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Debt-Ceiling Deal Spares Pell Grant Program

by Suada Kolovic

Unless you’ve taken residence under a rock for the past few weeks, you’ve heard about the debt ceiling crisis. Thankfully, the White House and Congress have reached a deal to raise the nation’s borrowing limit and shrink the federal deficit which avoids many of higher education’s worst-case scenarios, namely cuts to Pell Grants, the end of subsidized student loans or a government default that would leave student financial aid and other funding for colleges in limbo.

Here’s the breakdown: The agreement would cut $1 trillion right away and create a committee to reduce the deficit by another $1.5 trillion by November. If approved in Congress, it will avert default on the nation’s debts and ensure that the government has enough money for federal benefits, including student aid. In layman’s terms, the bill would provide $17 billion for the Pell Grant program but the measure would only be temporary. Because House conservatives oppose tax increases, it is likely that the committee charged with reducing the deficit will favor spending cuts over revenues increase, putting Pell Grants and other student aid programs at risk for cuts in the near future.

Do you think slashing funds for higher education is problematic? Let us know what you think.


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Should You Be an RA?

August 4, 2011

Should You Be an RA?

by Shari Williams

If you have lived on campus, hung out in the dorms or simply attended classes, you have encountered a resident assistant or resident advisor, perhaps better known as an RA. I was an RA during my junior year while I was participating in the National Student Exchange at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) and loved it! It was a great opportunity to save money, meet people and gain personal knowledge.

I’m sure you’ve heard about the perks of being an RA – free housing, a single room, etc. – but not everyone will meet the qualifications. RAs must be very responsible; for example, if someone decides to trash the hallway or throw a noisy party, it’s the RA's responsibility to report the incident and think of ways to prevent it from happening again, even if some decisions they make are unpopular with their advisees. I enjoyed my time as an RA but this position isn’t for everyone. It’s not about the money or free housing – your heart really has to be in it!

During my time at CSUN, I found the housing staff and all RAs to be very supportive, family-oriented, and genuinely care about the students. If that sounds like you, you could be a great RA candidate but here are a few more things you should know before applying:

The Pros

The Cons

RA positions vary from school to school, as do their responsibilities. If you want to be an RA, do your research at your college by asking some current or past RAs about their experiences. To be or not to be an RA depends on you and, if you do decide to take on this role, your advisees will depend on you, too!

Shari Williams is a junior at Towson University with a double major in deaf studies and broadcast journalism and a minor in entertainment, media and film. With experience in public relations, a love for music and a passion for acting, she longs to be a jack of all trades. A Baltimore native, Shari is an avid traveler and opportunity seeker. She hopes to become the next face seen on the morning news or the voice heard over the radio.


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Pell Grants, the Debt Ceiling and You

by Kara Coleman

If you’re one of the more than nine million undergrads who depend on Pell Grants to pay for school, you have probably been pretty anxious over the past few weeks.

This past February, the United States House of Representatives passed a Continuing Resolution which would slice the federal budget drastically. One of the programs to be affected by the cut is the Pell Grant program. The maximum amount of funds available to college students would be lowered from $5,550 to $4,705 and the changes were set to take effect for the 2011-2012 academic year.

Students were able to breathe a sigh of relief when the Pell Grant program, which has long received bipartisan support from the Senate, was able to avoid major cuts after all. The debt-ceiling bill passed earlier this week will limit overall discretionary spending to $1.043 trillion in the 2012 fiscal year. Since that’s about $7 billion below the current level of spending, how will students be able to receive their maximum Pell Grants? Grad students will be the ones taking the hit. At the moment, graduate students with federally subsidized student loans don’t have to be concerned with interest until after graduation but under the new plan, interest on these loans will begin to accrue while they are still working towards their degrees.

National Economic Council director Gene Spurling says of the bill, “This is a compromise budget, but one that we believe makes the necessary room for the most important investments in winning the future in innovation and research and education.”

How do you feel about these changes? For those with dreams of advanced degrees, are you already researching alternate funding options for graduate school?

Kara Coleman lives in Gadsden, Alabama, where she attends Gadsden State Community College. She received the school’s Outstanding English Student Award two years in a row and is a member of Phi Theta Kappa. She plans to transfer to Jacksonville State University in August 2011 to study communications with concentration in print journalism. Kara’s writing has been featured in Teen Ink magazine and she is a children’s book author through Big Dif Books. In her spare time, Kara enjoys reading, painting, participating in community theater and pretty much any other form of art.


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How (and Why) to Rock the Vote

by Radha Jhatakia

Debt. Destruction. Terrorism. The economy. Social security. Foreclosure. Poverty. Famine. Do any of these words sound familiar? Well, they should because they are all over the news lately. Reality television may be more entertaining but by limiting yourself to watching only these kinds of shows, you’re missing out on what’s really going in the world. You’re also losing valuable time in learning more about the candidates running for office in upcoming elections.

Voting isn’t simply limited to presidential elections – there are also state and county elections where you select senators, congressmen and city council members. I truly can’t stress how important it is to vote, and that who you vote for affects many issues. Don’t vote randomly, either: That’s worse than not voting because now you could be voting for things you don’t believe in. Be educated in your choices by researching the parties and representatives, their policies and proposed plans. Read the pamphlets you receive in the mail, as well as the voting books that have information about the candidates and their platforms.

