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College Tuition Increases Slow, Government Aid Falls

by Suada Kolovic

High school seniors heading to college in the fall, listen up: The average cost at the nation’s four-year public universities rose 2.9% this year, the smallest annual increase in more than three decades (yay!) but the slowdown in tuition increases have been offset by reductions in federal grant aid (boo!).

According to a new report from the College Board, public colleges have raised tuition prices so sharply in recent years not to gouge students but to bank on the increased state aid. And although the increase is moderate, "this does not mean that college is suddenly more affordable," says economist Sandy Baum, co-author of Trends in Higher Education reports on tuition and financial aid. "It does seem that the [upward tuition] spiral is moderating. Not turning around, not ending, but moderating." Unfortunately, students continue to suffer from the constant cycle of rising costs and serious college debt. Shrinking state aid for public colleges and universities has translated into the cost of public schools to jump $1,770 in inflation-adjusted dollars. The amount of government aid received last year fell $6,646 for every full-time student at those institutions while just five years ago, each student received $9,111 in today’s dollars. (For more on this report, click here.)

If college is in your forecast, what do you make of the report’s findings? Let us know in the comments section.


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LGBT Students Can Face Serious Roadblocks to Financial Aid

by Suada Kolovic

Unless you plan on paying for your college education out-of-pocket, completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (more commonly known as the FAFSA) is essential in your quest for financial aid. For the uninitiated, the FAFSA is used by the Department of Education to determine your eligibility for federal student financial aid for college, including the Pell Grant, federal work-student programs and federal student loans. And while most students struggle with the complicated application process, LGBT students potentially face more serious roadblocks: According to U.S. News & World Report, name changes, gender identification and strained family relationships can present unique FAFSA challenges.

In 2012, sexual orientation and gender identity were the number one reason for youth homelessness in the U.S., notes Thomas Krever, chief executive officer of the Hetrick-Martin Institute. Almost 40 percent of homeless youth identified as LGBT and of those teens, 46 percent ran away because their family rejected their sexual orientation or gender identity. What does this have to do with the FAFSA? Students under the age of 24 need tax returns and bank statements from their parents in order to file for financial aid and those without family support are left in limbo. Other LGBT students struggle with the fact that the FAFSA doesn’t necessarily reflect their identity. Questions about name and gender can be enough to keep transgender teens from even applying, says Eli Erlick, founder of Trans Student Equality Resources. "One thing about funding, specifically FAFSA, is that transgender students may not be able to change their name due to parents not being supportive or not having the money to do so," says Erlick. "This can lead to transgender students being nervous to apply, or not even applying at all, because they're scared for their own safety, because using these forms with their legal names may out them." (For more on this story, click here.)

What do you think about the challenges LGBT students face when seeking financial aid? Can you think of something the government can do to ease this pressure?


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by Suada Kolovic

While the road to a college degree may include countless detours, it’s essential to understand the importance of financial aid and filling out the FAFSA. But don’t just take my word for it – President Obama agrees: Last week, the President announced an initiative that would encourage more students to apply for federal student aid.

Under the FAFSA Completion Initiative, the Department of Education will work with states to identify students who have not completed the form and employ new outreach efforts to help more students through the process. The White House said the effort would build on earlier steps by the Obama administration to simplify the form and make it easier for parents and student to use information from their tax returns to complete the paperwork. "We made it simple. It doesn't cost anything. It does not take a long time to fill out. Once you do, you're putting yourself in the running for all kinds of financial support for college," said President Obama.

For those of you that aren’t familiar, the FAFSA (which stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid) acts as a gateway between graduating seniors and almost $150 billion in grants, loans and work-study funds that the federal government has available. Funds do run out, though, so we recommend filling out the FAFSA as early as possible. Have you filled out the FAFSA? Let us know how it went in the comments section. If you haven’t done so yet, review our financial aid section for some tips.


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Colorado State U. Adds Women’s Soccer, Nixes Water Polo in Order to Comply with Title IX

by Suada Kolovic

Four decades after Title IX was enacted, many colleges and universities across the country still struggle with the gender-equity requirements. If you’re not familiar with Title IX, allow me to give you a brief synopsis: The law states: “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” While Title IX has had obvious positive effects on women’s education, we most often associate this law’s success within athletics but compliance with Title IX isn’t always a clear task. Take for instance what’s happening at Colorado State University: The school plans to add scholarships through a new women’s soccer team but are doing so at the expense of the women’s water polo team. If you’re scratching your head in confusion, join the club.

