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by Scholarships.com Staff

Congress has passed and President Obama has signed a bill that provides "technical corrections" to the Higher Education Act, which Congress renewed last year. In addition to offering clarification on several points and correcting minor errors, the Technical Corrections bill also makes some useful changes to federal student financial aid.

Minor clarifications include:

  • Updating the list of veteran's benefits not counted as financial aid to include benefits from the new GI Bill that goes into effect this year
  • Stating that lenders can provide both entrance and exit loan counseling to students
  • Setting 2010-2011 as the year in which the EZ FAFSA will need to be implemented
More substantial changes include:
  • Authorizing the Department of Education to buy up rehabilitated student loans (loans that have gone into default and since had consistent payments made on them) under the provisions outlined in ECASLA--previously students who had defaulted on loans and since resumed payments would find their loans stuck in default status due to the credit crunch.
  • Creating a new grant program for dependents of soldiers killed in Afghanistan or Iraq since September 11, 2001
  • Making Pell-eligible dependents of soldiers killed in Afghanistan or Iraq after September 11, 2001 eligible for an automatic 0 expected family contribution on the FAFSA
  • Changing the information schools must provide to lenders when students apply for private loans

The Chronicle of Higher Education has more information on the HEA Technical Corrections legislation here.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

Yesterday, the House of Representatives formally introduced legislation to reshape federal student loans, federal Pell Grants, and other aspects of student financial aid. The Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009 builds on presidential budget recommendations and features several substantial changes to student aid.

A preliminary breakdown of the bill provided by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators lays out the following proposed changes:

  • Dividing the Federal Pell Grant into mandatory and appropriated funding, then fixing the mandatory portion to the consumer price index plus 1 percent. Currently, the mandatory portion of the grant is $490 and the appropriated portion is $4860, so if these proportions remain the same, increases in the Pell Grant would still largely be at the whim of Congress each year.
  • Eliminating several questions on the FAFSA related to assets, but preventing anyone with assets of over $150,000 from qualifying for federal student aid.
  • Ending the Federal Family Education Loan Program and moving all federal Stafford Loans to Direct Loans.
  • Ending subsidized Stafford Loans for graduate and professional students in 2015.
  • Reverting to a variable interest rate that would be capped at 6.8 percent for subsidized Stafford Loans.
  • Expanding the Federal Perkins Loan program, with part of the new funding going specifically to schools that keep tuition low and graduate a high proportion of Pell-eligible students.
  • Changing the rules for drug offenses to make students ineligible for aid only if they've been arrested for selling a controlled substance.

The Democratic majority in the House has indicated a strong intention to pass this bill quickly, with the Committee on Education and Labor planning to vote on it as early as next week.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

We're nearly a week into August, and for many students, that means that back-to-school preparations have begun. Whether you're picking out notebooks and extra-long twin sheets, or trying to squeeze one last trip or a few more hours of work into your calendar, now is a good time to start looking ahead to the fall term if you're in college. This includes thinking about financial aid. One of the least pleasant aspects of the start of the semester is finding yourself in the line for the college financial aid office as it grows to epic proportions the first week of class.

Luckily, at most colleges the fall rush has not yet started, so if you have some extra time now, you can take steps to make sure you won't find yourself standing in a packed office and trying not to panic on the first day of class. From a financial aid office veteran, here are three things to check into now to avoid waiting in line later.

First, if you are applying for federal student financial aid, by now you should have filled out a 2009-2010 FAFSA and received a financial aid award notice from your college's financial aid office. If you're still waiting to complete a FAFSA or hear back from your school, now would be a good time to take care of these things. You may want to call your college's financial aid office, or check your account online if you have the option, to make sure that everything is in order for timely disbursement of your fall financial aid. Ask if you have any other paperwork you need to complete (such as verification or a master promissory note), especially if it is your first time receiving financial aid. Double check disbursement dates, as well, so you know when you are due to receive the money.

