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New Report: Tuition and Financial Aid Rise, Private Loans Fall During Recession

October 21, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

On Tuesday, the College Board published the latest installment in its Trends in Higher Education Series, annual reports detailing changes in college costs and student financial aid. These newest reports cover the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 academic years and provide some insight into how economic difficulties have affected paying for college. Despite the recession, tuition continued to rise at a pace comparable to previous years, but financial aid has undergone some changes.

Between 2008-2009 and 2009-2010, tuition increased 6.5% at 4-year public colleges and 4.4% at 4-year private colleges. Tuition and fees for in-state students at four-year state colleges rose from $6,591 to $7,020. Out-of-state tuition and fees at public colleges rose to $18,548, a 6.2 percent increase. Private college tuition and fees rose to $26,273. Total costs of attendance also rose to $19,388 for public colleges (a 5.8% increase) and $39,028 for private colleges (a 4.4% increase). Rising college costs are attributed to declines in state funding and massive endowment losses brought about by the recession.

Despite tuition increases and greater financial difficulties for students and families, total student borrowing dropped by 1% when adjusted for inflation in 2008-2009.  Federal student loan borrowing increased by $11 billion, or 15 percent, to about $84 billion. Most strikingly, there was a 50% drop in private loan volume in the 2008-2009 academic year, as a result of the tightening of credit markets. The 2008-2009 academic year also saw a growth in grant aid (both need-based and merit-based college scholarships and grants). About 2/3 of full-time undergraduates receive grants and the average grant was $5,041. The College Board anticipates that students will receive an estimated $5,400 in grant aid and tax benefits in 2009-2010.

A large portion of grant aid is made up of merit-based awards, like academic scholarships, which worries some analysts who are concerned with the increasing cost of tuition pricing lower income families out of college entirely. While, after adjusting for aid, the average net cost of tuition actually has declined for families over the period covered in these reports, another recent report by Postsecondary Education Opportunity research Tom Mortenson showed that students from the poorest families tended to have the largest amount of unmet financial need. The sharp drop in private loans suggests those families may be less likely to be able to secure funding to cover that unmet need, even if colleges and the federal government have made more aid available this year.

Much of the growth in federal student loans and college grants and scholarships is likely due to the increased amount of aid colleges and the federal government made available to struggling students as a result of the recession. However, much of this emergency aid is intended to be temporary, so these changes may turn out to be anomaly, rather than an overall trend.

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Senator Continues to Push "Three-Year Solution"

October 22, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

As tuition and fees continue to rise and students need more financial aid to complete their college educations, ideas on how to both keep costs for students low and bring schools' budgets under control continue to crop up among lawmakers.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, a former president at the University of Tennessee turned Republican lawmaker, has an editorial on the topic in Newsweek this week, where he compares the three-year degree track to a fuel-efficient car. It would save students money, ease the dependence on federal and campus-based financial aid, and allow students  to move into the working world or to pursue an advanced degree in less time. And it would be up to the students to decide whether to complete their degrees in three years.

Many schools allow students to complete their degrees in three years, but few have official programs set up where students enter college knowing they'll be done in three years. Hartwick College has allowed students to complete their studies in three years for a while, but announced earlier this year a more official academic program for high-performing students that could be completed in three years. Students in that program will save about $43,000 in tuition and fees by forgoing a fourth year. This fall, 16 first-year students and four second-year students entered into the three-year program at Hartwick. Lipscomb University also unveiled a three-year option this year to students willing to attend classes in the summer. The state of Rhode Island has legislation on the table this month that would require all schools in the state to offer a three-year option.

On the other side, Waldorf College will stop offering the three-year programs it had set up as most students and staff preferred a traditional four-year track. Many students want the full four (or however many) years on campus. I still often wish I was back there. Students who have compressed a four-year program into three years have less time for what often makes the college experience memorable - time for friends, social outings and extracurricular activities that make you more well-rounded and able to juggle many aspects of your life at once. Alexander acknowledges possible obstacles in his piece, but maintains that something needs to be done to stay competitive and address an economic fallout that could affect schools for years to come.