According to reports, the complaint against the university filed in July 2012 alleged that CSU discriminated against female athletes by falling to provide opportunities equal to those afforded to their male counterparts. The university agreed to a turnaround plan that will bring it into compliance by September 2016 but many individuals have pointed out the odd juxtaposition of a women’s sport being eliminated to comply with gender-balance guidelines. “It definitely shows that they didn’t take our sport as seriously as maybe men’s basketball or football, because they definitely wouldn’t have eliminated them,” said Alexzandrea Daley, a 19-year-old junior and water polo team member at CSU. Officials at the university have sympathized with their outrage but reaffirm that the university could not afford to keep both sports. (For more on this story, click here.)

Sure, repeated failures to comply with Title IX can jeopardize a university’s federal financial support but do you agree with Colorado State’s solution? Do you think it fair to the female athletes? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.


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For Some, "Pay it Forward" A Step Backward

3% Over 24 Years Not a Bargain for All

August 22, 2013

For Some, "Pay it Forward" A Step Backward

by Kevin Ladd

Dreamed-up in Portland Oregon and soon lauded in New Jersey, Washington, Ohio and elsewhere, the "Pay it Forward" plan could cost some folks more than simply taking out loans at 6.8%. With the plan calling for approximately $9B in start-up funds and requiring college grads to pay 3% of their income for the 24 years following graduation, only those making below a certain amount would benefit. Certainly, it would be great in the beginning and sounds easier than securing loans, but anybody looking at the big picture and planning to earn over $55K per year upon graduation should probably consider a more traditional path. As always, we recommend finding as many scholarships as possible to keep student loans to a minimum. Free money is better than either of the aforementioned options!

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Merkley's "Pay it Forward" Guaranteed College Affordability Act

Dem. Senator Jeff Merkley Proposes Income-Based Loan Repayment

August 20, 2013

Merkley's "Pay it Forward" Guaranteed College Affordability Act

by Kevin Ladd

The new student loan bill Senator Merkley (D-Ore.) plans to introduce is a progressive idea intended to battle high loan repayment costs and hopefully restore the middle-class in the United States. The announcement of this proposal came after President Obama signed a student loan bill into law on August 9th. The new loan bill sets interest rates for undergraduate loans to the 10-year Treasury note plus 2.05% with a cap of 8.25%. While some Democrats oppose the bill as they feel Congress shouldn't "profit off the backs of students", it seems widely to be seen as an improvement over the default doubling of rates from 3.4% to a flat 6.8%. Merkley's goal is to make much bolder steps and pursue steps that more favor the middle-class and promote more affordable post-secondary education. As always, any ideas or comments you have are welcome and we will be sure to pass your ideas onto both the President and Senator Merkley!

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College Cost Increases Continue to Outpace Inflation

Community College Tuition & Fees Up 24% More Than Inflation Over Last 5 Years

August 21, 2013

College Cost Increases Continue to Outpace Inflation

by Kevin Ladd

Even community colleges across the country are increasing costs much faster than inflation, causing concern among those attempting to use what most would consider the most accessible of forms of higher education. Even with lower interest rates recently signed into law by President Obama, the costs for just about every aspect of post-secondary education continue to rise. Last year, the average cost to attend an in-state, two-year school was $3,131. That's an increase of nearly 6% over the previous year, larger than all other types of schools.

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by Administrator

In addition to the expansion of health coverage for Americans, another significant change has been made and another major economic issue addressed with the termination of the bank-based system of federally subsidized student loans.

With a vote of 220 to 211, the controversial bill, HR 4872, was passed by the House on Sunday and is expected to gain Senate approval within a few days. The bill, known best for the health-care provisions it contained, also addressed and closed the twenty year debate over whether to include private lenders in the federal student loan system.

Most of the savings expected to be derived from this major change (estimated at approximately $61 billion over the next decade) will be used for increasing the value of the Pell Grant for low-income students. Historically black colleges and community colleges are also expected to benefit from the savings this program offers. The House passed a similar bill in September of 2009, but didn't garner enough votes to pass the Senate. This time around, it was packaged with the health-care measure, and the amount dedicated to education has been reduced.


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by Administrator

In the world of financial aid there are many different forms of assistance available to students and each serves a slightly different purpose than the other. Many students assume that words like scholarship, grant, fellowship, internship, and student loan are interchangeable. They are not, however, and the consequences of misunderstanding which form of financial aid you are looking for or receiving can be far reaching. For each variety of assistance there are different tax stipulations, service requirements, and repayment expectations attached. Any student on the hunt for financial aid should know what he’s looking for, what he’s found, what the award requires and how it will help him achieve his college goals.

