships are usually a great idea for students, they can stop being appealing if too many requirements are attached. My guess is that few students will want to have their entire lives planned out for them in high school, especially if a change in plans carries a financial penalty of tens of thousands of dollars. Whether or not this measure passes in November, many students from Akron will undoubtedly want to continue their scholarship search. And Scholarships.com is a great place to start, with our database of 2.7 million college scholarships and grants worth over $19 billion, without a 30-year residency requirement in sight.
September 3, 2008
Don't forget about spending money when planning for college costs. This advice comes from Alabama's Birmingham News, which spoke with some students, parents, and financial aid administrators in the state about dealing with expenses that fall outside of paying tuition and room and board. However, Alabama students and families are by no means the only ones not sure how to deal with how much living at college will cost.
Financial aid offices typically figure a few thousand dollars into a student's cost of attendance estimate to cover such expenses as gas, car maintenance, toiletries, clothes, entertainment, and food and drinks not from the dining center, but actual experiences vary widely among students. Some college students certainly choose the spartan lifestyle of staying in the dorm, using their meal plan, and biking around campus to attend free school-sponsored activities. Others fail to resist the urge to splurge, doing their studying at the all night diner just a short drive from campus or swinging by the mall for some retail therapy and a movie after a particularly grueling week of class. I was certainly in the latter category, despite my best intentions of being thrifty and only spending what I earned working at my work-study job (work-study, for those unfamiliar, is a campus-based aid program that is more easily used to cover living expenses than tuition).
But don't assume the worst and rush out to borrow an extra $10,000 to cover unforseen expenses. Instead, practice some basic money management. Take an honest look at your spending habits and how much you'll realistically want to scale them back to save money. Then look at how much you can earn while in school without getting off-track for graduation, and start figuring out how to make up any differences between the two. A summer job or an extra scholarship award or two could give you enough money to survive the next 9 months without having to resort to student loans to fix your car, get you home for Christmas, or feed you until you land a new job. As a recent grad who looked to borrowing as the easy way out of tight financial situations, believe me, those little loan amounts add up.
September 4, 2008
For many students, the college experience can be a financial minefield. Even if they manage to avoid the lure of blowing their financial aid check on a plasma TV or a brand new car, there are thousands of other potential pitfalls. These include the credit card companies lining the main drag of campus offering free college t-shirts to anyone who signs up for their card; your first dorm or apartment to outfit and decorate; and then all of the opportunities for shopping, dining, and entertainment that a college town provides. And we haven't even gotten to the actual act of paying tuition yet! Even if your scholarship search was fruitful and you were able to find money for college, there's still the chance of overspending and winding up turning to less wise solutions to make it to the end of the term.
So how are students supposed to survive college without unnecessary credit card or student loan debt? Many schools are offering money management courses and one-on-one financial counseling services to help students be more judicious with their college funds. I can certainly think of some lessons I could've used as an undergrad, like "3 AM is not dinner time," its corollary, "espresso is not an adequate substitute for sleep," and of course, "you don't have to buy it just because it's on sale." Being forced to budget out just how much that 10-block drive to class (plus the 15 minutes of circling the "good" parking lot for a spot) actually cost me that last year of school would've also been helpful.
Now students at numerous colleges in several states can choose to educate themselves and avoid learning similar life lessons the hard way. Unfortunately, many of these programs go under-publicized and under-utilized, as budgeting honestly isn't fun, and many students may be afraid that setting a budget means giving up their college lifestyle, staying at home, and having to go on a budget diet. However, the Chronicle of Higher Education suggests that students can benefit immensely from financial literacy courses, and anecdotal evidence suggests these students take on less debt and have an easier time transitioning into the "real world" after graduation. Courses are often offered to incoming freshmen or graduating seniors, with counseling services typically being made available to any students currently attending college. If you're interested in finding out about how to stretch your college fund, student loans, or scholarship money further, check with your college to see if they offer any of these services.
September 5, 2008
New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is preparing a lawsuit against Goal Financial, the student loan company that also runs the website eStudentLoan.com. According to the New York Times, Goal Financial stands accused of misleading consumers about loans, and offering them gifts such as iPods to influence their choice in lenders. While other lenders accused of dishonest practices have repented and agreed to follow a code of conduct outlined by Cuomo, Goal Financial has not, hence the pending lawsuit.
