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by Scholarships.com Staff

Yesterday, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announced that they had reached a settlement with the College Board regarding the preferred lender list controversy that has been unfolding since early 2007.  The investigation revealed that the College Board had been offering discounts on its products to college financial aid offices that agreed to add their student loan service to a preferred lender list.  Discounts of more than 20 percent off the College Board's proprietary software were given in exchange for placement on preferred lender lists.  The College Board pulled out of private loans in 2007, but the investigations continued, culminating in yesterday's settlement, the latest of several with private student lenders.

 The College Board has agreed to adhere to a code of conduct if it ever returns to the private lending market.  The organization will be required to put $675,000 towards developing tools to help students and financial aid offices compare student loan offers.  The College Board will also be required to distribute its new student loan calcualtors and "requests for proposals" (the forms that will allow for comparison among student loans) freely to schools for the next two financial aid cycles. 

This news came as the Career College Assocation, an organization of private career-training institution administrators, released the results of a survey indicating the difficulty that students at two year, for-profit schools currently face finding money for college.  More students are registering but not attending classes, and having trouble finding a private loan without a cosigner.  The majority of schools report students needing to change lenders or facing higher interest rates.  Some students are unable to procure a private loan at all, while others are contending with delayed loan disbursements.  A number of these colleges have stepped in to offer institutional student loans, ranging from less than $1,000 to over $10,000, to students who are unable to meet the gap between their federal student financial aid and their cost of attendance.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

Federal student loans aren't the only form of student borrowing that may soon undergo a legislative makeover. As Congress debates the creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Agency, advocacy groups are continuing to push for inclusion of rules that would give the agency more oversight of student loans.

The Consumer Financial Protection Agency would already oversee other kinds of lending, such as credit cards and student loans. However, there's growing debate over how extensive the agency's student loan oversight should be, specifically regarding loans that some colleges make directly to their students. A House amendment to specifically include these loans under the agency's purview was rejected by the Financial Services Committee, but is expected to be revisited as the House prepares to take up a floor vote on the bill. The Senate version of the bill, meanwhile, does authorize the agency to supervise loans made by colleges to their students.

The House version initially excluded loans schools make to their students because many colleges make small, short-term, "emergency" loans to their students to help them pay bills while they secure other forms of funding. Career colleges, on the other hand, have begun lending large sums to their students, often with terms that are less favorable than many private loans. These loans typically have a high default rate and can burden students with difficult payments, as interest rates can easily reach 18 percent and the schools may have less forgiving repayment processes than traditional lenders. This has student advocates concerned, especially in light of recent economic events.

Colleges have been increasingly encouraged to act as lenders to their students in the face of the economic recession and the preceding credit crunch. As it became harder for students to obtain sufficient student loans from banks and other traditional lenders, schools began to step in to close the gap. This included for-profit career colleges lending significant portions of the cost of tuition to their students. The latter category of loan is increasingly widespread, with many of the largest career colleges reporting plans to lend out tens of millions of dollars directly to their students next year.

In addition to being a way to enroll students who wouldn't otherwise be able to secure funding, these direct-to-student loans are also ways for for-profit colleges to get around the "90/10" rule that states that no more than 90 percent of a for-profit college's revenue can come from federal student financial aid. By charging more in tuition but giving more in loans, colleges can get around this requirement, even as more of their students qualify for federal aid.

This isn't the only career college practice that's receiving criticism at the federal level. The Department of Education has been investigating recruiting practices at for-profit colleges and recently issued several proposed rules in its negotiated rule-making process with career colleges. The proposed changes would do more to ensure that colleges aren't giving incentive pay to recruiters and that students who are being enrolled are able to adequately benefit from a degree.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

As Congress continues to puzzle out questions of student loans and consumer protection, new information released today suggests that young adults attempting to repay their student loans may be having even more trouble than previously thought.

As a condition of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, the US Department of Education has started tracking three-year instead of two-year default rates for federal student loans. The first set of data was released today and the numbers are pretty shocking: the three-year cohort default rates are nearly twice as high as the two-year rates overall--11.8 percent compared to 6.7 percent.

Default is defined as failure to make payments on a student loan according to the terms of the master promissory note the borrower signed, and federal student loans are considered in default only after nine months of missed payments. This means that 12 percent of students who started repaying their loans in 2006 had stopped making payments for 270 days or more by September 2009.

