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Federal Student Aid

Strategic Plan, Fiscal Years 2011-15

September 30, 2010

Federal Student Aid

by Suada Kolovic

In a new strategic plan, the Education Department’s Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) promises to take on additional responsibilities to improve its outreach to students and “intensify efforts” to reduce fraud and abuse in its programs. The plan is composed of five strategic goals and sets performance targets for each of them for the next five years. One goal calls for identifying students for whom financial assistance can make a difference and reaching out to these students more effectively, while another objective promises to ensure that funding for college will serve the interests of the students first and foremost by ensuring “program integrity.”

As the largest single source of funding for postsecondary education in the United States, FSA distributes almost $130-billion in aid a year and administers a loan portfolio valued at $700-billion. And with bank-based lending programs coming to an end, its portfolio of Direct Loans is expected to grow from four million loans in 2008 to 29 million by 2015. When asked how the transition to direct lending is going, William J. Taggart, the office's chief operating officer, said that 96 percent of colleges are now in the program. (The remaining 4 percent are mostly small vocational schools that typically award fewer than 250 loans a year.) The participation rate is impressive, however, Taggart reports that the organization needs to step up its game when it comes to making this information available to students.

"We have to do a better job of making sure students who are eligible for aid know we're here," Taggart said.

Note: The best indicator of your eligibility for all federal aid is the FAFSA, which is available online to speed up processing and is ready for you to fill out starting Jan. 1 of each year.


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Obama Extends an "Opportunity" to College Students

The American Opportunity Tax Credit, That Is

October 13, 2010

Obama Extends an "Opportunity" to College Students

by Suada Kolovic

The financial aid process can be a daunting one but if you’re planning on attending college any time soon, you should know that there are tons of federal student aid options out there – from Pell Grants to Perkins Loans to FAFSA – but your eligibility to receive aid depends on your level of need and, subsequently, how much aid you are eligible to receive. So, to the folks right in the middle: How does a tax credit sound? The American Opportunity Tax Credit, created in the 2009 economic stimulus bill, expires in 2010, but President Obama has proposed making it permanent, with a price tag of $58 billion over 10 years.

Now what does this mean to you? Because the Opportunity Tax Credit is more generous than its predecessor, the Hope Tax Credit, it provides a credit of up to $2,500 rather than $1,800 and it phases out at a higher income level – $160,000 for married couples filing jointly instead of $100,000. According to a report by the Department of Treasury, it’s also partially refundable so students and families with little or no tax liability can receive up to $1,000 of it as a tax refund. The report comes as lawmakers are debating a bill to extend several expiring tax credits. Recent versions would not extend the American Opportunity Tax Credit, but President Obama hopes lawmakers will reconsider.

"The president obviously feels strongly that this is an important relief for middle-class families," said Gene Sperling, counselor to the Treasury Secretary.


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Unemployed Boston College Law Student Wants a Refund

by Suada Kolovic

Recent college graduates entered one of the worse job markets in history. And while some have opted to stick it out busing tables to pay the debt caused by their college education, a third-year Boston College Law School student decided he wasn’t willing to bear the cost of an education that did not guarantee a job upon completion. In an open letter posted on EagleiOnline — an online student-run newspaper at BC’s law school — the anonymous student made a proposition to the school’s dean: Refund his tuition and he’ll leave school without a degree.

The student explained that the lackluster job market, a massive student loan debt load and his wife's pregnancy were all causing him undue stress. And he went on to say, “This will benefit both of us: on the one hand, I will be free to return to the teaching career I left to come here. I'll be able to provide for my family without the crushing weight of my law school loans. On the other hand, this will help BC Law go up in the rankings, since you will not have to report my unemployment at graduation to US News.”

How did the school respond? Shockingly enough, BC did not meet the student’s request. According to the Boston Herald, the law school said in a statement that while it is "deeply concerned" about its students' job prospects no institution of higher education can guarantee a job after graduation. "What we can do is provide the best education possible, and work together to provide as many career opportunities as possible," the statement said.

What do you think? Should tuition be conditional?


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by Kevin Ladd

Since around the middle of the twentieth century, when more and more women began to seek careers, American culture, particularly in the workplace, has had to evolve and expand to accommodate this change. While it once was assumed that practically every employee with children had a spouse and that they (wife) handled all the "family stuff" during the workday and when said employee (husband) was on the road, now allowances for maternity leave, time-off to attend PTA meetings, school plays, etc. had to be made. It seems somewhat ironic that they’ve mostly, if not exclusively, been made with respect to womens' schedules. Apparently it is still assumed, though they are now every bit the career person their spouse is, that women are the ones who must handle all of the aforementioned "family stuff". At least, this appears to be the case on college campuses, according to a recent study.

