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by Emily

The omnibus spending bill passed by the House of Representatives in February was approved by the Senate last night, and is expected to be signed by President Obama this week.  The bill includes more funding for Federal Pell Grants, fixing the maximum award at $5,350 for 2009-2010, a number that's already been widely publicized.

Other student financial aid programs also receive a funding boost for the current fiscal year, including the Federal Perkins Loan cancellation program and several federal scholarship and fellowship programs.  These increases aren't necessarily tied to larger award amounts, however.  Federal Work-Study, which received a boost in the stimulus bill, will see the increase put into effect in the 2009-2010 fiscal year under the omnibus legislation.

Funding was held steady for SEOG, another federal grant program, as well as new Federal Perkins Loans.  ACG and SMART grants actually saw a decrease in funding--now these programs have funding equal to the amounts they award, but no longer have large, unawarded funding surpluses.  The surplus money from these programs has been redirected towards Pell Grants.

The passage of this bill, which should represent pretty much the final word on education spending for the current fiscal year, comes just in time for colleges to begin sending out financial aid award notices to students who have completed the FAFSA.  If you still have your fingers crossed for a magic bullet for college costs, it's still not too late to kick your scholarship search into high gear and begin looking at ways to pay for school beyond federal aid.


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by Emily

More students are completing the FAFSA early for 2009-2010 according to data collected by the Department of Education.  By the end of February, more than 3 million students had filed their FAFSA for the next academic year, an increase of over 20 percent from the first two months of 2008.  As application deadlines approach, this flood of applications could slow, but right now it looks like there will be more demand for financial aid in the coming school year.

Federal student financial aid is becoming an increasingly attractive means of paying for college.  For starters, federal aid is up for 2009-2010--in the case of Federal Pell Grants, way up.  A combination of factors has boosted maximum grants to $5,350 in 2009-2010, while simultaneously raising the minimum award to $976 and the maximum qualifying Expected Family Contribution to $4,671.  Low interest rates and expanded federal loan cancellation and consolidation options are also making federal student loans more appealing.

Meanwhile, several other payment options aren't doing so well.  Private loans became harder to obtain in 2008, and also saw fairly substantial interest rate increases.  College savings plans, such as 529 plans, took big hits in the stock market, and even some prepaid tuition plans are struggling to guarantee payouts for upcoming years.  College endowments have also been affected by financial troubles, and some endowed scholarships may be reduced or unavailable for the coming academic year.

However, this doesn't mean the FAFSA is the only option for student financial aid.  Most states are maintaining funding for their scholarship programs, many colleges are increasing aid where possible, and scholarship opportunities are still out there--though many deadlines are approaching--for students who are willing and able to take the time to do a scholarship search and complete some scholarship applications.


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by Emily

A survey released yesterday by the National Association of Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) indicated that 90 percent of financial aid administrators are at least somewhat concerned about the current student loan crunch.  As lenders continue to opt out of Federal Family Education Loan Programs (FFELP) and to reduce the number of schools they make loans available to, many financial aid administrators remain concerned that students at their institutions may have decreased access to money for school.  While overall administrators expressed confidence that the recent Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act will help students pay for college this year, 52 percent said that more needed to be done to make sure students will have sufficient access to college loans in the future, and more than half stated that they believe it will be more difficult for students to borrow additional private loans in the upcoming school year.

A number of schools are turning to the federal Direct Loans program to ensure continued loan availability for their students, while others are calling for other solutions to the student loan problem, putting an emphasis on federal student aid. Many NASFAA members stressed the importance of increasing access to federal grant programs and scholarship money in order for students to continue being able to afford a college education.  NASFAA President Dr. Philip Day summarized this position, stating, "Too many students rely on loans to pay for their education. I do not accept the premise that student loans are here to stay, especially for needy students. If the student loan crunch has shown us anything, it is that our neediest students have no place in the student loan marketplace. We should help them find as many alternatives to borrowing as possible by providing them with grants and scholarships to meet their educational costs."

The survey also asked what financial aid administrators were doing for students and their families to help them find money for college. Many financial aid offices continue to maintain a preferred lenders list, despite recent media criticism and policy changes, something NASFAA stresses is both wanted and needed by families needing to find private student loans or new FFELP lenders on short notice.

NASFAA is also backing a new piece of legislation known as the Preventing Student Loan Discrimination Act, which if passed, will prohibit FFELP lenders from denying loans to eligible students based on the institution they attend, the length of their program, or their income level. These provisions will help students pay for school in the short term, but the report stressed that more needs to be done to make college affordable in the future.

The full survey is available through the NASFAA website.