Second, if you've won any scholarship awards (and we hope you have!), now would be a good time to make sure you know when you will be receiving the funds, whether the checks will go to the school or to you, and whether you will need to sign anything or wait for the school to do any additional paperwork before you receive the money (the financial aid office may need to recalculate your aid based on the scholarships you've received). Many scholarship providers notify you of disbursement arrangements or include this information in their official rules, so review correspondence with them, as well as information they've published. If you have questions, you can check with your college and the scholarship provider.

Finally, make sure you will have sufficient funds to cover your bill and make arrangements if necessary to take care of whatever costs grants, scholarships, or federal student loans do not cover. Your parents may want to take out a PLUS loan, or you may want to take out a private loan to cover whatever gap is left. You will want to do paperwork for these as soon as possible, as processing times may take up to a few weeks, especially once things get busy. Many colleges also offer payment plans if you'd like to pay the rest of your bill without borrowing, but you cannot afford to do so all at once.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

For students used to syncing just about every website they visit with Facebook, the amount of manual data entry involved in applying for financial aid can seem completely alien and unnecessary. In fact, many students who would qualify for aid either fail to complete the FAFSA or do so incorrectly, due to the confusing and time-consuming nature of the application process.

Members of the higher education community were concerned about this, as well, so when Congress renewed the Higher Education Act last year, they included a provision to update the FAFSA to make it easier for families to complete. The proposed changes will go into effect in 2010, and some students could be seeing a simpler FAFSA as soon as January.

Under the new system, students completing the FAFSA on the Web will be able to automatically fill in their FAFSA with relevant information from their previous year's tax return. Starting in January, select users who click on "Fill Out Your FAFSA" will be asked if they'd like to access the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to do so. From there, they can enter their Federal Student Aid PIN then be taken to the IRS website where they can retrieve their tax information and click "Transfer Now" to automatically fill in the applicable lines on the FAFSA form. Dependent students will have to repeat this process for their parents' information.

While it still involves multiple steps and websites, the new process is a significant improvement over the current process of hunting for your tax return, begging your parents for their tax returns, sorting through pages of numbers and instructions, and carefully transcribing numbers from one form to another each year. The Department of Education hopes that the more automated and streamlined FAFSA will reduce errors and encourage more students to apply for federal student financial aid.

Only a small group of students who are filing a FAFSA for the current academic year will see the new FAFSA completion options in January. The option will be available for all FAFSA filers for 2010-2011 in July. Although you may be stuck filling out your FAFSA the old way next year, you can at least take some comfort in the knowledge that this will be the last time.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

It's looking like federal student financial aid will be increased in the forthcoming economic stimulus package, at least based on the legislation presented in each house of Congress in its current form.  While the House stimulus bill contains more aid for education, the Senate bill also proposes higher education tax benefits and increases in Federal Pell Grant funding.

The House bill promises:

  • $15.6 billion to increase the Pell Grant by $500 to $5,350 and fully fund the increase
  • $490 million to Federal Work-Study
  • $12.5 billion over the course of 10 years to offer a $2,500 tax credit that will be 40% refundable for those who would otherwise make too little to qualify
  • $6 billion to higher education infrastructure
  • $1.5 billion to improve energy efficiency for colleges, schools, and local governments
  • $39 billion to school districts and state colleges
  • $25 billion to states for "high priority needs" which can include education
  • a $2,000 increase in loan limits on federal Stafford Loans

The Senate bill appropriates:

  • $13.9 billion to increase the Pell Grant by $281 in 2009-2010 and $400 in 2010-2011 and fully fund the increase
  • $12.9 billion to create a 30% refundable $2,500 tax credit
  • $61 million to Perkins Loans
  • $3.5 billion to improve energy efficiency and infrastructure on college campuses
  • $39 billion to school districts and public colleges
  • $25 billion to states for "high priority" needs which may include education

The House bill also includes money to improve financial aid administration and further assist student loan lenders, while the Senate bill will allow computers to be counted as education expenses towards which 529 plans can be used.  The bills are facing some Republican opposition, especially regarding education spending, as it's been argued that construction projects and increases to student financial aid will not directly and immediately benefit the economy.  As Congress and the White House continue to hash out the details of these bills, amounts are likely to change.  But for now, it appears that colleges and college students may receive a little extra financial aid from the government this year.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