The difference between two-year and three-year default rates was most dramatic at for-profit colleges, rising from 11% to 21.2%. For-profit colleges have the highest default rates in both two-year and three-year measures, and also make up the largest proportion of institutions that may lose the ability to distribute federal student financial aid in 2014, when the rule changes associated with the new three-year default rate calculations go into place.

Colleges will become ineligible to participate in federal student aid programs if their cohort default rates are above 30 percent (currently 25 percent) for three consecutive years, or if they go over 40 percent any one year. Inside Higher Ed has published a list of institutions whose three-year cohort default rate is over 30 percent this year-in addition to a number of for-profit colleges, several community colleges have also made the list.

In addition to this information's implications for colleges, it also means that default on federal student loans is even more common than previously assumed. More than 1 in 10 students currently default on a loan within three years, and it's possible that a significant percentage of students may default on their loans after more time has passed. If you're planning to borrow to pay for college, do so wisely. You may want to make sure that you only take out an amount that you can pay back in a worst-case employment scenario. It's not too late to start your scholarship search for next year (or even this year) to help cut down on the amount you have to borrow, as well.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

Students who are interested in applying for private loans may soon see the process changing. The House of Representatives passed consumer protection legislation last week that would further regulate private student loans, ensuring that students interested in borrowing them are aware of rates, federal alternatives, and borrowing limits at their school.

The bill moves to further regulate Wall Street in the wake of the credit crisis and ensuing economic recession, and also creates a consumer financial protection agency that's responsible for overseeing consumer credit such as credit cards, mortgages, and other bank loans. An amendment introduced by Democratic Representative Jared Polis of Colorado ensures that private loans to students are also included under this umbrella, and sets up additional rules that lenders and colleges must follow in issuing and certifying private loans.

Under this legislation, all private loans will have to be certified by a student's college, verifying the student's enrollment and the amount he or she can borrow. Before a school can certify a private loan, it must also inform the borrower of the availability of federal student financial aid. This builds on rules that will go into effect in February that state that students must be informed of interest rates and repayment terms up front by banks, and must certify that they have been informed of federal student loan options.

Effectively, it puts an end to direct-to-student private loans, which students can borrow without even informing the financial aid office, and which can be taken out for more than the student's cost of attendance for the academic year. With rising student loan default rates, risky loans like these have increasingly come under fire. These loans can be a quick way for students to find themselves in excess debt, as they make it easy for students to borrow more than they need to pay for school without having to investigate alternatives first.

The bill still needs to pass the Senate and be signed by the President before it can be enacted. Whether the Senate introduces language similar to the Polis Amendment remains to be seen, as it's unlikely financial legislation will be debate until after they finish with healthcare.


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No Need to Wait - Start Your Scholarship Search NOW!

by Shari Williams

I am your average student. I got decent grades in high school, applied to college, got accepted to college, and paid for my education with multiple student loans. I have taken classes I loved (and didn’t love), been involved in extracurricular activities and clubs, and have truly grown as a person during my time in college. Unfortunately, I didn’t receive prestigious grants or scholarships to limit the debt I’ll surely incur after graduation.

There are many college students who are in the same boat...so what can we do? How can we afford the education we deserve? How can we make sure we have enough funds for books and food? How can we buy those super trendy shoes Kim Kardashian was just spotted wearing when we have loan payments looming? Okay, maybe the last question isn't as important but if you want to avoid student loan debt, start searching for scholarships.

And don’t just search – search early! There are plenty of scholarships out there and the more you apply to, the better your chances are of winning one. All awards are different but many scholarship providers begin their application processes at the beginning of the fall semester so start looking now to avoid missing important deadlines. I learned this the hard way: I found lots of perfect scholarships...after the deadlines had passed.

Whether you’re still in high school or a super senior in college, do me – and yourself! – a huge favor: Make scholarships a priority. You can do this easily by creating a Scholarships.com account; not only will you have access to an entire database of awards but you’ll also receive regular email reminders about new awards and due dates. With the college costs showing no signs of decreasing, every penny counts – just make sure they come without interest if you can!