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by Emily

Are you looking for something to do with the rest of your summer?  While scientific research might not be everyone's idea of a good time, putting together a research project could pay off for high school students through this week's Scholarship of the Week.

The Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology recognizes remarkable talent early on, fostering individual growth for high school students who are willing to challenge themselves through science research. The Competition promotes excellence by encouraging students to undertake individual or team research projects in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology, or a combination of these disciplines. Through this competition, students have an opportunity to achieve national recognition for science research projects that they complete in high school. It is administered by The College Board and funded by the Siemens Foundation.

Students may enter as individuals or as part of a team. Entries are "blind read" by a panel of judges assembled by The College Board and its partner Educational Testing Service. The judges have related expertise to the project being reviewed. They do not know anything about the student; papers are judged solely on the merits of the abstract and supporting documentation.

Prize: In the initial review up to 300 projects are selected as semi-finalists.  Of these, up to 30 individual students and 30 teams go on to compete in regional finals.  Regional finalists receive scholarships of $1,000 apiece and regional winners receive $3,000 for individuals and $6,000 for teams.  Regional champions progress to the national competition, where they compete for scholarship opportunities up to $100,000.

Eligibility: All current U. S. high school students are eligible to enter the competition.

Deadline: Applications are due by 5 p.m. Eastern Time October 1, 2008.

Required Materials: Please review the Siemens Foundation Competition scholarship information for complete submission guidelines and required materials.

Further details about the application process can be found by conducting a free college scholarship search on Scholarships.com. Once the search is completed, students eligible for the award will find it in their scholarship search results.


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by Emily

The new version of the Higher Education Act (HEA) is at last moving to the floors of the House and Senate for a vote. After seven years of waiting and debating, Congressional reauthorization of the HEA could finally happen in the next week, setting the stage for a number of changes in federal student financial aid for college students.

Among other things, the reauthorized HEA would:

  1. Set a ceiling on the maximum Federal Pell Grant of $9,000, and allow for students to receive Pell Grant funds year-round, instead of just during the traditional academic year. (The current maximum Pell Grant is $4,731.)
  2. Implement changes to make it easier for students to get information about their financial aid awards and to generally simplify the process by which students - particularly those from low-income families - can find money for college.
  3. Expand the Academic Competitiveness Grant program to part-time students as well as those seeking certificates and puts states in charge determining whether a high school program qualifies as a rigorous course of study.
  4. Make several changes in private student loans, such as: requiring lenders to provide up-front disclosures of loan rates and terms, require private loans to be certified by higher education institutions, and requiring colleges to establish Codes of Conduct to prohibit financial aid employees from receiving anything of value in exchange for advantages sought by lenders, such as placement on colleges' preferred lender lists.
  5. Require more disclosure of costs from both colleges and textbook publishers.

Many other changes appear in the 1,158 pages of the bill, which has been a long time coming.  The Higher Education Act is supposed to be reauthorized every 5 years, but it has been 10 years since the previous version passed.  The new HEA should help financial aid programs adapt to the present situation students face, and should help students better assess and plan for the costs of a college education.


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by Emily

The Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEA), approved by a joint committee earlier this week, passed both houses of Congress yesterday.  While members of the Bush Administration have expressed some reservations about the bill, the President is still expected to sign it into law.

Reactions to the HEA have been mixed, with many universities and organizations critiquing the bill's broad scope, increased requirements for schools, and timing, as it may be nearly impossible to implement all of the changes required by the bill in time for the 2008-2009 school year.  Especially under attack is the act's mandate for schools to provide students with legal alternatives to illegally downloading media, where possible.  While this could be good news for students, many critics fail to see how this provision relates to the bill's intended purpose of dealing with education funding and federal student financial aid.

Aspects of the HEA that have been praised are the allowance for a substantial increase in Federal Pell Grants (awards could reach $6,000 next year and $8,000 per year by 2014), the adoption of a code of conduct for financial aid offices when dealing with student loan agencies, the mandated simplification of the FAFSA (a two-page "FAFSA EZ" form should debut soon), and the general push for increased transparency regarding college costs, ranging from tuition increases, to student fees, to textbook prices.  All of these changes should make it easier for families to pay for school.

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by Emily

Nearly 17% more students completed a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) between January and June 2008 compared to the same period in 2007 according to a report released last month by the Department of Education.  Several states, including California and North Carolina, have seen an even more marked increase, with at least 20% more students applying for federal student financial aid for college this calendar year.

This increase in applications for financial aid is largely attributed to the rising cost of a college education, the recent loan crunch, and the general economic downturn, which are all making it more difficult for families to completely cover the cost of tuition.  More people may also be applying for financial aid due to increased awareness of its existence, thanks to recent news coverage of financial aid issues.