As we mentioned last month, financial aid application deadlines are fast approaching for the coming fall.  While students technically have until June 30, 2010 to complete a FAFSA on the Web for the 2009-2010 school year, state aid deadlines happen much sooner with some occurring as early as February--this February.  So if you're waiting to do your taxes first or just generally procrastinating on your application, check the deadlines below to make sure you don't miss out on state or campus-based aid programs

     
  • Alabama:   Check with your financial aid administrator
  •  
  • Alaska:  April 15, 2009
  •  
  • American Samoa:  Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Arizona:  March 1, 2009
  •  
  • Arkansas
       
    • For Academic Challenge - June 1, 2009
    •  
    • For Workforce Grant - check with your financial aid administrator
    •  
    • For Higher Education Opportunity Grant - June 1, 2009 (fall term); November 1, 2009 (spring term)
    •  
     
  •  
  • California
       
    • For initial awards - March 2, 2009
    •  
    • For additional community college awards - September 2, 2009 - date postmarked (additional forms may be required)
    •  
     
  •  
  • Colorado: Check with your financial aid administrator
  •  
  • Connecticut: Priority deadline February 15, 2009 (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Delaware: April 15, 2009
  •  
  • District of Columbia: June 30, 2009 (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Federated States of Micronesia: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Florida: May 15, 2009 - date processed
  •  
  • Georgia: Check with your financial aid administrator
  •  
  • Guam: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Hawaii: Check with you financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Idaho:  Opportunity Grant - Priority deadline March 1, 2009 (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Illinois
       
    • First-time applicants - September 30, 2009
    •  
    • Continuing applicants - Priority deadline August 15, 2009
    •  
     
  •  
  • Indiana: March 10, 2009
  •  
  • Iowa: July 1, 2009
  •  
  • Kansas: Priority deadline April 1, 2009 (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Kentucky: Priority deadline March 15, 2009
  •  
  • Louisiana: July 1, 2009
  •  
  • Maine: May 1, 2009
  •  
  • Marshall Islands: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Maryland: March 1, 2009
  •  
  • Massachusetts: Priority deadline May 1, 2009
  •  
  • Michigan: March 1, 2009
  •  
  • Minnesota: 30 days after term starts
  •  
  • Mississippi
       
    • MTAG and MESG Grants - September 15, 2009
    •  
    • HELP Scholarship - March 31, 2009
    •  
     
  •  
  • Missouri: April 1, 2009
  •  
  • Montana: Priority deadline March 1, 2009
  •  
  • Nebraska: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Nevada: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • New Hampshire: May 1, 2009
  •  
  • New Jersey
       
    • June 1, 2009 if you received a Tuition Aid Grant in 2008-2009
    •  
    • All other applications - October 1, 2009, for fall and spring terms;
    •  
    • March 1, 2010, for spring term only
    •  
     
  •  
  • New Mexico: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • New York: May 1, 2010 (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • North Carolina: Check with your financial aid administrator
  •  
  • North Dakota: March 15, 2009
  •  
  • Northern Mariana Islands: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Ohio: October 1, 2009
  •  
  • Oklahoma: Priority deadline April 15, 2009 for best consideration
  •  
  • Oregon: Check with your financial aid administrator
  •  
  • Palau: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Pennsylvania
       
    • All 2008-2009 State Grant recipients and all non-2008-2009 State Grant recipients in degree programs - May 1, 2009
    •  
    • All other applicants - August 1, 2009 (additional forms may be required)
    •  
     
  •  
  • Puerto Rico: Check with your financial aid administrator
  •  
  • Rhode Island: Priority deadline March 1, 2009
  •  
  • South Carolina: Tuition Grants - June 30, 2009
  •  
  • South Dakota: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Tennessee
       
    • For State Grant - Priority deadline March 1, 2009
    •  
    • For State Lottery - September 1, 2009
    •  
     
  •  
  • Texas: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • U.S. Virgin Islands: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Utah: Check with your financial aid administrator
  •  
  • Vermont: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Virginia: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Washington: Check with your financial aid administrator
  •  
  • West Virginia: Priority deadline March 1, 2009 (additional forms may be required)
  •  
  • Wisconsin: Check with your financial aid administrator
  •  
  • Wyoming: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
  •  
 Additional information about federal and state financial aid application deadlines can be found on the official FAFSA website.  Deadlines for individual campuses may occur earlier than the deadline for your state.  Check with your college's financial aid office to find out deadlines for campus financial aid.


