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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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Montana State Aims to Up Graduation Rate

November 1, 2010

Montana State Aims to Up Graduation Rate

by Alexis Mattera

Montana State University has a glass-half-full outlook when it comes to graduation rates but its students aren’t exactly sharing that mentality: Though the school announced it had enrolled record 13,559 students for the fall semester, only half that number will make it to graduation day.

Graduation rates aren’t that different nationwide – about 57 percent of students who enroll in U.S. four-year colleges earn a degree in six years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics – but these low numbers are cause for concern and in order to reach President Obama’s goal of making America the leader in college graduates by 2020, the country’s public universities need to do whatever they can to shed the label of "failure factories." Things are looking up for MSU for the time being, though: The retention rate for last year's freshmen who returned this fall was 74 percent - 2 points higher than last year and a record for the past 10 years.

So what’s being done in the Treasure State? MSU President Waded Cruzado says she plans to renew attention to the goal of graduation with the help of the Montana Board of Regents by getting more people to earn two-year or four-year degrees. But why are so many MSU students are dropping out in the first place? Despite the less-than-favorable economy, finding money for college isn’t the issue; instead, students surveyed cited lack of direction, affinity/connection with the school and overall interest in college classes. MSU is responding by ramping up its career coaching with freshmen and advising to help undecided students pick a major and launching a campaign to lure back former students who have left the university in the last three years.

The university is doing much more than what’s listed above (check out yesterday’s article in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle) but will any of it work? Students leave school for myriad reasons and sometimes no amount of advising, coaching or incentives can change that. Then again, an extra push can make a difference for many students on the fence about their education. How would you respond to MSU’s initiatives?

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Colleges Revive the Humanities

November 9, 2010

Colleges Revive the Humanities

by Suada Kolovic

Due to the drastic economic downturn, students are flocking to majors considered “safe” – economics, engineering and computer science – and steering clear of ones that develop creative thinking and imagination – the humanities. It makes sense, since the objective after graduation is to obtain a well-paying career to pay for that prestigious college education and the best way to do so, in the eyes of the majority of college students, is to select a major where the potential for a generous return on your investment is high. According to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, student interest in the humanities – which include the classics, literature, languages, history, philosophy, and religion – has dropped dramatically in recent years. Only 8 percent of American undergraduates majored in a humanities field in 2007, compared with 17 percent in 1966.

At esteemed universities, including Cornell, Dartmouth, and Harvard, there is concern that without humanities students won’t develop the kind of critical thinking and empathy “necessary to solve the most pressing problems facing future generations.” Drew Faust, Harvard’s president, explained, “That’s a real shift from seeing an undergraduate education as general preparation in a wide range of fields to seeing undergraduate education as getting a particular vocational emphasis. People worry a lot about what you do with that degree. I think the change has been accelerated and intensified by people’s immediate concern of getting a job — especially with the increasing cost of higher education and the challenges in the economy.’’ (In case you were wondering, the most popular field of study at Harvard is economics.)

In response, colleges have begun pledging huge sums to their literature and arts departments, while others have begun erecting buildings. Among the universities attempting to restore interest in the humanities is Brandeis, which recently dedicated a new $22.5 million glass-and-slate hilltop home, called the Mandel Center for the Humanities. Harvard and Brown have also received millions to support new humanities initiatives.

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Grace Period for Student Loans Coming to an End

Simple Tips to Managing Your Loans

November 11, 2010

Grace Period for Student Loans Coming to an End

by Suada Kolovic

With the typical six-month grace period on student loans right around the corner, recent college graduates across the country will start making monthly payments whether they’re ready to or not . If you’re one of those students, or just starting your college career, here are a few suggestions from the Project on Student Debt, an initiative of the Institute for College Access & Success, a nonprofit independent research and policy organization, on how to manage your loans.

  • Know where you stand.

    A great way to get the exact amount you owe is to visit your lender – in some cases, lenders – or you can find details of your student loans, including balances, by visiting the National Student Loan Data System, the U.S. Department of Education’s central database for student aid. If you have non-federal loans, there is a possibility they won’t be listed so contact your institution for that information.
  • When’s the first payment?

    The grace period for student loans is the time after graduation before having to make your first payment. But the length of grace periods can vary; for Federal Stafford loans it’s six months, nine months for Federal Perkins Loans and Federal Plus Loans depend of when they were issued. To find out the grace period attached to private loans contact your lender.
  • Keep in touch with your lender.

    It’s important to remember to keep your contact information updated with your lender. Whether you’re moving or changing your phone number, an updated contact sheet could save you from unnecessary fees.
  • Consider what repayment option works best for you.

    One option is the Income-Based Repayment Program (IBR), which is not available on private loans, that sets a reasonable monthly payment based on a borrower’s income and family size. Under IBR, after 25 years of qualifying payments, your remaining debt, including interest, will be forgiven.
  • Prepare for life and the unexpected.

    Sometimes life doesn’t go according to plan. If you can’t make payments due to unemployment, health issues or other unexpected financial challenges, you have options for managing your federal student loans. There are options to temporarily postpone your payments, such as deferments and forbearance. Contact your lender for more information and the interest attached to those options.
  • Never ignore your financial responsibilities.

    Ignoring your student loans – or any loan for that matter – can result in serious consequences that can last a lifetime. When you default, your total loan balance becomes due, your credit score is ruined and the total amount you owe increases dramatically. If you default on a federal loan, the government can garnish your wages and seize your tax refunds.
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You’re Hired…Maybe

College Grads Get Good News on Employment

November 18, 2010

You’re Hired…Maybe

by Alexis Mattera

Finding a job has never been easy but over the past few years, that same task has become even more nerve-wracking and downright disheartening. This situation is all too familiar to recent college graduates, who – save for an internship or two – have very little experience outside the classroom but the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University just revealed the hiring of new bachelor's-degree graduates expected to increase by 10 percent this academic year.

Institute director Phil Gardner describes this news as the first step out of a deep hole – this year’s increase is over last year's hiring, which held steady after it tumbled 35 to 40 percent in 2008. The report, "Recruiting Trends 2010-2011," says hiring will not increase across the board but will instead be seen in certain industries, for specific majors and in isolated areas of the country:

  • More recent graduates will be hired by manufacturers, professional-services companies, large commercial banks and the federal government; smaller banks, state governments and colleges and universities project drops.
  • Grads with majors and experience in business, technology, e-commerce, entrepreneurism and public relations will have better luck than those in the fields of health sciences and social services; companies also plan to increase hiring 21 percent among liberal-arts majors.
  • The Great Lakes and Mid-Atlantic regions will see the highest increases in recent graduate hiring, while the Northwest will see a 10-percent decline.

If these findings don’t relate to your situation, there’s still a chance you could snag the job of your dreams: Thirty-six percent of employers say they will consider applicants regardless of major. So, recent and soon-to-be college graduates, breathe those sighs of relief and start updating those resumes!

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