Why not leave the choice to the students? What do you think of the opportunity to complete a college degree in three years? It could make sense for students looking at completing advanced degrees in addition to their master's. And the cost-saving aspect of the idea would turn many students on to the idea, especially returning adult students. Let us know whether you're planning on completing a degree in three years, and whether you think all schools should offer a three-year program as an option.

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Professionalism Matters in the Job Search

October 26, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Would you consider yourself professional? Out of all the things you're worried about when it comes to landing a job after college in a difficult economy, worrying about how you come off to employers may not be at the top of your list. But a recent study by York College in Pennsylvania may have you thinking otherwise.

The purpose of the study from the school's Center for Professional Excellence was to find a measure of how professionalism factors into the hiring process, to define "professionalism" when it comes to recent college graduates, and to determine the role colleges should play in developing professionalism among students. The study's findings? Students aren't behaving as professionally as their employers would like them to.

The study surveyed more than 500 human resources professionals and business leaders, and suggests that students need more guidance in college before going out on job interviews. An Inside Higher Education article last week describes the findings as a "gap between employer expectations and student realities." But the article also looks at whether the findings could be partially explained by the trouble an older generation has of defining appropriate behaviors of a younger generation.

So should you worry? It shouldn't come as a surprise that it's tough out there right now. A recent opinion piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education describes the additional obstacles of students entering the job world today - high unemployment rates and the tough decision whether a lower paying job outside of a graduate's interest area is better than no job at all. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for 20- to 24-year-olds is about 15 percent. The National Association of Colleges and Employers claims that just 20 percent of those who graduated this year did so knowing they had a job waiting for them once they received their diplomas. So it probably wouldn't hurt for you to do what you can to stand out at that job interview, and wow those employers who apparently feel that many of the candidates they see exhibit unprofessional behavior.

The study's findings included the following:

  • Personal interaction skills, the ability to communicate and a work ethic that includes being motivated and working on a task until it is complete were included as the top characteristics of the professional employee by employers.
  • The most frequently cited unprofessional traits or behaviors were appearance, which includes attire, tattoos, and piercings, poor communication skills, including poor grammar, and a poor work ethic.
  • More than 37 percent of the respondents reported that less than half of the recent graduates they have hired exhibit professionalism in their first year.
  • Nearly all of the respondents (97.7%) stated that their assessment of how professional an applicant will be on the job has an effect on their hiring decision. Of these respondents, almost three-fourths (71.8 percent) indicated that 50 percent or more of the hiring decision is based on an assessment of the applicant’s professionalism.
  • About 33 percent feel the prevalence of professionalism has eroded over the past five years.

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Fulbright Program Sees Increase in Applicants in Weak Economy

October 30, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

One alternative to the traditional job search has seen a marked increase in applicants over the last year, as recent graduates look for ways to bide their time in a struggling economy that has made the job market even more competitive. According to an article in Inside Higher Education today, the Institute for International Education (IIE), which awards fellowships through the Fulbright Program, received more than 8,500 applications for student Fulbrights for 2010-11. That's an increase of more than 1,000 applications since last year.

The Fulbright Program looks to strengthen relations between Americans and other countries, and gets its funding from an annual appropriation from Congress. There are about 1,500 of the student awards to go around, and those awarded the State Department-sponsored fellowships are able to study, conduct research or teach English in 140 countries. Grants are awarded in all fields and disciplines. While the IIE has been working harder to get the word out on the program, many college administrators think marketing tactics alone wouldn't explain such a significant jump in applicants, especially because the application process for the awards is fairly involved. "Some are putting applying for fellowships into the mix in a way they might not have if the job market were stronger," said Michael Pippenger, Columbia University’s associate dean of fellowship programs, in Inside Higher Ed.

The Fulbright Program isn't the only alternative to employment that's seen an increase in applicants. Teach for America also saw applications rise about 42 percent last year, a record for the program that trains students to teach in low-income communities, and those numbers are only expected to increase this year. The group does say they increased their recruiting efforts, but the current state of the economy may have something to do with more graduates postponing the traditional job search.