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Meet Scholarships.com's Virtual Interns: Mary Steffenhagen

by Mary Steffenhagen

Hey there, Scholarships.com readers! I’m Mary, a junior English major/business minor student at Concordia University of Wisconsin.

I’ll admit, I didn’t give my college search as much time or thought as I should have. I chose to attend Concordia for two main reasons: I was offered a substantial academic scholarship (and rather a lot of financial aid) and was able to take a free trip to London, Normandy and Paris through the honors program during my freshman year. However, my time at Concordia has been well spent as I have been able to take a number of fascinating classes with some exceptional professors, make a few lifelong friends, travel and even get some decent sleep.

I love having a busy schedule so this year I plan to intern in Milwaukee and hopefully (fingers crossed!) head to New York City in the winter. I've indulged myself a little with my English major – reading and being impacted by what I read has always been one of the best parts of my life – and I am looking forward to a career that not only allows but requires me to do just that.

The opportunity to be a virtual intern with Scholarships.com is one I couldn’t pass up: Not only is this the sort of writing experience necessary for my resume, but it’s a bit out of my comfort zone. I hope to challenge myself to be a resource to you readers and help bring some insight into the ordeals of life as a college student.

I’ll sign off with the most important thing college has helped me realize (so far): Challenge yourself and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you can accomplish. Thanks for reading!


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Popping the Bubble: How to Keep Up on Current Events in College

by Mary Steffenhagen

The crisis in Syria! The Bradley Manning sentencing! The fracking debate! Yet another random act of violence!

The media bombards us with information and news every second of every day – a sensory overload of grim stories and political biases. It's overwhelming but college can become a sort of bubble, a relaxing retreat from the cares of the outside world. You don’t see the news unless you turn on your own TV or radio or follow a news site or newspaper. With all the other fun things to do, who’s got time to be depressed and bored by other people’s problems?

It’s incredibly easy to feel that what you see on CNN doesn’t affect you – a college student in America – but it does. You may not live in a small village in the Middle East but actions cause ripples and what happens across the globe may, in any small way, touch your life. Some events will affect you directly. For example, President Obama recently signed a bill to restore lower interest rates on student loans: This directly affects you and me, who will now be paying a 3.4 percent interest rate on our loans as opposed to the previous 6.8 percent.

Current events are nearly always incendiary topics as well. You will encounter a diverse range of people in college with a diverse range of ideologies...and a shrug and a “Whatever, I don’t really care about that” won’t get you off the hook in discussions anymore. It’s important to know where you stand and even more important to do your research, so as not to form a hasty assumption. First off, it will help you not to look like a buffoon or needlessly offend others and secondly, being able to form and articulate a well-thought argument is an invaluable skill!

Lastly, being cognizant of “the outside world” is an important development in the whole messy process of becoming an adult. Forming opinions, arguments and worldviews – and having them challenged – is a necessary part of life...especially in an environment such as college, where it’s okay to make mistakes and learn from them. So don’t let college become a bubble and cut you off from the vital circulation of ideas and news. Get (and stay) informed!

Mary Steffenhagen is a junior at Concordia University of Wisconsin who is majoring in English with a minor in business. She hopes to break into the publishing field after graduation, writing and editing to promote the spread of reliable information and quality literature; she is driven to use her skills to make a positive impact wherever she is placed. Mary spends much of her time making and drinking coffee, biking and reading dusty old books. In an alternate universe, she would be a glassblower.


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