September 24, 2009
The global economic recession of 2008-2009 has had an impact on seemingly every aspect of life, especially large expenses like college tuition. There has been much speculation about the economy's effect on college financial aid, and as the fall semester gets underway at colleges across the nation, information is starting to emerge that helps paint a picture of paying for school in a recession. So far, the results are mixed.
While a poll by Gallup and Sallie Mae showed fewer students borrowing for college this year, a survey conducted by NASFAA, the National Association of Financial Aid Administrators, shows more students applying for and receiving federal student financial aid this year than last year. Additional data from the Department of Education also backs this up, showing 25 percent more borrowing in federal student loan programs this year.
The NASFAA survey of nearly 500 financial aid offices shows that in comparison to the same time last year, 61 percent of colleges and universities are seeing an increase of 10 percent or more in financial aid applications, with 63 percent of institutions also seeing a significant increase in Pell Grant awards this year. Only 8 percent of institutions saw no increase in aid applications, with only 5 percent reporting no increase in Pell awards. Also, despite 65 percent of schools seeing an increase in financial aid appeals by 10 percent or more, 51 percent saw an increase of 10 percent or more in the number of students with unmet financial need.
Additionally, the majority of colleges have increased institutional aid (such as scholarships and grants), with 74 percent of four-year colleges and universities offering some increase in aid. Community colleges were the majority of institutions not increasing aid, with many citing a lack of available funding as the reason for this decision.
Many of the changes found by NASFAA and the Department of Education can be attributed to the federal response to the economic downturn. The increased borrowing is most likely due to the increases in loan limits, with larger unsubsidized Stafford loans being made available to both undergraduate and graduate students in the last two years. Financial aid administrators speculate that the increased aid awards are likely due to a combination of the increasing unemployment rate, changes in rules for adjusting financial aid awards, and nationwide awareness campaigns to let those collecting unemployment benefits know they are eligible for increased financial aid for college.
September 29, 2009
Student veterans still waiting on their financial aid this fall have finally gotten a bit of relief from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA announced Friday that due to delays in processing requests for veterans' education benefits under the new post-9/11 GI Bill, they will be issuing emergency checks of up to $3,000 available to students whose benefits are still pending. These advances will be available through regional VA offices starting October 2, and students will need to bring a photo ID, a class schedule, and a certificate of eligibility to receive them. The emergency funds will come out of future benefits checks due to the students.
The massive backlog at the VA office first began to make headlines in August and early September when it was revealed that the VA had made it through only a tiny segment of pending benefits requests. The VA has hired additional staff and ramped up processing since then and anticipates dispensing with the backlog entirely by November 1. However, as the weeks wore on, a clamor has been growing among veterans and the press as students went days, then weeks, and now potentially months without receiving payments for tuition and fees or, more importantly, monthly stipends that allow them to pay for living expenses while attending college.
Part of the delay is due to the massive popularity of the new benefits, with requests simply overwhelming the capacities of the VA office, especially since implementing new rules and procedures can also slow down processing. In addition, the procedures themselves make speedy processing difficult. The VA cannot issue benefits checks until schools have confirmed students' enrollment and tuition charges, which in some cases didn't take place until late summer. Between back and forth correspondence with schools and veterans, and the manual labor involved in processing each claim, a backlog built up quickly and veterans wound up having to borrow money or use credit cards to pay for rent, books, and other expenses.
Colleges have been working with veteran students to minimize the impact of delays, accepting late tuition payments without dropping students from their classes, allowing students to charge books to their bursar accounts, and issuing emergency loans where possible. Between schools' efforts and the new emergency aid through the VA, most student veterans should be able to make it through the next month until they--hopefully--begin receiving regular benefits checks.
September 30, 2009
Financial aid programs that are simple and transparent are most effective for low-income students when it comes to not only getting those students to apply for the aid, but getting them enrolled in college at all, according to a scholarly paper released this week.
In a review of more than a dozen studies looking at how to make college more affordable and attainable to the neediest students, the paper "Into College, Out of Poverty? Policies to Increase the Postsecondary Attainment of the Poor" from the National Bureau of Economic Research looked at the effectiveness of a variety of programs, including popular federal and private scholarships, Pell Grants and subsidized student loans. The paper concluded that the easier it is for students to apply, the more likely they will be to apply, and the more likely they'll be going to college as they wouldn't have the funding to do so without applying.
The information that students are intimidated by paperwork and financial aid information isn't surprising. A recent blog post showed the results of a recent study on how professional assistance while filling out the FAFSA boosts the number of students filling out the financial aid application and receiving generous funding. What was more surprising this time around was that certain programs lauded for their assistance of low-income students could be doing better, according to the paper.