Programs that emphasize cultural experiences, volunteerism, or service can also be good resume builders for when the job market picks up and you're ready to venture back out into to search for that perfect position. If you're able to, consider your options, whether you're looking at programs while you're still in school or for post-graduation. And don't forget that there's plenty of funding and free scholarship money out there for you to pursue such opportunities.

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2008 College Enrollment Set New Record

October 30, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Is it feeling crowded on campus? It should be, according to new research. A Pew Research Center report released this week shows that in 2008, colleges experienced record enrollments, and early estimates indicate that 2009 enrollments may break the newly minted records for 2008.

Nearly 40 percent of young adults ages 18-24 were enrolled in college in October 2008, up from the previous record of 38.9 percent set in 2005. About 8 million young adults, or 27.8 percent, were enrolled in four-year colleges, representing a slight increase from 2007. However, community colleges have seen an enrollment boom, with their numbers swelling from 3.1 million students, or 10.9 percent of the young adult population, in 2007 to 3.4 million students, or 11.8 percent of young adults, in 2008.

A large part of the enrollment increase is attributed to the growing size of high school graduating classes, with the nation graduating the most students in 2009. This likely accounts for the growth in numbers overall, but something else may be contributing to the increase in community college enrollment. For that, most people are pointing to the recession, which encouraged students who may not have otherwise attended college to enroll, while pushing other college-bound students to explore less expensive options.

Giving further evidence to this theory is the decline in employment among young adults. In 2008, only 50.4 percent of young people aged 16 to 24 were working, compared to 52.7 percent in 2007. However, while more trouble finding work may have encouraged some students to consider attending college, it also has likely created a problem paying for school for many students. A large number of community college students tend to rely on income from work to pay their tuition, as opposed to applying for financial aid or student loans.

Based on enrollment increases for 2008 and anecdotal evidence of continued enrollment booms in 2009, it appears students are still finding ways to fund their educations. Still, students applying to college for 2010 may want to take note of these numbers and begin the college application process and scholarship search early just in case.

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Nine Out of Ten Parents Agree: Attending College is Important

November 11, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Has the recession had a negative impact on families' view of college? Record college enrollment in 2009 suggests no, and a new survey of parents backs that up, as well. Oppenheimer Funds conducted a survey asking parents of pre-college-age children whether they view college as important for their kids and how they plan to pay for school and recently shared the results in The Chronicle of Higher Education. The survey focused especially on saving for college-not surprising, since Oppenheimer Funds is heavily involved in college savings plans.  The more than 1,000 parents overwhelmingly responded that they view attending college as a must for their children. Eight out of ten say it's very important for their children to earn a college degree, despite barely half of respondents saying their own parents wanted the same for them. An even larger proportion, 90 percent, stated the belief that sending their children to college was an essential part of the "American dream." Hispanic families had an even more positive response, with 95 percent regarding college as essential for their children's success.  Most families still believe that college is within reach for students who want to attend, even after the effects of skyrocketing college costs and the economic downturn. However, more than half believe that it's less accessible than it used to be, and nearly two-thirds expressed concerns about the pace of tuition increases eventually pricing out many families.  In the meantime, the parents surveyed planned largely to pay tuition themselves, often with the aid of scholarship money. While over 60 percent had less than $10,000 tucked into a 529 plan or similar college savings account at the time, 80 percent of parents said they hoped to cover at least half of their children's college costs. Parents also overwhelmingly wanted to avoid debt for their children, with half hoping their kids could take out less than $10,000 in student loans.

But college savings accounts took a sharp downward turn in the recession and while private loan borrowing is down, overall student loan debt has largely been on the rise (the average amount borrowed by college graduates currently sits at over $20,000). Given this, parents of high school students, as well as the students themselves, may want to focus their efforts on finding scholarships. Our free college scholarship search can help-parents or students can complete a profile to learn about scholarship opportunities they can apply for early or late in high school.