There are many problems with the apparently common practice of making more allowances for women as parents than are made for men and I only have the time and space to get into a few of them, unfortunately. While this policy was clearly intended as a way to allow women to have the requisite career flexibility to have both children and profession, is this not still sexist? Does it not make an extremely broad generalization about all male/female relationships and the responsibilities and gender-based assignments that were common a century ago? I am sure it gets even more complicated in the case of female/female partnerships and male/male partnerships where children are involved.

Apparently, one of the problems with changing this all-too-common policy is that men generally tend to find it much more difficult to admit to being unhappy with their work/home balance. It seems that, traditionally, it is not nearly as acceptable for men to complain about spending too much time at work and not enough caring for and spending time with their family. There is the older male faculty to consider, for starters. Those who might come from a different generation and whose mother more likely was a homemaker and whose father worked six days a week. Those who would not really understand the plight of their younger male counterpart, and this could discourage a younger man to complain or communicate any sort of displeasure with this policy until he has tenure. Often, men in the employ of a college or university might even try to put off having children until they have achieved this level of career stability, making it easier for them to balance their career schedule and their family schedule with greater confidence and control. Those still trying to get tenure are much less likely to ask for time off for any reason, for fear of doing anything at all that might jeopardize their chances at this desirable, almost necessary, status at a university. It should be noted, too, that this can be much more difficult for a woman to do and is just one more way in which this policy is detrimental to both men and women.

I think it’s time we, as a society, respect and recognize both parents in any given family as responsible for the raising of their children and afford them equal benefits and opportunities not just for employment but of employment. Without either gender having to admit displeasure with the terms of their employment or work/home balance when surveyed, each person should be afforded the option to occasionally tailor their schedule based upon their responsibilities as parents without worrying it might cost them their career.


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Federal Student Loans

November 6, 2007

by Kevin Ladd

Loans don’t incite pleasant feelings in students, in anyone on the borrowing side. It doesn’t help that the media has made it a point to discuss, extensively, what appears to be the newest trend… mortgage loan defaulting. Student loans aren't as large as mortgages, but for a growing number, they are catching up.

Regardless of cost, there are a lot of dedicated students out there, and until the college-financing system undergoes a major overhaul (cross your fingers but don't hold your breath), loans may be inevitable. Before taking out loans, students should complete a FAFSA and conduct a free scholarship search. Those who still need money should apply for federal loans. Only after exhausting government loans should one consider private student loans

As a result of the recently passed College Cost Reduction and Access Act, there will be a decrease in interest rates on federal college student loans. That's great news for students with large financial aid needs, but loan rates have not yet been changed. Even before government rates become less expensive, it is in a student's best interest to see what the government has to offer before looking elsewhere. Below are the federal student loan options available to those in need.

Stafford Loans- Students who are interested in taking out a Stafford Loan (or other types of federal student loans) will need to fill out a FAFSA. The amount that a student can borrow will depend on a student’s year in school as well as on whether the Stafford Loan is subsidized or unsubsidized (only a portion of the amount may be subsidized). Stafford Loans disbursed after July 1, 2006 are fixed at a 6.8 % interest rate, but lower rates are in the works.

  • For the 2007-2008 school year, dependent undergraduate students attending college full time may borrow between $3,500 and $5,500 (borrowing limit increases after each completed year).
  • Independent undergraduates or dependents whose parents were denied a PLUS Loan may borrow between $7,500 and $10,500 (again, freshmen may take out less than seniors).
  • The maximum amount of a professional or graduate student loan is a bit larger—as is graduate tuition. This year, students may borrow up to $20,500, regardless of their year in graduate school.

PLUS Loans- The Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students or PLUS Loan is offered to, as the name suggests, parents of undergraduate students. Recently, the loan has also been made available to graduate school students. PLUS Loan amounts may not exceed the total cost of attendance minus any other financial aid received. If the student’s estimated cost of attendance (amount determined by each school) is $6,000 and the student receives $4,000 in aid, only $2,000 may be borrowed. To take advantage of this loan, students must max out their Stafford Loans, and doing so is in a student’s best interest anyway. PLUS Loans have higher interest rates than Stafford Loans; those disbursed on or after July 1, 2006 are fixed at 7.9% for Direct PLUS Loans and at 8.5% for FFEL PLUS Loans.

Perkins Loans- Although Perkins Loans are made with government money, they are normally classified as campus-based aid because they are administered by schools. Perkins Loans are offered to students with exceptional need, and only a limited amount is available. Once a school runs low on Perkins Loan funds, students will not receive as much (the same holds true for federal-work study opportunities). This is why students are generally advised to submit their FAFSA early. The earlier they apply, the greater their chance of receiving some forms of aid. The loan amount received through the Perkins Loan program depends on the amount a school has, on already-received aid and on the financial needs of the student. Students who qualify can borrow up to $4,000 each year and pay it off at a 5% student loan rate.

Posted Under:

FAFSA , Financial Aid , Student Loans


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by Kevin Ladd

Worrying about the application process is hard enough. When you add tuition costs, necessary savings, and loan interest rates into the equation, the numbers equal a headache. Don’t worry; we’ll give you a hand. Take advantage of the free financial aid calculators provided by Scholarships.com, and take things one day at a time—we’ll crunch the numbers for you.

