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Need Merit Aid? Apply Here!

August 10, 2011

Need Merit Aid? Apply Here!

by Alexis Mattera

A few months back, we wrote about helpful tips on maximizing merit aid, or aid based on a student’s attributes like academics, athletics and extracurriculars. For college applicants who aren’t deemed financially needy in terms of their FAFSA or EFC, merit aid can make a huge difference in the schools they can realistically afford to attend. Students and families seeking this extra financial aid boost should consider researching schools more likely to dispense merit-based awards but with so many colleges and universities in the U.S., which ones are the best financial bets?

Help has arrived in the form of U.S. News, which has compiled a top 10 list of schools that awarded the highest percentage of merit-based funding to non-needy students during the 2009-10 academic year (the stats do not include financially needy students who were given merit aid or students who received athletic scholarships or other tuition breaks). Take a look:

High school students, does this data have you looking at these schools in a new light? Current college students attending one of the schools listed above, did merit aid make the difference as to whether or not you enrolled?

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College Costs Continue to Outpace Savings

August 24, 2011

College Costs Continue to Outpace Savings

by Alexis Mattera

There are lots of ways students and their parents can pay for college – at Scholarships.com, we’re familiar with nearly 3 million options – and many begin socking away funds early on. As admirable as this timely planning is, a new study shows it won’t come close to covering the ever-rising cost of higher education.

Boston-based Fidelity Investments has revealed that while 67 percent of parents surveyed have put money into some sort of college fund this year, current and expected savings project the typical American family will only be able to pay for 16 percent of college costs when the time comes. Why? Many factors contribute, like the less-than-stellar economy and existing student loan payments (more than half of parents with children under five still have outstanding balances) but perhaps the hardest-hitting element is the colleges' steep price tags: Over the past five years alone, college costs have jumped 26 percent.

This news may sound bleak but families are still finding ways to afford school without going into debt...or having their children graduate with a mountain of it. More parents are asking their kids to work part-time, commute to save on room and board, opt for state schools over private ones and take additional credits - all to keep costs in check. These are all excellent options to defray ballooning education costs but don’t forget scholarships and grants – aka free money for college! Just like saving, it’s important to start searching for scholarships early and often. No time’s better than the present – complete a free scholarship search today!

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What National University is the Best Value?

U.S. News Reveals Sneak Peek at Latest List

September 8, 2011

What National University is the Best Value?

by Alexis Mattera

With college costs at an all-time high, the likelihood of college applicants and their parents selecting the school offering the most financial assistance is pretty high. But what national schools provide the highest quality education for the lowest price? Just ask the experts at U.S. News.

Though the official ordered list will not be revealed until next week, U.S. News published a sneak peek of its top 10 best value schools in the National Universities category today. (Keep in mind the schools are only listed in alphabetical order at this point.)

Is your dream school represented? Excellent! What school do you think will be named the best value and why?

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Financial Aid Change Has Many UB Students Struggling

September 19, 2011

Financial Aid Change Has Many UB Students Struggling

by Alexis Mattera

The fall semester is in full swing at universities around the country and college students are trying to stretch their funds for tuition, books, housing and other college costs as far as they can go. It’s never easy but students at the University at Buffalo are having a more difficult time than usual.

In the past, UB sent out financial aid to coincide with the start of the academic year but pushed disbursement for roughly 18,000 students back three weeks this year – a 21-day difference that left many UB students unable to buy books, pay rent or pay for classes. Though UB’s Vice Provost A. Scott Weber said the change was made to “protect students” by making sure they would receive the exact amount of money they are eligible for, the student newspaper previously quoted interim financial aid director Jennifer Pollard as stating the policy change was a response to fraudulent activities by students.

UB officials did admit they should have done a better job getting the word out about the financial aid change but students and educators alike are still not happy: One professor called the situation “chaos in the classroom” and a “stupid disaster” and a graduate student said the ordeal “draws to question some bigger problems with the administration.” (We’re sure these are among the tamer reactions.) Any UB students out there? Has the funding disbursement delay negatively impacted your semester? College students in general, how would you react if this financial aid fiasco happened at your school?

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Federal Mandate Will Standardize High School Graduation Rates

December 14, 2011

Federal Mandate Will Standardize High School Graduation Rates

by Alexis Mattera

High school graduation rates have been on the rise across the nation but are the numbers of mortarboard-tossing students truly accurate? Experts say a new approach to data calculation will reveal the truth.

A new federal mandate scheduled to take effect next year will standardize graduation rates by calculating the number of students who graduate high school in four years divided by the number of students who entered the school four years prior. This means states will no longer be able to count students who complete special education programs, night school, the GED and virtual high school programs along with those who earn a traditional high school diploma; when these students are removed from the equation, Chris West of Johns Hopkins University's Everyone Graduates Center estimates official national graduation rates will likely decrease between 5 percent and 10 percent.

Parents may be alarmed when they see the numbers fall but the standardization will do far more good than harm: West says it will level the playing field for high schools vying for federal money through the Race to the Top program – funds that will allow these schools to better prepare their students and further increase graduation rates. Do you think the graduation rate standardization will have a positive or negative impact? Is this a change that should have happened a long time ago or was the old way of reporting just fine?

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Pell Maximum Maintained, Eligibility Tightened

December 16, 2011

Pell Maximum Maintained, Eligibility Tightened

by Alexis Mattera

The Federal Pell Grant program as we know it has been in jeopardy in recent years but an agreement reached last night will keep its funding intact. While college students will still receive the maximum award amount per year, the number of eligible recipients is a quite different (and unfortunate) story.