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Admission Competition Heating Up at State Colleges

November 16, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

While so far it appears that the recession has not had a negative impact on students' desire to go to college, it may be affecting their ability to get there, or at least to get into their school of choice.

State colleges have endured some significant budget cuts in the last year, while also coping with an increased demand for student financial aid and drops in endowments and donations. These circumstances have left schools scrambling to find additional sources of funding to meet everyday expenses and deal with increased demand. To mitigate tuition increases, many state colleges, especially public flagship universities, have begun to admit more out-of-state and international students. These students pay higher tuition, often without significant help from university scholarships, meaning more revenue for the university and lower costs for the in-state students attending.

This is a win-win situation for colleges and out-of-state students, who are more likely than ever to get into their dream school thanks to these new policies. One example is the College of William and Mary, where the out-of-state admission rate has risen from 22 percent of applicants in 2007 to 30 percent in 2009. While out-of-state admission is still significantly more competitive than in-state, students who are able to pay non-resident tuition at public flagship universities may see more success in 2010 than previous years.

However, with more seats being filled by out-of-state students, in-state students are at a disadvantage. At the same time as admissions ratios are being adjusted, more students are applying to in-state schools to take advantage of relatively reasonable tuition costs, especially where a low price corresponds with a top-rate education.

Where competition is fierce and seats and scholarships are limited, students who had been planning on attending their state's public flagship may want to cast a wider net in their college search. Consider a private college-some in California are offering substantial scholarships to students who would otherwise have attended a state college-or think about putting in a year or two at community college first. You may also find a less expensive, but still highly respected, option in a branch campus of a flagship, or in another state college nearby.  It may even be possible to transfer to your dream college later, as more and more university systems and community colleges develop agreements for how credits will transfer between schools.

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Job Outlook for Recent Grads Continues to Suffer

November 17, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Current undergraduate students who are looking towards employment after graduation, as well as graduate students hoping to ride out the recession before beginning their job search may want to make note of survey results just released by Michigan State University's Collegiate Employment Research Institute.  The survey focused on job prospects for new college graduates at 2,500 businesses nationwide, and the numbers don't look good.  Things were even worse than anticipated for the classes of 2008 and 2009, with the job demand for college graduates dropping 40 percent in the past year, far exceeding initial projections of declines in hiring of 8 to 10 percent, and they aren't expected to soon get better.

Hiring of new college graduates is expected to remain low, with overall figures dropping another 2 percent in 2010, with mid-size and large businesses anticipating continued reductions. However, some sectors are starting to show growth, though none can yet be described as booming. Smaller companies, especially, are expecting to hire more recent college graduates: approximately 15 percent more than last year. New graduates looking for jobs will also have better luck in the west than the east.

The types of businesses that are most likely to hire new graduates in the coming months include web design, e-commerce, information systems, nonprofits, statistics, nursing, social work, environmental sciences, manufacturing, agriculture production and food processing. Accounting, banking, and real-estate will continue to be poor bets, along with engineering, transportation, utilities, computer science and computer programming. Education is also likely to continue to suffer without federal stimulus money supporting K-12 teaching, and non-academic university jobs are likely to be scarce.

The Michigan State University researchers who conducted the survey warn that many of these shifts in hiring appear permanent, or at least long-lasting. College graduates will have to continue to compete fiercely for fewer jobs with lower starting salaries for years to come. To improve their chances at landing a job right out of college, students will want to demonstrate their flexibility and critical thinking skills, according to the report. Taking rigorous classes and participating in internship and independent study opportunities can help.

Students who want to be more competitive or who are struggling to find work may also want to consider graduate or professional programs, or other alternatives to employment. These can develop and showcase your thinking, research, and analysis skills, as well as provide advanced training and work experience directly relevant to your intended profession.