College Cost Worksheet Calculator

Before accepting college offers, you should know how much an education at your school of choice will cost you. Not everyone has unlimited funds, and assuming that loan payments will take care of themselves after graduation is not the greatest policy. To help you estimate the costs of a college education, we have created a college cost worksheet. Just type in some estimates and find out what you should expect. To search for a college and find the cost estimates by school, you can also use our free college search.

Savings Planner Calculator

To secure a sound financial future, students should search for scholarships and set money aside for college. By using our savings planner calculator, you can find out where you will stand by the time freshman year rolls around. If you are still far behind, you may want to scrooge up, get a head start on scholarship applications and consider a part-time job.

Future College Cost & Savings Calculator

College is expensive, and even those who save are likely to encounter big school costs. Most students will need to make large contributions while attending school. With the help of our Future Cost Savings Calculator, you can estimate just how large your yearly contributions will have to be. We have already taken into account the estimated yearly increases in tuition.

Monthly Loan Payment Calculator

Sometimes loans are unavoidable. If you plan to borrow for an education, you should at least know what to expect when your bill arrives. Having to give up your career of choice in favor (or disfavor) of one that’s less desirable but higher paid can be disappointing. To avoid any problems, figure out how much you can afford to pay each month, and use our calculator to help you do it.


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For Some, "Pay it Forward" A Step Backward

3% Over 24 Years Not a Bargain for All

August 22, 2013

For Some, "Pay it Forward" A Step Backward

by Kevin Ladd

Dreamed-up in Portland Oregon and soon lauded in New Jersey, Washington, Ohio and elsewhere, the "Pay it Forward" plan could cost some folks more than simply taking out loans at 6.8%. With the plan calling for approximately $9B in start-up funds and requiring college grads to pay 3% of their income for the 24 years following graduation, only those making below a certain amount would benefit. Certainly, it would be great in the beginning and sounds easier than securing loans, but anybody looking at the big picture and planning to earn over $55K per year upon graduation should probably consider a more traditional path. As always, we recommend finding as many scholarships as possible to keep student loans to a minimum. Free money is better than either of the aforementioned options!

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Merkley's "Pay it Forward" Guaranteed College Affordability Act

Dem. Senator Jeff Merkley Proposes Income-Based Loan Repayment

August 20, 2013

Merkley's "Pay it Forward" Guaranteed College Affordability Act

by Kevin Ladd

The new student loan bill Senator Merkley (D-Ore.) plans to introduce is a progressive idea intended to battle high loan repayment costs and hopefully restore the middle-class in the United States. The announcement of this proposal came after President Obama signed a student loan bill into law on August 9th. The new loan bill sets interest rates for undergraduate loans to the 10-year Treasury note plus 2.05% with a cap of 8.25%. While some Democrats oppose the bill as they feel Congress shouldn't "profit off the backs of students", it seems widely to be seen as an improvement over the default doubling of rates from 3.4% to a flat 6.8%. Merkley's goal is to make much bolder steps and pursue steps that more favor the middle-class and promote more affordable post-secondary education. As always, any ideas or comments you have are welcome and we will be sure to pass your ideas onto both the President and Senator Merkley!

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College Cost Increases Continue to Outpace Inflation

Community College Tuition & Fees Up 24% More Than Inflation Over Last 5 Years

August 21, 2013

College Cost Increases Continue to Outpace Inflation

by Kevin Ladd

Even community colleges across the country are increasing costs much faster than inflation, causing concern among those attempting to use what most would consider the most accessible of forms of higher education. Even with lower interest rates recently signed into law by President Obama, the costs for just about every aspect of post-secondary education continue to rise. Last year, the average cost to attend an in-state, two-year school was $3,131. That's an increase of nearly 6% over the previous year, larger than all other types of schools.

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by Administrator

More than a year after their controversial ad suggested that financial aid officials were profiting at the expense of student borrowers, MyRichUncle’s in-your-face marketing tactics have again caused an uproar among college officials. The ads in question, ones recently found in The New York Times and USA Today, portray a split head—no brains—with the slogan, “I didn’t use my brain, I went straight to the financial aid office,” reported The Chronicle of Higher Education.

After MyRichUncle's initial ad ran, an investigation into college financial aid offices led to revelations that numerous colleges were receiving money to advertise select student lenders on their official preferred-lender lists. Since then administrators at a number of colleges and universities were forced to resign. Frustrated at the prospect of more accusations and worried that the self-serving actions of a few would come to represent the general view of college representatives, financial aid officials are fuming about the new ads.

To find what MyRichUncle could tell me that financial aid officials couldn’t, I visited the student lender's site. Expecting to see federal student aid definitions or information about college scholarships and grants under their “Financial Aid 101” heading, I instead found that I needed to download the latest flash player to see further results. Information about company loans was, of course, much easier to navigate.


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