Aside from longer lines at the financial aid office in the fall, this news is likely to have little impact on students attending college this year (although you may want to apply early for a work-study job lest you discover that the only available job is on the receiving end of that financial aid line).  Aid programs with limited funds, such as state grants and campus-based programs like Perkins Loans and work-study jobs, could potentially be exhausted a bit earlier this year, but students still procrastinating on applying for financial aid should still fill out a FAFSA if they haven't missed their school's deadline.  Federal aid, such as Stafford Loans and Pell Grants, is still available to late applicants, and as long as they haven't missed any deadlines, students could still manage to receive awards given on a first come, first serve basis.

For students considering financial aid for the 2009-2010 academic year, we recommend deciding early whether you intend to apply for federal aid (not sure?  Use a college cost worksheet to estimate your actual cost of attendance), researching your school's financial aid and scholarship application deadlines (especially since some institutional scholarships are need-based), doing your taxes as soon as possible, and completing the FAFSA on the Web in January or February (or as far in advance of the deadline as possible) to ensure that you're considered for all the aid for which you're qualified (to get an idea, you can use the Department of Education's FAFSA4caster).  Also, continue to conduct regular scholarship searches and to apply for scholarships, since scholarships continue to be the best way to make up the difference between what college costs and what you can afford to pay for school.


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by Emily

Yesterday, President Bush signed the Higher Education Opportunity Act, the official reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) which governs federal student financial aid for college, as well as other federal programs and regulations that pertain to higher education.

Under the new version of the HEA students can expect a number of benefits when it comes to finding money for college.  Some of the changes include: 

     
  1. Increased Pell Grant awards, as well as Pell funding available for summer school.  Pell Grants, currently capped at $4,731, will increase to $6,000 for the 2009-2010 school year, and will go up by an additional $400 a year, reaching $8,000 per year in 2014.
  2.  
  3. Increased Perkins Loan limits, going from $4,000 to $5,500 for undergraduate students, and from $6,000 to $8,000 for graduate students.
  4.  
  5. Expanded loan forgiveness programs for students pursuing careers in the following areas:  early childhood educators; nurses; foreign language specialists; librarians; highly qualified teachers; child welfare workers; speech-language pathologists; audiologists; national service; school counselors; public sector employees; nutrition professionals; medical specialists; physical therapists; and superintendents, principals, and other (school) administrators; occupational therapists; and dentists.
  6.  
  7. The creation of a FAFSA EZ form that will simplify the financial aid application process.
  8.  
  9. Within the next year, the Department of Education will need to create a tool allowing students to estimate the net price of an education at various institutions, taking into account costs of attendance and financial aid.  Schools will need to follow suit with similar tools within two years of the implementation of the federal net price calculator.
  10.  
  11. The Department of  Education will begin publishing lists of the top 5% of universities in each of the following categories:  the highest tuition and fees, the highest net price, the largest percent increase of tuition and fees over the last three years, the largest percent increase in net price over the last three years.  The Department of Education will also publish lists of the 10% of universities with the lowest tuition and lowest net price.
  12.  
 So in the coming years, students can expect to see it get easier to figure out the cost of school, pay for school, and possibly repay loans if they're going into a high need field.

The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators also offers a point-by-point breakdown of the Higher Education Opportunity Act on their website.


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by Emily

The results of a poll conducted by Sallie Mae and Gallup were released today, painting a picture of where Americans across income levels find money for college.  The study found that sources of funding varied, with parent borrowing (16%), student borrowing (23%), and parent income and savings (32%) taking care of the majority of college costs.  Scholarships and grants followed closely behind, making up 15 percent of college funding.

The average grant and scholarship awards and student loan amounts were roughly the same for low income families (families making below $50,000 a year), while middle income families relied most heavily on parent income and student loans, and high income families (families making above $100,000 a year) predominantly used parent income and savings to pay for school.

While more students than parents were likely to rule out a school at some point in their college search based on cost (63% vs. 54%), two in five families said that cost was not a consideration in choosing the right college for them, and 70 percent of students and parents said that future income was not a factor when determining how much to borrow.

Additionally, 20 percent of families reported using either a second mortgage or a credit card to pay some portion of tuition, while only 9 percent of families reported using a college savings plan, such as a 529 plan, to pay for part of tuition (though those who did were able to cover nearly $8,000 of the cost of college with one).  The study also found that only 76 percent of students whose families made between $35,000 and $50,000 per year, many of whom may be eligible for state and federal grant programs, did not complete the FAFSA.  Only 73 percent of familes making between $50,000 and $100,000 per year completed a FAFSA, despite many families' reliance on loans to pay for college.

The full text of the report is available on the Sallie Mae website.


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by Emily

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.


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