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Congress Passes Higher Education Act

August 1, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

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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Three Schools Offering Alternative Ways to Afford College

August 5, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

After spending some time on Scholarships.com or other college funding resources, you are probably familiar with basic ways to make a college education more affordable.  You can start saving early, consider attending a community college, search for scholarships, and apply for federal student financial aid.  You might be lucky enough to come across a school willing to give you a significant need-based or merit-based academic scholarship.  You may even have heard of certain Ivy League schools with mammoth endowments providing generous financial aid packages to their student bodies, which while impressive, probably doesn't help the average student.

We've recently come across news of three colleges that are committed to making an education extremely affordable to every one of their students.  While these schools offer unique and interesting money-saving programs, this is by no means an exhaustive list of innovative and affordable schools.  Conduct your own research, including a free college search on Scholarships.com to find out more about affordable colleges.

The New York Times ran an article recently about Berea College in Kentucky, a private four-year college that offers every student a 10 hour per week on-campus job, hand-made dorm furniture, and, oh yeah, free tuition.  While Berea doesn't have a football team or a multi-million dollar wellness center, the prospect of graduating debt-free is enough to attract a high-quality student body.  Unlike many colleges that select students based mainly on minimum GPA or SAT scores, Berea's students have to meet a maximum family income requirement, roughly equivalent to eligibility for Federal Pell Grants.

Volunteer State Community College in Gallatin, TN recently announced a different plan to make a college education more affordable for its students.  Implementing a program similar to the one piloted by J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Richmond, VA, Volunteer State will now be offering its students an opportunity to take a full courseload of classes while only attending school one day a week.  Their "Full Time Friday" program will allow students to save on gas, daycare, and other expenses by only commuting to school one day a week, and can potentially afford students the chance to work a full-time job while also taking classes full-time.  While spending a 14-hour day on campus is not for everyone, it can be an attractive option for students who are looking to save time and money and to consolidate their class schedule as much as possible.

So if you think attending college is out of your grasp for reasons of time or money, look around first to see what's out there!  You might be pleasantly surprised!
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MEFA Bailout Plan Meets Resistance

August 8, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

Earlier this week, Massachusetts Governor Deval L. Patrick asked his state's wealthiest universities (such as Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) to help bail out the Massachusetts Education Financing Authority (MEFA), which announced last week that it would not be able to provide loans to over 40,000 students this fall.  However, as an article published today in The Chronicle of Higher Education explains, many parties regard this request as well-intentioned but highly problematic, mainly due to recent lawsuits and legislation regarding potential conflicts of interest in relationships between colleges and student loan providers.  The Massachusetts state treasurer, who vetoed the governor's request to invest money in MEFA, stated that bailing out MEFA was not a good investment and could set a dangerous precedent for use of state funds.  While several colleges said they would consider investing in MEFA to help them provide enough loans to be able to receive assistance from the federal government, none have yet said yes, and many express concerns about what people will think of their relationship with the lending agency once the economy recovers.  When viewed in light of last year's preferred lender list scandal, such hesitation is understandable.

However, while both sides of this issue have adopted positions based on sound principles and the belief in doing what will ultimately be best for students, thousands of students are still left in a lurch when it comes to finding money for college.  With the new Higher Education Act still sitting on President Bush's desk, and the school year fast approaching, many families, and not just ones in Massachusetts, may be struggling to find ways to pay for school.  It's never too late to start applying for financial aid, though!  Students who haven't yet done so should complete a FAFSA on the Web, which could potentially qualify you for federal grant programs.  Once you've received your financial aid award letter, be sure to talk to your school's financial aid office, especially if you plan on receiving loans.   Finally, students of all ages should also check out our free scholarship search, as there are scholarships being awarded year-round, and scholarship awards can be one of the best means of funding your education.

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FRA Americanism Essay Contest

August 11, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

The Scholarship of the Week for this week is the Fleet Reserve Assocation Americanism Essay Contest, a scholarship essay contest for students in high school and junior high.  Contestants need to write a scholarship-worthy essay of 350 words or less on the theme "what the United States flag stands for."  Applicants should submit their completed scholarship application packet to their nearest FRA branch, which does not necessarily need to be in their home state.  Essays are first judged at the local level, with winners progressing to regional and national finals.