Don’t feel as though you must vote along party lines; instead, vote for the principles you believe in. It’s ok to like certain policies proposed by one candidate and some supported by another. If you’re facing that conundrum, research the minor policies that might affect you. Students at public schools are especially affected by this as they tend to vote for candidates who claim they will help education. Just be aware that no single candidate can fix the education system, it also depends on the people they're surrounded by, people who you should be voting for. If you believe in an issue before you vote and know the benefits and consequences of that decision, your vote will truly count.

Radha Jhatakia is a communications major who will be transferring to San Jose State University this fall. She’s had some ups and downs in school and many obstacles to face; these challenges – plus support from family, friends and cat – have only made Radha stronger and have given her the experience to help others with the same issues. In her spare time, she enjoys writing, reading, cooking, sewing and designing. A social butterfly, Radha hopes to work in public relations and marketing upon graduation.


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College Students Cut from Michigan Food Stamp Program

by Alexis Mattera

Some college students joke that tuition is so high, the only food they can afford is instant ramen. In Michigan, it’s no longer a laughing matter.

The Detroit News reported the state has removed roughly 30,000 college students from its food stamp program. Human Services Director Maura Corrigan revealed that while the cuts will save an estimated $75 million per year, they also represent an effort to “change the culture of the state's welfare department and slash tens of millions of dollars of waste, fraud and abuse.” Corrigan suggested students get part-time jobs like she did while attending Marygrove College and University of Detroit Mercy School of Law in the ‘60s and ‘70s but critics are quick to point out that state funding has shrunk and tuition has skyrocketed since then and Michigan's economic situation makes finding any kind of employment difficult. What do the students think? Obviously, they are none too pleased. "Students should be focusing on their education, not whether or not they'll be able to eat dinner or whether they can manage to find a job and balance it on top of their studies," said Kayla Neff, a Spanish and computer science major at Central Michigan University.

Do you think the cuts to Michigan's food stamp program will be beneficial or detrimental overall? Students, if you’ll be impacted by these changes, how do you plan to compensate for the loss of funding?


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Need Merit Aid? Apply Here!

August 10, 2011

Need Merit Aid? Apply Here!

by Alexis Mattera

A few months back, we wrote about helpful tips on maximizing merit aid, or aid based on a student’s attributes like academics, athletics and extracurriculars. For college applicants who aren’t deemed financially needy in terms of their FAFSA or EFC, merit aid can make a huge difference in the schools they can realistically afford to attend. Students and families seeking this extra financial aid boost should consider researching schools more likely to dispense merit-based awards but with so many colleges and universities in the U.S., which ones are the best financial bets?

Help has arrived in the form of U.S. News, which has compiled a top 10 list of schools that awarded the highest percentage of merit-based funding to non-needy students during the 2009-10 academic year (the stats do not include financially needy students who were given merit aid or students who received athletic scholarships or other tuition breaks). Take a look:

High school students, does this data have you looking at these schools in a new light? Current college students attending one of the schools listed above, did merit aid make the difference as to whether or not you enrolled?


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Greek Life Benefits Extend Beyond Toga Parties

by Anna Meskishvili

I’m a proud member of the Greek system now but it took a lot of convincing for me to don a pair of letters. Regardless, I consider joining Kappa Delta one of the best decisions – if not the best – I’ve made during my time at BU. Thinking about going Greek? There are several key things all incoming pre-PNMs (Potential New Members) should know.

With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility. Initiation immediately connects all your actions to the organization. The Greek system is already slandered with stereotypes so it’s crucial that all PNMs take this seriously. I know, insert eye roll here, but it is actually more involved than you think. Most Greek organizations were established hundreds of years ago and have functioning National Headquarters; representing your sorority or fraternity well is to represent yourself at the highest degree.

Don’t Stop Believin’. Greek organizations are based upon many traditions. Some are expired notions about dancing in public, while others are more timeless ideas of elegance and education. Make sure you connect with the ideals of the organization because your commitment is a lifelong one. There are academic, financial and social standards that must be upheld – can you police yourself?

Time of Your Life. Going Greek has only made my life better. My sisters are wonderful women I adore and I have developed many friendships outside my sisterhood yet still in the Greek community. Greek life expands your horizons through Alumni Chapters, which will likely help you post-college (mentoring, networking, finding a job, etc.).

Keep Calm and Carry On. With all that said, Greek life isn’t for everyone. Even if you attend a Greek-heavy school, make sure that being part of “the system” doesn’t take over your life. My mantra for being a Kappa Delta is that it complements all the other parts of my life rather than defines it.

Anna Meskishvili is a rising senior at Boston University pursuing a degree in public relations at the College of Communication and hopes to someday work in healthcare administration communication. She is part of Kappa Delta at BU and has loved every second of it. She is also involved in Public Relations Student Society of America and Ed on Campus. Anna was born in the Republic of Georgia and considers herself a citizen of the world because she’s lived in Russia, England, France, Brooklyn and Connecticut. She loves to travel, run and learn.


