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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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Keeping it All in the Family

College President’s Family Members Make Bank

October 1, 2010

by Suada Kolovic

For those of you who aren’t familiar with what exactly is going on here, I’ll tell you: It’s called nepotism - defined as favoritism shown to relatives or close friends by those with power or influence. And what I wouldn’t give to be a member of Paula S. Wallace’s family right now. Ms. Wallace co-founded the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in 1978 with her parents and her then-husband. Since then, it has grown into one of the nation’s largest art schools and with that increase in success came an increase in compensation. According to her 2008 tax returns, Ms. Wallace made $1,946,730.

That amount tops the compensation of all but a handful of college chiefs. But SCAD, a relatively pricey and prosperous art school, is smaller than universities that pay in that range. Ms. Wallace, who is in her early 60s, became SCAD’s president in 2000. Her total compensation package grew by about $1.5-million between 2008 and the previous reporting period. But Ms. Wallace isn’t the only one raking in insane amounts of cash; she turned it into family affair.

Employee Current Title 2008 Compensation
Paula S. Wallace President and co-founder $1,946,730
Mother, May L. Poetter Trustee and co-founder $61,767
Husband, Glen E. Wallace Senior Vice President for College Resources $289,235
Son, John Paul Rowan Vice President, Hong Kong Campus $233,843
Daughter, Marisa Rowan Director of Equestrian Programs $101,493
Daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Rowan Director of External Relations, Hong Kong Campus $85,494

But where exactly does this money come from, you ask? Well, a large portion of the pay earned by Ms. Wallace and her husband comes from a for-profit entity called the SCAD Group Inc. This for-profit arm provides nonacademic services to SCAD—which has three branch campuses and a distance-education operation—including human resources, financial management, communication and student support. In 2008, its share of total income amounted to $111 million, or an amount equal to about 43 percent of the college's total expenses of $261 million. Did I mention this for-profit subsidiary also owns an airplane that administrators and trustees use for business, AND the pays for a personal assistant for Ms. Wallace? Guess I just did!

If you’re a SCAD student, were you aware this collegial family tree was in place? And for students everywhere, how would you feel knowing that your school was structured this way instead of with much more qualified individuals?

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Win a Scholarship Surfing the Web

ScholarshipPoints.com

October 4, 2010

Win a Scholarship Surfing the Web

by Suada Kolovic

Looking for a scholarship that doesn’t require an essay? Well, look no further than ScholarshipPoints.com for your chance to win a $1,000 scholarship. ScholarshipPoints is free to join, fun to participate in, and provides you with the opportunity to win thousands of dollars in scholarships every month. Members earn scholarship points for doing what they already do online: shopping, reading blogs, playing games, searching the web, taking surveys, and more! The more you do – the more points you earn – the more chances you have at winning a scholarship. Our members won $75,000 in scholarships in 2009 and we're hoping to give away $100,000 in scholarships in 2010. Join today and you could be our next scholarship winner!

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College Dropouts Cost Taxpayers Billions

October 12, 2010

College Dropouts Cost Taxpayers Billions

by Suada Kolovic

Dropping out of college would surely ruffle a few feathers at home, but it seems mom and dad may not be the only ones affected. While dropping out after a year can translate into lost time and a mountain of debt for the student, now there’s an estimate of what it costs taxpayers: billions.

According to a report released Monday, states appropriated almost $6.2 billion for four-year colleges and universities between 2003 and 2008 to help pay for the education of students who did not return for year two. The report takes into account spending on average per-student state appropriations, state grants and federal grants – such as Pell grants for low-income students – then reaches its cost conclusions based on students retention rates. It’s worth mentioning though that the report’s conclusions are considered incomplete: Because it’s based on data from the U.S. Education Department, it does not take account of students who attend part time, who leave college in order to transfer to another institution, or who drop out but return later to receive their degrees.

And with figures in the billions, critics agree that too many students are attending four-year schools – and that pushing them to finish wastes even more taxpayer money. Robert Lerman, an American University economics professor, questions promoting college for all. He said the reports fleshes out the reality of high dropout rates. But it could just as easily be used to argue that less-prepared, less-motivated students are better off not going to college."Getting them to go a second year might waste even more money," Lerman said. "Who knows?"

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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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The Early Student Gets Admitted

Colleges See More Interest, Accept More Students Early

October 21, 2010

The Early Student Gets Admitted

by Alexis Mattera

Hiring managers and interviewers like to say “If you’re early, you’re on time and if you’re on time, you’re late” and over the course of the most recent recession, that motto has been unofficially adopted by admissions committees and prospective college students.

According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC)’s annual “State of College Admission” report, many colleges (private and public) have reported increased interest from applicants in applying early and a jump in the number of students admitted this way. The former remained relatively the same as over the last two years but the latter – 65 percent of schools accepting more early decision applicants compared to 43 percent just one year prior – is pretty remarkable. The same can be said about the growing gap between the admissions rates for early decision and regular applicants at the same institutions: Colleges with early decision admit about 55 percent of all applicants, but 70 percent of early decision applicants, though only 7 percent of applications received take advantage of the early decision option. Another facet of the NACAC report is the overwhelming popularity of applying online, up to 80 percent in 2009 from 68 percent in 2007.

