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Concerned About Student Debt? Choose Your School Wisely

by Alexis Mattera

Cost plays a huge role in many students’ college choices. Depending on their financial situation, some students dismiss the schools with high tuition in favor of lower-cost in-state schools because they think it will save them money. In actuality, they could be doing themselves an economic disservice in the long run.

Using data from U.S. News and World Report’s most recent student debt survey of 25 top-ranking public and private schools, Reuters revealed that, on average, 53 percent of students surveyed received financial aid and at least half of students at most of the institutions graduated debt-free...but it depends on what school they attended: Princeton graduates, for example, owed only $5,000 at commencement while University of Michigan graduates owed more than $27,000 despite Michigan’s in-state costs being less than half of Princeton’s. How is this possible? Numerous schools including Princeton, Caltech, Davidson College and the University of Washington have eliminated student loans from their financial aid packages and others like Harvard, Stanford and UC Berkeley have capped contributions for students from low- and middle-income families. (Check out the entire article here, including this handy infographic.)

While it is difficult for many students to attend college without taking out some kind of loan – especially those attending state-run institutions which don’t have the fiscal means to eliminate debt – it is possible to avoid debt if you choose the right school. Thoughts?


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Duncan to College Applicants: "Shop Around"

Ed Sec Says Comparing More Schools Will Lead to More Informed College Choices

July 3, 2012

Duncan to College Applicants: "Shop Around"

by Alexis Mattera

In the epic battle between quality versus quantity, it's the former that usually prevails but Arne Duncan has a slightly different proposal for soon-to-be college students: increase the quantity of schools you consider in order to find the best quality fit.

Though the annual Higher Education Research Institute survey reported that students are already employing that approach (just 12 percent of first-time, full-time freshmen applied to only one college in 2011), Education Secretary Duncan believes that too many students are making their college choices based on distance from home rather than price, majors and other factors vital to college completion and future success. He feels that if students apply to more schools and compare financial aid packages, they'll find the school and program that's right for them. But not everyone is buying into his "shop around" proposal. Lloyd Thacker, director of the admissions reform group Education Conservancy, said, "The problem with the admissions process is it's become too much like a transaction or consumer process, and less like an investment in education ... I'm not saying what he's doing is necessarily wrong but you need to be very thoughtful that good intentions are tied to sound research.”

Check out the full Inside Higher Ed article here and let us know what you think. Are you ready to go shopping with Duncan or will you be taking a different approach when applying to college?


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UChicago’s New Financial Aid Initiative Targets Local Students

by Suada Kolovic

The University of Chicago has recently announced the launch of UChicago Promise, an initiative aimed at helping high school students in the city of Chicago gain admission, pay for and succeed in college. The cornerstone of the program is the commitment from the university to eliminate loans from financial aid packages of students from Chicago who are admitted.

“Chicago, from our pre-schools to our world-renowned universities, is committed to ensuring that every child has access to a high-quality education,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “The step taken today by the University of Chicago is a creative step that will help many of Chicago’s own achieve their goals and graduate without a financial burden.”

In addition to replacing loans with grants and other nonrepayable student aid, UChicago Promise includes an automatic waiver of the University’s application fee and offers a wide array of support and mentoring programs for aspiring college students. The initiative will take effect for those applying this year and will not be available to students with existing loans or who have already matriculated.


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Changes to 529 Savings Plans

February 5, 2013

Changes to 529 Savings Plans

by Suada Kolovic

Figuring out how you’re going to pay for your college education can be intimidating. No one wants to pay off student loans for the rest of their lives, full-tuition scholarships are rare and federal student aid seldom covers all college costs but if you’re lucky enough to have a parent or relative willing to help curb the financial strains, it’s important to note that college savings plans are becoming increasingly flexible and affordable. Here are some of the changes to the 529 savings plans for 2013:

  • Increase gift tax exemptions: Grandparents can gift $14,000 annually before they’re charged a gift tax. Since five years of the exempted amount can be gifted at one time, that’s a five-year donation of $70,000 per grandchild while a married couple could potentially gift $140,000, provided they don’t give additional funds to the same grandchild in the five-year span.
  • Expanded qualified expenses: Last year, families couldn’t use 529 plan funds for laptops, iPads, internet service and software but the IRS is going high tech and realizes these are necessary items for higher education. Parents of a student who receives a full or partial scholarship can now use the funds to enhance their child’s educational experience.
  • Declining plan prices: Competitive bidding among plan management companies to run 529 plans on behalf of states is contributing to the trend of downward pricing. (For more information about 529 plans, click here.)