An article in Inside Higher Ed today describes the authors' position on the Pell Grant in particular. While the program is effective in targeting low-income students who may not have had the opportunity to attend college otherwise, the amount of paperwork required to receive an award makes the program not as accessible as it could - and should - be. A piece of a recent bill passed in the House and now awaiting Senate action (the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009) would simplify the financial aid application process and potentially make low-income students more comfortable with the process.
The paper also concluded that programs tied to academic performance and that have a broad base when it comes to who can apply - even if the awards are not specifically tied to a student's financial need - are more desirable to low-income students. Why would the neediest students want to compete against a larger pool of applicants for merit-based scholarships? Perhaps the applications for these awards are less time-consuming or easier to manage. Inside Higher Ed gives the example of Georgia's HOPE program, which awards free public tuition to any student with a 3.0 GPA in high school.
The paper was written by David Deming of Harvard University and Susan Dynarski of the University of Michigan, with support from the Robin Hood Foundation. The Robin Hood Foundation is preparing to release a book on the topic: Targeting Investments in Children: Fighting Poverty When Resources are Limited. For more information on financial aid application strategies, including tips on filling out the FAFSA, browse through our site so that you're prepared when it's time to find money for college.
Colorado's CollegeInvest agency, an organization in charge of state loan forgiveness and scholarship programs, is facing criticism and increased scrutiny from the state's legislature after an audit revealed conflicts of interest and a surprisingly low number of scholarship awards being made by the board. The state legislature will now require the agency to report to them monthly to ensure proper oversight of the state's scholarship and student loan funds.
The audit found that the CollegeInvest Early Achievers Scholarship, a fund that awards high-achieving high school students with college financial aid, had only given out a tiny fraction of the awards it was expected to since it was established in 2005. Students opt into the scholarship program as 7th, 8th or 9th graders and pledge to take pre-college coursework in high school and maintain a GPA of 2.5 or better. The Colorado legislature estimated that the scholarship fund would award about $3.8 million in scholarships per year, but awarded only $91,000 this year. A volunteerism scholarship program and a student loan forgiveness programs managed by CollegeInvest also fell significantly short of goals and projections.
Meanwhile, the fund incurred over $12 million in administrative expenses beyond salaries and benefits for its employees. Reports on the audit note that the program has spent $10 on administrative costs for every $1 in scholarships awarded. The audit also found conflicts of interest with the board awarding funding to other organizations they were connected to and giving out large payments to financial advisors.
CollegeInvest officials say that the program is off to a slow start and that potential conflicts of interest were disclosed and didn't affect board decisions. For now, the state legislature has just asked for increased oversight of the program. But for Colorado students who were expecting to benefit from academic scholarships, community service scholarships, or loan forgiveness programs for which money is in place but funds aren't being awarded in large amounts, any change in these programs cannot come soon enough.
June 2, 2008
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Affording a college education is becoming increasingly difficult, but help is available. Students who demonstrate financial need can look to numerous sources for assistance in paying for tuition and living expenses. Even those who do not demonstrate exceptional merit can qualify. Below is a list of financial aid resources students may be eligible to receive based on financial need. Additional need-based awards may be found by conducting a free college scholarship search.
Federal Grants The Federal Student Aid office oversees programs that comprise the nation’s largest source of student aid. Each year, billions in aid are awarded to college students across the country. The best of these, federal grants, do not have to be repaid. Students can look to federally-run need-based grants such as the Pell and the FSEOG to help pay for college expenses. Grants that are based on both merit and financial need—the SMART and the Academic Competitiveness Grant—are also a good option.
Federal LoansThough less attractive than grants, federal loans tend to have lower interest rates and better, more flexible, repayment options than private loans. This holds particularly true for need-based subsidized Stafford Loans and need-based Perkins Loans. Students interested in taking out a federal loan will first have to submit a FAFSA.
Sallie Mae Scholarships The Sallie Mae Fund is one of the largest sources of non-federal college aid. All awards offered by the organization have a need-based component. Since 2001, the Sallie Mae Fund has given away $12.7 million in scholarships to more than 5,000 college students.
College Scholarships Students may be eligible for need-based aid offered by their college or university. Elite colleges such as Harvard, Northwestern and Stanford have been particularly gracious with their awards—Harvard students whose parents make less than $60,00 do not have to pay for tuition, room and board or expenses—but others are following in their footsteps.
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