Shari Williams is a junior at Towson University with a double major in deaf studies and broadcast journalism and a minor in entertainment, media and film. With experience in public relations, a love for music and a passion for acting, she longs to be a jack of all trades. A Baltimore native, Shari is an avid traveler and opportunity seeker. She hopes to become the next face seen on the morning news or the voice heard over the radio.


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When Choosing a College, Research Early and Often

by Abby Egan

I started looking for colleges in my junior year of high school because I was so unsure about what I wanted. Deciding on a college was a scary thought to me because I was under the impression that I was going to be stuck at whichever school I chose for four whole years. So to ease my ever-increasing stress levels, I visited my dream school (MCLA) almost seven times before accepting to attend for the fall of 2011.

I jumped at every opportunity to get to know my top choice better and better: I visited on long weekends with my parents, signed up for multicultural nights and participated in overnight programs bussed from Boston. I took the drive to MCLA whenever I needed to talk to the Bursar about bills or the financial aid office about student loans. Though it was a long ride, I got on a first-name basis with the librarian and a handful of school officials, putting faces to names and breaking down that wall between being strangers and being acquaintances.

I took the time to really determine whether I wanted to spend the next four years at MCLA. Though my parents researched facts online and talked on the phone with MCLA officials, I made sure to do my own research as well. The bottom line was that I was attending MCLA, not my parents, so I made sure everyone I encountered at the school I spoke to knew me and not just the me my parents spoke about.

I knew I wanted to attend MCLA after my first visit but I’m glad I took the time to get to know the institution a little bit better. It made me feel more prepared for my first semester of freshman year but even if you visit 100 times, you might not know if your school is the one for you until you immerse yourself in the community. If for whatever reason you don’t feel it’s right, don’t panic: You can always transfer. Deciding on a college isn’t the end all be all – there’s always room for change – but you just have to find what’s right for you.

Abby Egan is currently a junior at MCLA in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, where she is an English Communications major with a concentration in writing and a minor in philosophy. Abby hopes to find work at a publishing company after college and someday publish some of her own work. In her spare time, Abby likes to drink copious amounts of coffee, spend all her money on adorable shoes and blog into the wee hours of the night.


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Popping the Bubble: How to Keep Up on Current Events in College

by Mary Steffenhagen

The crisis in Syria! The Bradley Manning sentencing! The fracking debate! Yet another random act of violence!

The media bombards us with information and news every second of every day – a sensory overload of grim stories and political biases. It's overwhelming but college can become a sort of bubble, a relaxing retreat from the cares of the outside world. You don’t see the news unless you turn on your own TV or radio or follow a news site or newspaper. With all the other fun things to do, who’s got time to be depressed and bored by other people’s problems?

It’s incredibly easy to feel that what you see on CNN doesn’t affect you – a college student in America – but it does. You may not live in a small village in the Middle East but actions cause ripples and what happens across the globe may, in any small way, touch your life. Some events will affect you directly. For example, President Obama recently signed a bill to restore lower interest rates on student loans: This directly affects you and me, who will now be paying a 3.4 percent interest rate on our loans as opposed to the previous 6.8 percent.

Current events are nearly always incendiary topics as well. You will encounter a diverse range of people in college with a diverse range of ideologies...and a shrug and a “Whatever, I don’t really care about that” won’t get you off the hook in discussions anymore. It’s important to know where you stand and even more important to do your research, so as not to form a hasty assumption. First off, it will help you not to look like a buffoon or needlessly offend others and secondly, being able to form and articulate a well-thought argument is an invaluable skill!

Lastly, being cognizant of “the outside world” is an important development in the whole messy process of becoming an adult. Forming opinions, arguments and worldviews – and having them challenged – is a necessary part of life...especially in an environment such as college, where it’s okay to make mistakes and learn from them. So don’t let college become a bubble and cut you off from the vital circulation of ideas and news. Get (and stay) informed!

Mary Steffenhagen is a junior at Concordia University of Wisconsin who is majoring in English with a minor in business. She hopes to break into the publishing field after graduation, writing and editing to promote the spread of reliable information and quality literature; she is driven to use her skills to make a positive impact wherever she is placed. Mary spends much of her time making and drinking coffee, biking and reading dusty old books. In an alternate universe, she would be a glassblower.


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