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Congress Plans to Double Stafford Loan Interest Rates

by Suada Kolovic

Recent reports suggest that student loan debt has surpassed credit card debt for the first time and will reach $1 trillion this year. The average college student leaves owing $25,000 in loans, putting them at risk of having to significantly delay moving on to different life stages such as buying a house, getting married and even having children. Curious as to how the government has responded in aiding and relieving students of insurmountable debt? By possibly doubling the interest rate of the most popular federally subsidized loans, of course.

On Tuesday, college students delivered more than 130,000 letters to congressional leaders at the Capitol to protest the increase. Unless Congress takes action, the interest rate on subsidized Stafford loans is set to double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent on July 1, increasing the average debt by $2,800 for more than 7 million students receiving the loans, according to a spokesman for the Democratic members of the House Committee on Education & the Workforce. Why is Congress considering the increase when so many students are already in debt? In 2007, Congress voted to cut the Stafford interest rate, which in turn cost an estimated $7.2 billion from 2007 to 2012 and, according to the Congressional Budget Office, that burden was shouldered almost entirely by lenders and loan-guarantee agencies. "We all want to promote efforts that will reduce college costs, but the era of empty promises has to end," said John P. Kline Jr., a Republican from Minnesota who is the committee's chairman. "The interest rate hike students face is the result of a ticking time bomb set by Democrats five years ago," Mr. Kline said. "Simply calling for more of the same is a disservice to students and taxpayers." (For more on this story, click here.)

Soon-to-be college graduates, do you fear crippling student loan debt? What steps are you taking to prevent becoming a statistic?


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FAFSA to Recognize Same-Sex and Unmarried Parents by 2014

by Suada Kolovic

The Department of Education has recently announced that the FAFSA will soon undergo a few changes to accommodate students with same-sex or unmarried parents who cohabit in order to more accurately ascertain an applicant’s financial situation.

The forms, which will be introduced for the 2014-15 school year, will allow students to designate their parents as “Parent 1 (father/mother/stepparent)” and “Parent 2 (father/mother/stepparent)” rather than just mother and father. “All students should be able to apply for federal student aid within a system that incorporates their unique family dynamics," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. "These changes will allow us to more precisely calculate federal student aid eligibility based on what a student's whole family is able to contribute and ensure taxpayer dollars are better targeted toward those students who have the most need, as well as provide an inclusive form that reflects the diversity of American families."

The department has said that the changes will not impact a vast majority of applicants but it could potentially (read: very likely) translate into reduced aid for students with same-sex or unmarried parents. Why? Those parents who do not benefit from filing joint tax returns will likely disqualify their children from financial aid if it’s found that jointly they are above the income threshold. So while the changes are considered progressive, they’re just slightly off the mark when it comes to helping “unique family dynamics.”


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Federal Mandate: All Schools Must Offer Net Price Calculators by October 29th

by Suada Kolovic

Here at Scholarships.com, we understand that trying to figure out how much a college education will actually cost you and your family is pretty confusing. With everything that goes into your financial aid packagegrants, loans, scholarships, etc. – the real cost of a college education is muddled in there…somewhere. But fear, not college bound students! All that’s about to change thanks to a mandate by the federal government: All colleges and universities receiving Title IV federal student aid must have net price calculators by October 29th.