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Obama Encourages Studying in China as Budget Cuts Discourage Studying In-State

November 19, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Yesterday, in a joint statement with the leader of China, President Obama announced plans to strengthen the United States' relationship with China through several efforts, including expanding study abroad programs in each country. China currently sends more students than any other country to American colleges and universities, and the President promised yesterday to make an even greater effort to facilitate the enrollment of Chinese students in U.S. schools. Meanwhile, Obama has pledged to greatly expand study abroad in China for American students, from 20,000 currently enrolled, to 100,000, matching the number of Chinese students currently studying here.

Many colleges and universities are trying to boost interest in study abroad, especially among student groups that are significantly less likely to participate. The current administration's emphasis on studying in China could interest more students in exploring the possibilities for studying in other countries, as well as their awareness of the study abroad scholarships and other financial aid that can help.

And for many students attending state colleges in the United States, attending college in another country might be starting to sound good, at least compared to the situation at home. Democrats and Republicans in Congress continue to debate over just what will happen with federal student loans next year, while state budget cuts are continuing to drive up college costs and reduce aid. The most dramatic examples of state cuts are taking place in California and Michigan, the states hardest hit by the recession.

Students in the University of California system found out that their tuition and fees are likely to increase by 32 percent next year, at the same time colleges are forced to scale back enrollment and financial aid due to a significant drop in state funding. The University of California's Board of Regents approved a fee increase that would raise costs by at least $2,500 by next fall, with students in some graduate and professional programs seeing even sharper fee increases.

Meanwhile, Michigan students are receiving bills from their colleges to the tune of thousands of dollars for the current semester, just as spring registration is under way. The state's Promise Scholarship, modeled after the much-lauded Kalamazoo Promise, was canceled this year due to lack of available funding. Students and schools had already budgeted for receiving the money this fall, and now that it's not available, colleges are billing students who lost their scholarships for the amount of their tuition the scholarship would have covered. Typically, unpaid bills prevent students from registering and graduating, though schools have said they'd do their best to accommodate students, provided the money will be paid.

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Supreme Court Considers Student Loan Bankruptcy Case

December 1, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

The U.S. Supreme Court began hearing arguments today on the intricacies of one student's 20-year-old debt that could change the way bankruptcy law handles student loan cases.

The case, United Student Aid Funds Inc. v Espinosa, goes back to 1992, when Francisco Espinosa, a technical school graduate, filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Espinosa by then owed nearly $18,000 in not only student loans taken out four years earlier, but interest on those loans to lender United Student Aid Funds Inc. He filed for bankruptcy to relieve him not of his loan debt, but the nearly $5,000 in interest accrued on the $13,000 he initially borrowed. Thinking he had reached an agreement with his lender, Espinosa eventually paid off the principal on the loan over a five-year period.

Several years later, however, he received notice from his lender that he still owed the remaining interest. The lender claimed Espinosa had not sufficiently shown "undue hardship," a requirement under bankruptcy law for students to qualify their student loans under Chapter 13. Espinosa says he fell on hard times when the hours for his baggage handler job through airline America West were cut, and he was unable to find a job that fit his degree in computer drafting and design through the technical college.

That's when the legal battle began. Espinosa won on the bankruptcy court level, but the district courts ruled in favor of the lender and demanded a hearing to show whether Espinosa met the criteria for a bankruptcy filing. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it was too late for the lender to challenge the filing, which then landed the case in the U.S. Supreme Court.

An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education previewing the case this week looked at the implications of the court's eventual ruling. If the Supreme Court overturns the last appeals court's decision, lenders could feel free to collect back interest on student loans that have already been approved for Chapter 13. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Espinosa, lenders could be open to abuse by borrowers taking advantage of the law to get out of their student loan repayments. The article suggests that the Court should consider redefining the "undue hardship" criteria to make it easier for judges to apply that criteria across the board, as many say it is already too subjective.

The case is an important one for students, especially in a difficult economic time when college students are not only borrowing more, but having a tougher time finding jobs to make payments on their student loan debt. Student loan default rates are also on the rise for both federal and private loans as tuitions only continue to rise. If you're worried about the amount of debt you'll accrue going to that dream school, consider all of your options. Factor college cost into your college search, and make sure you have a good idea of financial aid and scholarship money available to you before taking out student loans.

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