Prize:

The Grand National Prize is $15,000 U.S. Savings Bond, with $5,000, $3,000 and $2,000 Savings Bonds awarded to the first, second and third place winners in each grade category. Certificates and other prizes are awarded at the branch and regional levels, as well.

Eligibility:

All students entering grades 7-12 in the fall, as well as home schooled students at an equivalent grade level, are eligible for this scholarship.

Deadline:

Entries must be postmarked by December 1, 2008.

Required Materials:  

     
  1. A 350-word essay response to this year's prompt
  2.  
  3. A completed cover sheet, which can be downloaded from the FRA contest website
  4.  
 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 this scholarship award will find it in their search results.

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ED Reports More FAFSA Filers in 2008

August 12, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

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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Bush Signs HEA Reauthorization

August 15, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

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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Poll Examines How America Pays for College

August 20, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

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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Akron, OH Proposes Local Scholarship Fund

August 27, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

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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Scholarships.com College English Scholarship

September 8, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

As a means of promoting diversity and developing talent, Scholarships.com has created a new set of scholarship awards for high school students and undergraduate students. The Scholarships.com “Fund Your Future” Area of Study College Scholarship consists of thirteen $1,000 prizes to be granted to students who pursue a postsecondary education in one of thirteen designated fields and 185 related majors.

Among them is the Scholarships.com College English Scholarship, an award for students who are pursuing or planning to pursue a degree in English or Literature. To ensure that current and future English majors receive the funds they need to afford a quality education, we have created a scholarship opportunity especially for them.

If you’re interested in applying for the Scholarships.com College English Scholarship, write a 250 to 350 word scholarship application essay in response to the following question (entries that fall outside of this word range will be disqualified): “What has influenced your decision to pursue a career in English?”

Prize: $1,000

Eligibility:

  1. Applicant must be a registered Scholarships.com user. Creating an account is simple and free of charge.  After you have created an account, conduct a free scholarship search to view and apply for this award.
  2. Applicant must be a US citizen.
  3. Applicant must be a current undergraduate student or a high school senior who plans to enroll in a college or university by fall 2009.
  4. Applicant must have indicated an interest in one of the following majors: English, Literature

Deadline: October 31, 2008

Required Material: A 250 to 350 word response to the following question: “What has influenced your decision to pursue a career in English?”

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

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Endowment Spending Transparency Advocated in Senate Finance Committee Hearing

September 9, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

In a hearing yesterday, Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa suggested that he would back off from his proposal of mandating that colleges and universities spend five percent of their endowments on financial aid, provided schools continue to voluntarily increase grant and scholarship awards to students as many have been doing this year.

This is the latest development in a series of events that began unfolding when Congress began looking into the endowment spending of several of the country's wealthiest universities earlier this year.  Legislation to mandate increased endowment spending has since been proposed and withdrawn, as several schools with large endowments began offering significantly larger financial aid packages to their students.

The panel, which was made up of representatives of several universities and the Senate Finance Committee also discussed the rising cost of college education, what schools and lawmakers can and should do in the face of the issue, and the importance of flexibility in endowment spending.  Lawmakers and educators are both concerned about the increasing burden of student loan debt on American students, but colleges are also concerned about being forced to spend more than they can afford to assist students with their tuition payments.

Primary among their concerns, though, was an increase in transparency of university endowments and spending habits.  Colleges were more willing to agree to making information about their endowments and spending available to the public, as opposed to accepting a mandate for how much they are required to spend on student financial aid each year.  Grassley also introduced a plan to make colleges fill out a Form 990, the tax form all nonprofits file, using a version of the form similar to the one designed for hospitals.

While the Senate Finance Committee has moved away from requiring colleges to devote a substantial portion of endowment spending to helping students pay for school, Sen. Grassley's words seem to suggest that if schools don't keep up their efforts to make attending college more affordable for their students, Congress may yet decide to intervene.

Hopefully, what this will mean for students is a continued increase in campus-based aid programs, such as scholarship opportunities and grants and fellowships.  At the very least, it looks like it may be getting even easier to compare information about spending habits of various schools in your college search, being able to ultimately arrive at a better determination of which schools are most likely to want to help you afford to attend.

Inside Higher Ed has more complete coverage of the hearing available here.

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