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by Emily

While many stories right now are focusing on financial aid programs finding themselves strapped for cash to award an increased of needy applicants, this is not universally the case. Data published by The Chronicle of Higher Education shows that two federal grant programs that were added in 2006 still have more awards than applicants.  The Academic Competitiveness Grant (ACG) and Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) Grant have gained some participation, but still they're still falling short of enrollment goals.

Both grants are intended to supplement Federal Pell Grants for students who are both academically talented and financially needy. The ACG is a grant of $750 to $1,300 for college freshmen and sophomores who have completed a rigorous high school curriculum and excelled academically, while the SMART Grant is an award of up to $4,000 per year designed to support college juniors and seniors who are enrolled in a science, math, engineering, technology, or critically needed language program.  Approximately 465,000 students received the ACG and SMART grants in the 2007-2008 academic year, up 95,000 from the first year they were offered.

In order to attract more applicants and meet their goal of doubling participation by the 2011-2012 academic year, the department is pushing financial aid administrators to become more aware of award criteria and to make sure the grants are being fully awarded.  In addition, requirements have also been loosened and students enrolled in eligible five-year programs will be able to receive a SMART grant in their fifth year of school beginning in July.


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by Emily

With all the talk about spending and stimulus legislation and bailouts, it can be easy to lose track of what benefits taxpayers can actually expect to receive. Most likely, everyone knows that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, perhaps better known as “the stimulus,” will create jobs through funding “shovel-ready” projects and will put a little extra in paychecks through a tax rebate that will take effect this summer.  You probably also know that there’s also financial aid in there for education, but you may not be sure exactly what.

Frankly, so much federal legislation and talk of change has been floating around in the last two years that anyone who last paid a tuition bill as recently as 2007 probably doesn’t even recognize financial aid in 2009.  To help, we’ve prepared a breakdown of where student financial aid stands currently.

Pell Grants. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act increased the maximum Federal Pell Grant award from $4,731 for 2008-2009 to $5,350 for 2009-2010.  The maximum Pell award will go up again in 2010-2011 to $5,500 under this legislation.

The income threshold to qualify for federal grant programs also increased.  Now students with an expected family contribution (a number determined by completing the FAFSA) of up to $4,671 (up from $4,041 this year) can qualify for Pell grants.  They will not receive the whole award, but even the minimum award has increased—from $400 for full-time students in 2007-2008 to $976 for the same group in 2009-2010, due in part to the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, which increased all Pell awards by $490.

Students qualifying for Federal Pell Grants can also pick up additional college funding through Academic Competitiveness Grants or SMART grants, which include Pell eligibility in their criteria.  Many non-federal college scholarships and grants also use Pell eligibility to determine awards, so the newly Pell-eligible will definitely want to do a scholarship search to see what’s out there.

Work-Study. More students will also see “federal work-study” on their financial aid award letter in 2009-2010 thanks to the economic stimulus legislation.  More money is available to work-study programs that allow students to get a part-time job on (or occasionally off) campus and count the income as financial aid.  Work-study programs provide great job opportunities for student workers, and since the money is given in the form of a paycheck, students can use these funds to pay their tuition bills or to cover living expenses.

Tax Benefits. One of the biggest perks of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is the creation of the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which replaces the Hope Credit.  The tax benefits under Hope only went up to $1,800 and only could be taken for two years.  The American Opportunity Tax Credit can be used for four years, can fund up to $2,500 of college costs (100% of the first $2,000 plus 25% of the next $2,000, for a total of $2,500), and up to 40% is refundable, so people who don’t pay as much in taxes as they would qualify to receive in the credit can still get something.

Additionally, the income level at which the American Opportunity Tax Credit phases out is higher than the Hope credit, allowing individuals with incomes of up to $90,000 and married couples with incomes of up to $180,000 to take it.

Families will be able to start taking advantage of the American Opportunity Tax Credit on their 2009 taxes.

Other Benefits. Much more is included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  For example, students with 529 savings plans can now use that money to purchase a computer for school.  Additionally, states will receive billions of dollars over the next two years, with a portion of the money devoted specifically to funding projects at public institutions of higher education, as well preventing or reversing massive reductions in state education spending.

While student loans stayed the same in the stimulus, they did receive a boost in the fall through the continuation of the Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act, as well as other recent legislation, including some new aid to lenders.

If you’d like to read more about how recent legislation has affected paying for college, our blog archives feature breakdowns of the 2007 College Cost Reduction Act, the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act, the 2008 Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act, the 2008 GI Bill, and more examples of what's going on with college in Congress.


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by Emily

The omnibus spending bill passed by the House of Representatives in February was approved by the Senate last night, and is expected to be signed by President Obama this week.  The bill includes more funding for Federal Pell Grants, fixing the maximum award at $5,350 for 2009-2010, a number that's already been widely publicized.

Other student financial aid programs also receive a funding boost for the current fiscal year, including the Federal Perkins Loan cancellation program and several federal scholarship and fellowship programs.  These increases aren't necessarily tied to larger award amounts, however.  Federal Work-Study, which received a boost in the stimulus bill, will see the increase put into effect in the 2009-2010 fiscal year under the omnibus legislation.

Funding was held steady for SEOG, another federal grant program, as well as new Federal Perkins Loans.  ACG and SMART grants actually saw a decrease in funding--now these programs have funding equal to the amounts they award, but no longer have large, unawarded funding surpluses.  The surplus money from these programs has been redirected towards Pell Grants.

The passage of this bill, which should represent pretty much the final word on education spending for the current fiscal year, comes just in time for colleges to begin sending out financial aid award notices to students who have completed the FAFSA.  If you still have your fingers crossed for a magic bullet for college costs, it's still not too late to kick your scholarship search into high gear and begin looking at ways to pay for school beyond federal aid.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Whether it's about a little cross-promotion or getting students' hands on the latest technologies out there, Seton Hill University will join a handful of other colleges across the country in offering students the iPad, Apple's newest tablet computer.

The school will begin distributing the iPad to its 2,100 students this fall; every full-time student is eligible to receive one. (Often, similar offerings are limited to incoming freshmen.) According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the effort is part of the school's Griffin Technology Advantage program, which will expand hybrid and fully online course offerings at the college. The program does come at a cost. Students will see an additional $500 fee tacked on to their tuition and fee bills to cover a wireless campus. The school will absorb the costs of the iPads themselves.

Many schools currently offer their students laptops and computers to supplement course curricula or level the playing field for those who come onto their campuses unable to afford new technology. At Seton Hill, incoming freshmen also receive 13-inch MacBooks, with the option to request an opt-in to the program for sophomores, juniors, and seniors. George Fox University is getting on the iPad bandwagon as well, offering incoming freshmen the choice between the tablet and a MacBook. That school has been offering students computers - as part of their tuition - for the last 20 years. Duke University offered incoming students iPods between 2004 and 2006; Oklahoma Christian University has been offering students Apple laptop computers and iPhones or an iPod Touch since 2008; Abilene Christian University has been offering students iPhones since 2008 as well.

Technology on college campuses is here to stay, despite a persistent technology gap - or the perception of a technology gap - on some college campuses. Social networking in particular has become more common in college coursework. Students in a journalism course at Depaul University, for example, have been using Twitter as a research tool and learning how to use the site to supplement their reporting techniques. At Harper College, a one-time course there showed students how to use Facebook and Twitter from a business perspective.

What kinds of technology tools are being used at your college? Does your school offer laptops, desktops, or other technologies as part of your college experience?


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