Scholarships

Most scholarships are financial awards given to eligible students with no strings attached. Typically, if you win a standard scholarship, unless it is renewable, your interaction with the donor ends the day you receive your check. According to the IRS, if you are not pursuing a degree, the entire scholarship is taxable. For those students using the scholarship for college, any portion used for tuition, fees, books, and supplies is not taxable. Any funds remaining after your expenses are paid for, however, are subject to tax. There is not typically a service requirement or other stipulation attached to the scholarship upon receipt of the award, however, you should check to be certain. Scholarships are offered in many varieties—sweepstakes, essays, competitions—for traditional and non-traditional students alike. Occasionally scholarships require that you do a specified amount of community service after receiving the award.

Grants

Like scholarships grants are a cash award that does not need to be repaid. There are federal grants, state grants, and grants issued by private businesses and organizations. Many undergraduate students greatly depend on government grants to get them through college. Why shouldn’t they? As long as students qualify financially, all they need to do is fill out a FAFSA. Aside from the government sponsored grant program, most grants are awarded to graduate students who need help funding research or who intent to enter a specific field. Grant amounts range greatly. They may be $100, $100,000, etc. Graduate school grants are not typically used toward tuition, but rather, they are usually used for any expenses necessary to complete your research.

Fellowships

Fellowships are typically awarded to pursuers of graduate or doctoral degrees. Although providers don’t seek repayment, they will frequently ask that students perform research work as a part of the deal. The work may be tedious, but it is usually worth the effort; it is not uncommon for stipends, in addition to tuition coverage, to be a part of the fellowship package. Fellowships tend to be lucrative, and they can get pretty competitive. Students who demonstrate exceptional merit are usually the top runners.

Internships

Most students know the difference between a scholarship and an internship, however, for those that need clarification an internship is an opportunity to work within a business or organization that you would otherwise need a degree to hold a position in. While some internships offer monthly stipends for students participating in their programs, others are unpaid. There are many professions that require students to have participated in an internship program before they can be hired as an employee. It’s a good idea to find out how most professionals in your field of interest secured a position in their field because you will likely discover that without the help of an internship most would not be where they are today. When you are considering an internship there are several things to think about before you accept a position. Ask yourself: How will it help me? What is the time commitment? Is there a stipend? And of course, is there a possibility for employment after the internship?

Student Loans

Believe it or not, student loans qualify as financial assistance; however, loans are a form of low-interest debt that must eventually be repaid. There is a limit to how much financial assistance a student can receive from student loans which is usually determined by how great the financial need of the student is. For the students who do not qualify for a need-based grant but do not have enough cash to pay for tuition, student loans are a good option. An added benefit is that most loans do not begin accumulating interest until 6 to 12 months after you graduate and monthly payments are also delayed until then.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Soon enough, financial aid application season will be upon us, and you'll need to know how to navigate the process so that you don't make any mistakes that could delay that application, and your funding for college. The first and important step will be getting ready to fill out your FAFSA, which the U.S. Department of Education starts accepting starting Jan. 1 of each year. If you take away anything from this blog though, remember this: FAFSA stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It should never cost you anything to fill it out.

The easiest way to fill out your FAFSA will be online, directly through the Department of Education's website at www.FAFSA.ed.gov. In your research you may find sites that charge to prepare your FAFSA for you, like www.FAFSA.com. That site, run by Student Financial Aid Services, Inc., charges a fee of $79.99 to prepare and advise you about your FAFSA, and while studies have shown that professional help through the financial aid process does lead to some positive results and more generous aid packages, with some time and effort you can become a FAFSA expert, too, without the added cost. Your intended college's financial aid office will also be happy to help you - for free - if you come across any roadblocks or feel like you've make a mistake when filing your FAFSA.

The Department of Education's site will walk you through the FAFSA application process, even allowing you to come back to your application if you find that you don't have all the necessary paperwork handy. While some students have reported feeling intimidated by the process, you won't be awarded financial aid from your college if you don't fill it out. And if you're uncomfortable filing the FAFSA online, you can also submit the paper form through the mail. (This could delay your application somewhat, though.)

Remember that you should never feel forced to pay to apply for and receive financial aid. Also avoid scholarship search engines that charge you to come up with a list of awards you may be eligible for, and awards that come with large processing fees attached. Scholarship scams are unfortunately a common occurrence, but if you know what to look for, you should have a positive financial aid experience. Browse through our site for more information on filing your FAFSA, and conduct a free scholarship search to see scholarships you may qualify for to supplement your financial aid package - all without paying a dime.

Posted Under:

FAFSA , Federal Aid , Tips

Tags: College Tips , FAFSA , Financial Tips , Tips

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