The Chronicle reported congressional leaders agreed on a spending bill for the remainder of the current fiscal year that would increase funds for the National Institutes of Health by 1 percent, thereby maintaining the maximum Pell Grant amount of $5,550. To make this $300 million increase possible, however, eligibility for the award has been restricted. Under the bill, Pell Grant funding will only be available to each student for six years instead of nine, high school diplomas or GEDs will be required (no more ability-to-benefit tests) and the income cap for receiving an "automatic zero" expected family contribution will be lowered from $30,000 to $23,000. The interest subsidy on undergraduate student loans during the six-month grace period after a student graduates would also temporarily end.

Yes, the changes are significant but they are far less severe than an earlier bill which would have lowered the income cap to $15,000 and reduced the amount of income working students could exclude when applying for financial aid – changes that would have negatively impacted thousands of college students, especially those attending community colleges. We want to know what you think about the news. Is there a way to maintain federal funding without decreasing eligibility or do you think this bill is the best option?

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And the Least Indebted Graduates Are...

U.S. News Lists Schools with Lowest Average Debt for 2010 Grads

December 28, 2011

And the Least Indebted Graduates Are...

by Alexis Mattera

If you are a recent college graduate, those student loans you haven’t thought about in four or more years are about to come calling...and collecting. While some students’ debt tallies are quite large, the amounts owed by others are much more manageable.

U.S. News & World Report has reported that the average amount of student loan debt (defined as money loaned to students from colleges, financial institutions and the government, not including parent loans) for a 2010 college graduate was about $25,000 but this number truly varies depending on what school a student calls his or her alma mater: For example, 2010 graduates of Alice Lloyd College have an average total indebtedness of only $3,108 and those from Princeton owe just $4,385, due in large part to more grants, scholarships and work study that do not require repayment. Here are all of the schools that made the top 10 and the average amount of student loan debt 2010 graduates incurred:

Does this information have you reevaluating your college plans or financial aid choices?

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Is College Still Worthwhile?

December 30, 2011

Is College Still Worthwhile?

by Alexis Mattera

There’s been much debate about the true value of a college degree. This isn’t surprising given rising tuition costs and lower employment rates but a new study by a 2011 Trinity College graduate reveals spending the time and money to obtain a college degree is still very much worthwhile.

That graduate – Sarah Millar – came to this conclusion by examining data from government and private sources as well as her own personal experience as a college student. She found that although college costs have climbed an average of 6.4 percent each year since 1981 and annual income has only risen 0.4 percent in that time, the average take-home pay of college graduates is $38,950 versus $21,500 of students who only graduated high school. Unemployment rates of the two groups are also in favor or college degree holders – as of last month, 4.4 percent to 9.6 percent – and earnings of college grads exceed high school grads by more than $1 million over 40 years. Millar does note that all colleges and majors are not created equal, though, as average starting salaries of recent grads in specific fields of study from well-known or prestigious schools are more than those from state universities or smaller private colleges.

Check out more information from the study here then tell us: What do you think of Millar’s findings?

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A Little Loan Goes a Long Way

November 29, 2011

A Little Loan Goes a Long Way

by Alexis Mattera

In recent years, college students have become more cautious about taking out loans to pay for school. There are multiple reasons for this – horror stories from friends or siblings, limited job prospects after graduation and high interest rates have all been cited – and while it’s an admirable goal to graduatefrom college debt-free, educators think this approach could actually hinder students from getting degrees.

According to a recent Associated Press article, students are attempting to limit borrowing by working longer hours, taking fewer credits (and often not enrolling full-time), living at home and attending less selective institutions. While educators are impressed with this level of fiscal responsibility, they are quick to point out that each action above is a risk factor that makes college students less likely to graduate. Borrowing could prevent this, said Deborah Santiago, co-founder and vice president of Excelencia in Education. "If you can take out a little bit of loan you're more likely to complete. If you can go to a more selective institution that gives you more resources and support, you're more likely to complete." How much more likely? Federal data analyzed by Excelencia and the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) in 2008 shows roughly 86 percent of students who borrow for college are able to attend full-time compared to 70 percent of students who don't borrow and roughly 60 percent of full-time students receive a bachelor's degree within eight years compared to 25 percent of part-time students.

What can be done to facilitate this message? Educators believe students need to better understand financial aid, the difference between types of loans, debt management and the returns on various degrees and majors. In addition to searching for scholarships and grants, is borrowing part of your financial aid plan and does this information make you more or less likely to take out a loan?

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Colleges Worry About End of Federal Aid-Based Ability Benefit

March 20, 2012

Colleges Worry About End of Federal Aid-Based Ability Benefit

by Alexis Mattera

It may feel like we’ve skipped winter but federal aid is about to be put on ice for college hopefuls lacking high school diplomas or GEDs.

As of July 1st, newly-enrolled students will no longer be allowed to take an "ability to benefit" test or complete a set amount of credits without aid; instead, college students will be required to have high school diplomas or GEDs in order to receive federal financial aid. How will these students – many of whom are older, seeking training to find a new job, immigrants and students in states like California where the basic adult education budget has been cut – pay for school? College administrators anticipate they will turn to private loans...or give up on their degrees entirely.

David Baime, vice president for government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges, says the change “runs counter to the missions of many of our colleges,” as these schools view enrolling students without high school credentials as a key part of providing access to higher education: There are currently about 836,000 students without high school diplomas or GEDs enrolled at two-year public colleges nationwide and according to a limited 2006-2007 Education Department study, students without high school diplomas and GEDs were ultimately more successful in college and had higher GPAs than their classmates with high school diplomas, even if they failed the "ability to benefit" test. If would-be students have to get a GED before going to college and receive zero financial assistance while they prepare, Baime says many will opt out altogether.

What do you think of the new rule regarding federal aid? Do you think a high school diploma or GED is necessary to succeed in college?

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