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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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Survey Shows Students Know Too Little About College Aid

October 22, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Can college students correctly answer basic questions about federal student financial aid? Researchers from CALPIRG, the California Public Interest Research Group, sought to find out, asking California community college students three questions about financial aid. The results of the survey were published this week. The majority of students did not do so well, with over half of students answering one or zero questions correctly.

How would you do? Students were asked to say whether the following three statements were true or false (the questions below are paraphrased from the report):

  1. I have to go to school full time to be eligible for financial aid.
  2. Taking more classes per term could increase my financial aid award.
  3. Financial aid can be used to cover expenses beyond tuition and fees, such as living expenses.

The answers:

  1. False. You do not have to go to school full time to be eligible for financial aid. Students enrolled at least half-time are able to apply for and receive federal student financial aid, including Pell Grants and Stafford Loans. Only 47 percent of students surveyed answered this correctly.
  2. True. If your tuition goes up, your aid award can go up, especially when it comes to federal work-study and low-interest student loans. Additionally, students who move from half-time to three-quarter-time or full-time enrollment can see an increase in Pell Grant awards and also potentially become eligible for more college scholarships and grants. Half of students answered this correctly.
  3. True. Financial aid can be used to cover college expenses including food, rent, car maintenance, books, computers, and other essentials. These items are included in the living expenses portion of the cost of attendance figure used by the financial aid office to calculate your aid eligibility. Students surveyed did the best on this question, with 54 percent answering correctly.

Knowing About Aid Can Boost College Success: At this point, it's becoming fairly well-documented that not enough community college students apply for federal student financial aid, despite the fact that many are eligible. While some students don't apply because their schools do not participate in federal aid programs, others don't apply because they don't know they're eligible for aid. The results of the CALPIRG survey suggest that this is a fairly substantial group of students. Namely, 13 percent of students surveyed didn't get a single question right, 44 percent of students answered only one question correctly, and only 2 percent of students who did not apply for aid got all 3 questions, compared to 10 percent of students overall.

Additionally, the survey shows that many students are loan-averse, with almost half of students saying they would drop a class or an entire semester than take out a student loan to cover books or other expenses, and students showing nearly as much willingness to put their books on a credit card than to take out a federal loan for books.  A full 57 percent of surveyed students saying they would only borrow as a last resort or would not borrow for college at all. With additional research suggesting that many community college students are not balancing work and college effectively and that their reluctance or inability to borrow is hurting their chances of graduating, more financial aid education is important.

Community college students are not the only college students who may need help learning about financial aid. If you found that you answered one or more question incorrectly, you may want to review information about paying for school. We have a wide variety of student resources available that can help you learn about financial aid programs and requirements and maximize the amount of aid you receive.

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College Offers Students Free Textbooks

October 27, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

In recent years, colleges have begun experimenting with a number of techniques to make textbooks more affordable for, and more likely to be purchased by, college students.  From on-demand textbook printing at the University of Michigan to on-campus and online textbook rental options nationwide, it seems like at least two or three textbook pricing revolutions roll out each year.  This year, however, Williams College in Massachusetts is trying something entirely different:  giving textbooks away for free.

Starting this fall, students who receive financial aid at Williams will be able to charge their textbooks to their bursar accounts--an option available to students at many colleges--and then will receive college-based grants for the amount of their textbook purchase, which as far as Williams officials know, is an offer unique to their campus. The textbook program, as well as the reasons for its inception, were highlighted in a recent blog post in the New York Times' college admissions blog, The Choice.

Williams previously offered financially needy students $400 book grants each semester, but found that some students still weren't buying all their required textbooks, as they felt the money they spent on books was still coming out of their own pockets. A textbook lending program through the library was used to supplement it, but there were concerns that students couldn't make full use of borrowed books. To allow students to highlight and annotate books, as well as reference them in subsequent semesters, the college decided to make sure students were able to purchase all required texts. Thus, the current grant program was born, which Williams officials expect to cost roughly the same as the combination of the previous grant and library lending programs but to serve students more completely and efficiently.