Does this mean schools are becoming less selective and simply rewarding the early birds in their quests for the worm? Not entirely…and not at all for the Ivies. The top criteria remain grades, the strength of the high school curriculum and admissions test scores but what NACAC calls "demonstrated interest in enrolling" is also climbing those ranks. Does this info change how you plan to apply?

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The End of Traditional Textbooks is Near

Colleges to Force Switch to E-Textbooks

October 25, 2010

The End of Traditional Textbooks is Near

by Suada Kolovic

The start of every new semester calls for a new set of textbooks- very expensive textbooks. Students can’t really think about the cost of college today without factoring in the skyrocketing cost of textbooks. For years students have improvised on ways to dodge buying a new copy- purchasing a used one, borrowing a copy from the library, sharing with a friend, renting one, downloading an illegal version, or simply going without. We recently posted about how e-textbooks and textbook rental services are saving students money but it may not be too long before they’ll be a students’ only option. The plan is to have colleges require students to pay a course-materials fee, which would be used to buy e-books for all of them (whatever text the professor recommend, just as in the old model).

And why not? Electronic copies are far cheaper to produce than printed text, making a bulk purchase more feasible and with colleges ordering books by the hundreds of thousands, they can negotiate a much better rate than students were able to get on their own, even for used books. The hope is to thwart the possibility of students dropping out because they could not afford textbooks, whose average price rose 186 percent between 1986 and 2005, and continue to shoot up each year faster than inflation.

"When students pay more for new textbooks than tuition in a year, then something's wrong," says Rand S. Spiwak, executive vice president at Daytona State, who is leading the experiment there. "Our game plan is to bring the cost of textbooks down by 75 to 80 percent."

But not everyone is buying into the hype of the e-textbook. Issues of ethics have aroused, for instance, what if a professor wrote the textbook assigned for his or her class? Is it ethical to force students to buy it, even at a reduced rate? And what if students feel they are better off on their own, where they have the option of sharing or borrowing a book at no cost?

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Community College Tuition Rise Looming

Community Colleges Charging More For In-Demand Programs

October 26, 2010

Community College Tuition Rise Looming

by Suada Kolovic

As state funding for higher education across the country continues to shrink, more community colleges are considering charging higher tuition rates for costly career and technology programs. This notion of charging differential tuition is definitely a new concept for community colleges and Pima Community College, in Tucson, Ariz., is exploring the idea after having its state appropriation cut by 30 percent in two years. Some of the college’s most popular programs, like nursing and avionics, would be among those charging a premium.

“It looks like we’ll have budget cuts for the foreseeable future,” said Roy Flores, the college’s chancellor. “I’m mindful of price elasticity and that some students might be shut out if the price goes too high.… But it’s a balancing act, and we’re a long way from shutting people out.” In 2009, the college’s enrollment grew by nearly 14 percent, with a high demand for occupational programs, such as those in the health sciences and engineering. And the reality is, these programs are more expensive due to low student-teacher ratios they must maintain and the expensive training equipment required.

It is interesting to note that in states like Arizona, where there is no state community college board or coordinator board for all of public higher education, individual institutions and community college districts can set their own tuition polices. So, while currently in-state tuition at Pima is $53 per credit hour, it may not be too long before there is an increase for in-demand workforce programs. Flores insisted, “We would just want to close up that gap a little bit. We have yet to do an analysis on this, but my… estimate would be that there would be somewhere between a 10 and 30 percent premium charged for these courses. And it would be phased in, of course, and not brought on all at once.”

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Credit-Card Companies Paid Colleges Almost $84-Million

Payment Based on Cards Issued to Students and Alumni

October 27, 2010

Credit-Card Companies Paid Colleges Almost $84-Million

by Suada Kolovic

As a college student, I must admit I was duped into opening a credit card my freshman year. I was lured in by the fact that all my friends were rockin’ their free TCF sweaters and, of course, the concept they pushed of “buy now, pay later.” But credit-card companies marketing themselves heavily on college campuses isn’t new: It’s the perfect place to find new customers who are low on cash and looking for a sweet deal. But have you ever wondered why some colleges allow TCF on campus as opposed to Bank of America- they pay to be there. That may not be the shock of the century but with payments hovering at almost $84 million, you have to question the ethics of it. According to a report released by the Federal Reserve Board, credit-card companies paid $83.5 million to colleges, their foundations and alumni organizations last year under agreements that allow them to market credit cards to students and alumni. Under the agreements, schools and affiliated groups were generally paid for each account opened.

Why were credit-card companies willing to disclose such details? Under the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, credit-card issuers are required to submit their agreements with colleges and related organizations to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve; they must also disclose the total number of opened accounts. Of the agreements reported, about 40 percent were with colleges and 33 percent were with alumni associations. The agreements resulted in the opening of 53,000 accounts in 2009.

The college with the most accounts was Penn State Alumni Association at 1,600 and they were paid $2.8 million by the card issuer FIA Card Services, a subsidiary of Bank of America. The University of Illinois Alumni Association received the most money at about $3.3 million. If you’re interested about your school’s agreement with credit card issuers, check out the Federal Reserve database.

The agreements, certainly ones that involve marketing credit cards to students, can be considered predatory in nature. An examination of this year’s contracts found that they required colleges to provide personal information about their students and, in some cases, even paid the institutions extra when students carried a balance on their cards. And with what sounds like colleges profiting from student debt, it would seem that “free sweater” doesn’t seem like such a sweet deal after all.

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Unemployed Boston College Law Student Wants a Refund

October 28, 2010

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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