Goal is accused of misrepresenting loan terms to promote private loans over low-interest federal Stafford loans, as well as failing to disclose their ownership of eStudentLoan on the latter's website. The company also allegedly failed to disclose that all lenders listed on the eStudentLoan loan rate comparison feature were companies that had paid a commission to Goal Financial.
While Cuomo's investigation of the student lending industry has undoubtedly made borrowing less risky, students should still proceed with caution and carefully vet the quality of the lender they choose to use. If you need to take out student loans to help fund your education, be sure to do your research. First and foremost, explore all federal student financial aid opportunities. Start by completing the FAFSA on the Web and visiting with your school's financial aid office. It would also be beneficial to conduct an extensive scholarship search at this point, as well, since you never know where you might find money for college.
If you do find you need to borrow a private loan, research several lenders, and if your college's financial aid office maintains a preferred lender list (which should consist of lenders that are actually preferable thanks to Cuomo's earlier investigations) take a copy. Begin evaluating your options, but be wary of anything that sounds gimmicky or too good to be true. Carefully research any loan before you apply.
Find out which banks have the best rates and repayment options, and whether you'll need a cosigner to get approved. Apply to one loan at a time and give yourself plenty of time for processing, since many student loans need to be approved by the bank and certified by your college before funds can be disbursed. Many lenders will let you know within a day or two whether your has been pre-approved or rejected so that you can move on to the next application if necessary.
September 10, 2008
Despite the student loan credit crunch that has been repeatedly making headlines this year, students and parents in several New England states had little to no trouble finding money for college this fall, according to a survey conducted by the New England Board of Higher Education.
The survey asked financial aid administrators at 214 colleges and universities to assess the level of difficulty students faced finding financial aid, as well as the effectiveness of the Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act passed by Congress earlier this year to ensure continued availability of Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) funds.
The survey found an increase in students borrowing unsubsidized Stafford Loans, as well as no major concerns over the availabilty of those funds through FFELP lenders. It also showed that more families have borrowed Federal PLUS Loans this year, possibly due to recent changes that allow families to defer payments until after students graduate. These changes seem to have mostly made up for the decreased availability of private student loans. However, some financial aid administrators are still concerned over continued availability of student loans, and caution that families may face difficulties making tuition payments in future semesters.
Based on this information, it appears there's little reason to put your college plans on hold, but you might still want to devote an increased amount of time to finding scholarships. While it looks like students are still able to pay for school, changes in the student loan landscape may still leave some students without a plan B for covering college costs if their initial plans fall through.
Really, though, financial aid advice hasn't changed much. Now, as always, planning ahead is key. As always, a good college financing strategy involves doing the following: conduct a scholarship search, take time to complete the FAFSA, learn about and take advantage of all possible federal student financial aid, apply for university scholarships and campus-based aid, and only then consider applying for a private student loan.
September 11, 2008
Seven student loan lending agencies agreed to a settlement with New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo Tuesday, following an investigation by Cuomo's office into potentially deceptive lending practices. This is the latest group of lenders to settle in an inquiry that's been going on for nearly a year, after accusations first came to public attention last October.
The seven lenders were Nelnet Inc., Campus Door Inc., GMAC Bank, NextStudent Inc., Xanthus Financial Services Inc., EduCap Inc. and Graduate Loan Associates LLC. The lenders agreed to abide by a code of conduct drafted by Cuomo's office, and also jointly donated $1.4 million to a fund established to educate students about financial aid processes.
A number of lenders were being investigated for deceptive marketing practices that included sending out mailings that looked like they came from the federal government or a student's current lender, offering gifts such as iPods or gift cards to entice students to sign up for their loan, and advertising loan rates for which the majority of borrowers would not qualify. Lenders agreed to cease deceptive lending practices and to include a disclaimer in all loan offers that will encourage students to exhaust all other options for federal student financial aid before borrowing a private loan.
September 16, 2008
As many as 29 percent of state university students and 43 percent of community college students require some amount of remedial education upon enrolling in college, according to the results of a study by the group Strong American Schools. The report, entitled "Diploma to Nowhere" was released Monday, and addresses the financial costs of remedial education (as high as $2000-2500 per student), as well as the psychological impact on students.
The study stresses the necessity of appropriate college preparation for students, which includes taking challenging courses and learning study skills in high school. The results clearly indicate that good grades and the basic college preparatory high school curriculum are not always an indicator that students are ready to tackle the challenges of attending college. As many as four out of five students in remedial courses maintained a high school GPA of 3.0 or higher, showing that even those who did well in high school weren't prepared for the kind of work students should expect in college.