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Healthy Eating on a College Budget

by Darci Miller

The fall semester is coming up fast and for many of us, it means leaving home in favor of dorm or apartment life. Whether you’ll be eating in the dining halls or fending for yourself, making healthy food choices falls fully on your own shoulders. The good news is you don’t have to go into debt shopping at Whole Foods to keep the Freshman 15 at bay.

For those of you who will be relying on the dining halls for most of your meals, money is less of an issue than healthy options are. It’s all too easy to opt for a hamburger and fries or a slice of sub-par pizza but trust me, healthier options are there. Most meals come with a vegetable and fruits like apples, bananas and pears are available for the taking so take them back to your room for a snack later in the day. Opt for oatmeal instead of Lucky Charms, whole wheat bread instead of white and water instead of soda. It may not be easy but I promise it can be done!

If you live in an apartment or house and cook your own meals, money does become a limiting factor. Healthy foods do cost more than junk, so coupons and sales should become your best friends. Keep your eye on prices and buy when items are most affordable. And eat what you buy: Splitting a Costco membership with your roommates is great but letting that food go bad is like throwing away money.

Frozen and dried fruits and vegetables are also great, healthy alternatives. They’re cheaper, have longer shelf lives than their fresh counterparts and can sometimes even be denser in nutrients (some are full of sugar, though, so read those labels). Grilled chicken strips also make cooking a healthy dinner quick and easy.

Eating healthy at college may take some extra effort and money but it’s good to adopt healthy habits early. They’ll be second nature in no time!

Darci Miller is a New Yorker studying journalism and sport administration at the University of Miami. When she’s not writing for the school newspaper, you can find her at the gym, either working or working out. She loves all ‘80s pop culture (the cheesier the better!), and glues herself to her TV when the Olympics are on. She dreams big, and believes the sky’s the limit!


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Tuition, Food, Books: Pick Two

Rising Costs Have Students Skimping on Textbooks

August 12, 2011

Tuition, Food, Books: Pick Two

by Alexis Mattera

If you’re a current or soon-to-be college student, you’ve probably heard the saying “Friends, school, sleep: Pick two.” If you haven’t, it means you won’t have time to do everything you want...and sometimes need. While there are students who can balance all three, they have another difficult decision to make at the beginning of each semester: tuition, food or books?

According to survey conducted by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, seven out of 10 undergraduate students reported not buying one or more textbooks because the cost was too high. How high? The Government Accountability Office estimated textbooks cost a quarter of the average state college tuition (three-fourths at community colleges) and the U.S. PIRG revealed textbook prices have risen faster than overall inflation with a 22-percent uptick in the past four years. For students, this means some serious money management is in order. "Generally what we get from students is 'Yeah, it's only a few dollars, but it could be my dinner,'" said Jessica Bruning, a student at Iowa State University. "It adds up pretty quickly." The survey also revealed four out of five students said new editions prevented them from purchasing cheaper used books and half cited bundles or custom editions as the culprits for increased costs.

The good news – yes, there is some! – is that groups like Textbook Rebellion, Campus Progress and even individual professors are doing their part to keep textbook costs from negatively impacting students’ college experiences. "Better options are out there," said Nicole Allen, textbooks advocate for the Student PIRGs. "Between used books, rental programs and long-term alternatives like open textbooks, we have the tools we need to make textbooks affordable for more students." Have you had to choose between tuition, food or books? What are you doing to keep your college costs in check?


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Obtaining Media the Legal Way

by Radha Jhatakia

So you’re listening to the radio and hear a song you like. What do you do? If you’re a college student, you probably turn on your computer and download the song sans payment. Not only is this method illegal (think: fines and jail time) but it can be even more detrimental if done from a campus Internet connection. Since a personal login is usually required when you use campus Internet, your online activity is easily tracked and documented. On top of stealing copyrighted material, you could also face consequences from your university such as expulsion.

So you’re probably wondering what to do about your music/movie situation now. Well, there are legal ways to obtain them while still managing your money! First, websites like Crackle and Hulu allow you to watch movies and television shows for free. You can also try e-Rewards, a site that lets you earn dollar points for taking surveys; for example, earn 10 points and you can redeem 10 promo codes for Blockbuster Express for free new movies.

Music lovers don’t have to look far for deals, either. Though the files won’t save to your computer, you can use YouTube, Pandora or Slacker Radio to listen to music whenever you want for free. Amazon has downloadable songs for as low as $0.69 during their deals as well as a feature that allows you to preview albums and download only the songs you like. There’s also iTunes, but that tends to be a bit more expensive. If you can’t afford to buy music, make deals with your friends to buy separate albums and share with one another. That way you can get the music you want legally...and maybe even expand your musical tastes!

Radha Jhatakia is a communications major who will be transferring to San Jose State University this fall. She’s had some ups and downs in school and many obstacles to face; these challenges – plus support from family, friends and cat – have only made Radha stronger and have given her the experience to help others with the same issues. In her spare time, she enjoys writing, reading, cooking, sewing and designing. A social butterfly, Radha hopes to work in public relations and marketing upon graduation.


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