Little touches like free textbooks can go a long way towards swaying students still working on their college search. Regardless of the college you attend, you may want to factor textbooks into your scholarship search, as well. While textbooks don't seem like much individually, when the costs are added up, they can become a sizeable portion of a student's college costs. With many students paying for textbooks out-of-pocket, they can quickly create a problem with money management, increasing work burdens, credit card balances, or student loan debt.

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$50K Becoming New Norm at Private Colleges

November 3, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

More private colleges than ever before are charging $50,000 a year or more in tuition and other fees, according to an analysis of College Board data done by the Chronicle of Higher Education. Last year, only five colleges charged $50,000 a year or more for tuition, fees, room, and board. This year, 58 did.

Most students receive some merit- or need-based scholarship or grant money to help cover some of those costs, but according to the Chronicle, the average scholarship and grant amounts at the highest priced schools was around $13,000 a year, leaving students and their families to fend for themselves when it comes to looking for outside scholarships, grants and student loans. Despite those staggering numbers, many of the most expensive schools haven't suffered in terms of declining enrollment, and have expansion and economic recovery plans in the works where the additional funding will come in handy.

Bucknell University, where tuition, fees, room, and board totaled about $50,300 this year, a 22-percent jump over the last six years, plans to hire more faculty and increase aid. And that school wasn't even in the top five most expensive colleges. Those honors go to Sarah Lawrence College ($55,788), Landmark College ($53,900), Georgetown University ($52,161), New York University ($51,993), and George Washington University ($51,775), in that order.

At the same time, many private colleges and universities are predicting a decrease in revenue and net tuition despite increasing enrollment rates and increasing tuition costs. The Moody's report "New Tuition Challenges at Many U.S. Private Universities" surveyed 100 private schools and found that nearly 30 percent experienced drops in net revenue and fees for the 2010 fiscal year. This suggests those schools are offering more in terms of financial aid. An article in Inside Higher Education today says some schools may have tried to compensate for a weak economy and projections of low enrollment levels (which for many private colleges turned out not to be the case) with more financial aid offered to incoming students. Most of the public institutions surveyed, however, expect increases in revenue, according to Moody's.

So what does this mean for private schools? The Chronicle suggests not much. Enrollments so far have supported high tuition rates (and rising median salaries among presidents at private colleges), and a ceiling hasn't yet been set. Does this suggest that students could be seeing $60,000 in annual costs to attend many of the top private institutions? Possibly. But that would mean financial aid would need to keep up alongside those rising costs. What do you think? How much is too much? If you're facing sticker shock, be sure to evaluate all of your options. If you're set on a school, look outside that college for financial aid assistance. Conduct a free scholarship search to see awards you may qualify for that could make a dent in your cost of attendance, and do your research with a college search so that you know exactly what you could be paying at that dream school.

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Most Expensive College Dorms

November 5, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Tuition and fees aren't the only college costs families are finding hard to swallow these days. Room and board is also on the rise--now nearing $16,000 a year at some colleges. A survey of the most expensive college dorms found that students attending The New School's Eugene Lang College in New York City can expect to pay more than any other college students in the nation for standard-option housing and a meal plan, at $15,990 per year.

Rounding out the top five were Cooper Union in New York City, at $15,275; Suffolk University in Boston, at $14,544; the University of California at Berkeley, at $14,384; and the New York Institute of Technology at Manhattan, at $14,290. By contrast, the average college room and board costs for 2009-2010 were $8,193 at public four-year schools and $9,363 for private colleges. Students who want extras can expect to pay a lot more--to get an idea of how much, check out the New York Times' run-through of a few of the swankiest college living arrangements that have debuted recently on three campuses.

The list of the top 20 was largely dominated by schools in cities with high costs of living, where housing costs of $12,000 to $16,000 per year might not seem all that unreasonable. However, when you consider the fact that these costs are for a standard double room without any extravagant extras, students may still want to see if they can get a better deal living off-campus. It's possible to pay a comparable price to on-campus room and board for your own bedroom in many locations, and considering college students' general ingenuity when it comes to apartment penny-pinching and packing people into houses and apartments, living off-campus could very well be a cheaper option than the dorms, regardless of where you attend college.