While the report encourages educational reform and high school curricula that more closely match college standards, change can be slow in coming. High school students beginning the college search should be aware of the possibility of struggling in school or even having their stay in college prolonged by extra course requirements. The earlier you start the college planning process, the better, so start pushing yourself as early as your freshman year. Enroll in the most challenging courses possible, such as Advanced Placement or dual-credit classes, especially in areas like English and math, and avoid just coasting through your last year or two of high school.
More challenging coursework can lead to a lower GPA, but your impressive resume, your reputation as a hard worker, and your improved reading, writing, math, and study skills will likely make up for any difference in the long run. Being more adept at math, science, and writing can also increase your chances of winning scholarships, as your skills outshine those of your competitors who took the easy way out.
September 19, 2008
In order to reduce the amount their students have to spend on textbooks, more and more professors are using course material that can be found for free. With the advent of sites such as Google Books, which serve as valuable and easily accessible sources of full-text works that are no longer copyrighted, students can get their course material for free, rather than having to shell out $15 or more for a brand new copy of a book originally published a century ago. I noticed this trend gaining momentum throughout my academic career, especially in courses geared towards graduate students.
This option to access older literature online and save money is nice, but it still leaves students who don't want to spend hours hunched over their computers with the task of tracking down a hard copy of the book on their own, especially since my professors, at least, never seemed to place bookstore orders for texts they knew we could find for free. Buying a copy requires forethought and printing the complete text of a 200-page essay can eat up a student's morning and their on-campus printing budget. This scenario too often leaves students with less than a week to find, read, annotate, and understand a lengthy reading assignment for class.
The University of Michigan has just taken a step to make procuring books for class easier. They have purchased and installed a machine, dubbed the "ATM of Books," that can print and bind a book in a few minutes at a cost to students of around $10 per copy. This isn't much more expensive than buying a used paperback online or in the bookstore and is much faster and more convenient.
The Espresso Book Machine has access to the school's database of pre-1923 books, as well as websites that offer works that are not copyrighted, such as open-source textbooks. Coupled with trends in making more course-related content available online, such as Stanford's recent move to place engineering and computer science course materials online, widespread use of the Espresso Book Machine could revolutionize the way students get textbooks.
This is nothing but good news for students: free digital course material, $10 bound copies of textbooks, and no worries about hunting all over for a book or printing a copy and losing pages. With the prospect of eventually spending as little as $40-100 on textbooks for a semester, students at the University of Michigan will be able to stretch their financial aid dollars further and dip less into their college savings for books. As online libraries of free textbooks continue to expand, hopefully other schools will invest in similar tools, cutting down on students' book expenses and making it a little bit easier to pay for school.
September 24, 2008
The National Association of College Admission Counselors (NACAC) plans to address questions of early decision admission and the role of standardized testing in the admission process in panels during their annual conference this week. In preparation, they have released the results of a survey showing that early decision admissions had begun to fall, as well as commentary on the state of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and American College Test (ACT) in college admissions.
A special panel convened by NACAC released a statement suggesting that standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT may play too prominent a role in college admissions. While the report emphasizes that standardized tests can play an important role in the admissions process, especially in helping students choose which schools may be a good fit for them, it also declared the importance of avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach to testing. This position represents a shift from previous NACAC commissions' stances on standardized testing.
Another survey released this week by NACAC highlighted other shifts in college admissions, namely a slowing of the increase in early decision admissions as compared to previous years. Many schools are giving students going through the college application process the option to make a binding committment to attend that college if accepted in a process known as early decision. Critics argue that this puts poorer students who are unwilling to commit to attending a college without receiving their financial aid package at a distinct disadvantage in being considered for admission. While many colleges still are embracing the idea, this shift in figures could show some hesitation on the part of admission offices or students regarding the still-controversial issue.
Additionally, the survey illustrated some doubt regarding a new practice of priority applications, which are sent to students based on a variety of criteria and are already partially completed. Priority admission applications are sent by the school, rather than requested by the student, and are typically sent out based on prior contact with the admissions office, test scores, or geographic location. Only 4% of these forms, which occasionally come with an application fee waiver, are sent to students based on economic status.
Other survey results showed that more students seem concerned with ensuring they make the right college choice, and that most students who apply to schools are given the opportunity to go to college. An increasing number of students are applying to more than seven colleges, and that about the same number of students as the previous year applied to more than three schools. Nationally, 68 percent of students who apply to colleges are admitted. Online applications also continue to gain popularity.
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