According to U.S. News and World Report, the U.S. Department of Education instated the mandate in order to “provide a clearer view of the difference between the total cost of tuition and fees – commonly referred to as sticker price – and the net price, an estimate of the cost subtracting scholarships and grants.” Most students generally receive some institutional aid so the better they understand how much an institution is offering as whole, the better prepared they are to compare the financial aid packages offered by different schools.

What do you think of the federally implemented net price calculators? Do you think it will be an essential piece of the funding your college education puzzle?


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Student Loan Delinquencies Continue to Rise

by Suada Kolovic

While credit card debt, mortgage debt and auto loan debt have all steadily decreased since the fall of 2008, the same cannot be said for outstanding student loan debt, which has climbed 25 percent since the start of the financial crisis. Not only has student debt increased, but more often than not these loans aren’t getting paid off on time. The problem is that students take out sizable loans to pay for tuition to only be met with bleak prospects of employment after college. Those lucky enough to secure a job can also expect lower starting salaries: The median starting salary for a member of the class or 2009 or 2010 is $27,000, down from $30,000 just a couple of years ago.

The debt ceiling deal complicated things a step further by adding additional federal loan provisions. One section of the deal changed the way interest is collected on federal loans for graduate students, meaning that borrowers will start accruing interest on their loans before they’ve graduated. That being said, earning a college degree is still a significant advantage when entering the job market. The Labor Department released a report stating that for workers 25 and over with at least a bachelor's degree, the unemployment rate in July was 4.3 percent, compared with 8.3 percent for workers with "some college," and 9.3 percent for workers with just high school diplomas.

Soon-to-be college students, do you fear crippling student loan debt? What steps are you taking to prevent becoming a statistic?


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UC Students to Face Additional Tuition Hike

UC Board Approves 9.6-Percent Increase

July 18, 2011

UC Students to Face Additional Tuition Hike

by Suada Kolovic

With the start of the fall semester just weeks away, University of California students can look forward to yet another tuition hike – a 9.6-percent increase, to be exact. On Thursday, the Board of Regents passed a $1,068 hike on top of a previously approved 8-percent hike for 2011-2012 school year. The regents voted 14-4 in favor of the second increase to cope with the $650 million cut in state funding for next year.

Undergraduate and graduate tuition for California residents will increase to $12,192 a year, not including room and board or campus fees. Now sure, that may not seem like much for college tuition but that’s a $1,890 (or 18 percent) increase from the amount UC undergraduates paid the previous year and more than three times what they paid a decade ago.

Leigh Mason, a fourth-year student and student government activist at UC San Diego, said the timing of the tuition increase so close to the fall term has families scrambling. “For a family and student to find that, means it's not only hard but for some impossible,” said Mason, of San Jose. “Why not go to each UC and cut some overhead before coming to us for more revenue?”

According to UC officials, financial aid and tax credits will cover the increased tuition for many families earning less than $80,000 a year and the tuition increases won’t be imposed this coming school year on many families earning less than $120,000 annually. What do you think of the timing of the tuition hike approval? Is it fair for families to face another increase in tuition so close to the start of the fall semester?


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Debt-Ceiling Deal Spares Pell Grant Program

by Suada Kolovic

Unless you’ve taken residence under a rock for the past few weeks, you’ve heard about the debt ceiling crisis. Thankfully, the White House and Congress have reached a deal to raise the nation’s borrowing limit and shrink the federal deficit which avoids many of higher education’s worst-case scenarios, namely cuts to Pell Grants, the end of subsidized student loans or a government default that would leave student financial aid and other funding for colleges in limbo.

Here’s the breakdown: The agreement would cut $1 trillion right away and create a committee to reduce the deficit by another $1.5 trillion by November. If approved in Congress, it will avert default on the nation’s debts and ensure that the government has enough money for federal benefits, including student aid. In layman’s terms, the bill would provide $17 billion for the Pell Grant program but the measure would only be temporary. Because House conservatives oppose tax increases, it is likely that the committee charged with reducing the deficit will favor spending cuts over revenues increase, putting Pell Grants and other student aid programs at risk for cuts in the near future.

Do you think slashing funds for higher education is problematic? Let us know what you think.


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