However, living off-campus isn't always the best or cheapest option, even if the hefty price tag for a shared room and mediocre dorm food offends your sensibilities. Before you decide where to live (if you're given that option--some colleges require students to live on-campus all four years), come up with a sample budget, taking into account realistic costs for housing, food, maintenance, and commuting to and from campus. For example, don't budget for walking 20 blocks each way in the winter or eating nothing but ramen and leftover cookies you snag from your department's faculty meetings, unless that's really how you intend to live. Think about what you're giving up, as well--easy trips to class, free cleaning services, and a close sense of campus community. If you're not saving much by living off-campus, perhaps those things will encourage you to stay.

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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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Health Care Bill Sparks Discussion on Need for More Doctors

November 13, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

One thing has dominated the news and the world of politics for weeks - the health care-reform bill.  The U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill, which would cover about 96 percent of Americans, last weekend. It now awaits a vote from the Senate side, with a good amount of compromising expected if the bill has a chance to pass at all.

But what does this mean for education? A focus on health care recently has highlighted the need for more primary care doctors, and any legislation that would expand access to health care would obviously lead to an increase in the number of medical professionals to care for that influx of patients. An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education this week describes discussions that were being had among medical professionals at this week's Association of American Medical Colleges annual meeting. According to most, the equation is simple: more patients require more doctors, and more doctors require more residency programs to accommodate the kind of growth that would be needed with any expansions in health care access.

Despite the call for more doctors, medical school applications increased by just 0.1 percent this year according to that same association, even though four new medical schools opened at Florida International University, Texas Tech University, the University of Central Florida, and the Commonwealth Medical College. Another at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University will open next year. Many other schools added massive expansions to their medical school campuses. It also isn't just the possibility of expanded health care access that could spread doctors thin. The association worries about the impending wave of retiring baby boomer-physicians, and claims there would be shortage of as many as 159,000 doctors by 2025.

Obviously, not everyone can go to medical school and become a doctor. And not everyone can stomach the costs of going to medical school. According to the association, most medical students graduate medical school with about $156,000 in student loans, and primary care doctors make less money after they leave school with all that debt than other medical specialties.

If you're set on becoming a doctor, you do have options in reducing your student loan debt. Apply for scholarships. There are medical scholarships out there, including our own Scholarships.com Health Scholarship. The deadline for that one isn't until Nov. 30, so you still have time to fill out a profile and conduct a free scholarship search. If you qualify for that or other medical scholarships, those results will appear in your scholarship search results. Know your options, because even though there might be a job waiting for you once you graduate, you may be looking at quite a bit of debt post-college.

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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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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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Zombies Used to Promote Alternatives to Four-Year Colleges

November 20, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Two Chicago-area community colleges are using zombies to urge students to consider their options before applying solely to four-year schools. Harper College and Elgin Community College, with some help from email provider Abeedle.com, are using a cartoon short featuring fictional high school seniors Lynette and Theo in a common predicament among the college-bound: to save money, or not to save?

In the short, Lynette goes to community college, is free of student loan debt, and uses the money she saved to become a filmmaker and purchase a sporty convertible. Theo, on the other hand, chooses the four-year university, and is depicted wandering around with the other "college zombies," saddled with a large amount of debt.

This isn't the first time the zombie hype has hit college campuses. The University of Florida recently posted a zombie preparedness plan on its e-Learning website, alongside more likely disaster scenarios. But this is a unique way to address the high costs of higher education and invite students to examine all of their options when considering where to go to school.

Enrollments at community colleges have increased by about 25 percent over the last year, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. The big decisions aren't only about filling out those college applications, but figuring out how you're going to pay for tuition at your intended school. If you're concerned about how you're going to cover the costs, consider a community college where you'd be able to complete your general education requirements and then transfer to a four-year college if you want that traditional college experience. Many community colleges and trade schools specialize in certain fields, so narrow down your college choices by your intended field of study, as well.

If you know community college isn't for you, there are other ways to save. Compare the costs of in-state versus out-of-state tuition. Depending on your home state, you could still go to a state university that is far enough away that you get that "away at college" experience, while still enjoying the perks of in-state tuition. (In-state tuition is often half that of out-of-state tuition. Do the numbers!) Whatever you do, don't assume that college is out of your reach because of the costs. While paying for college can take some creativity and persistence, it can be done, especially if you have some scholarship money padding that financial aid package.

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