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by Emily

Though it's a day off from school and work, New Year's Day is often seen as a day to get down to business.  While you're starting in on your New Year's resolutions, opening up a new calendar, and packing up the holiday decorations, there's one more thing that college students and college-bound high school students should consider doing.  The Department of Education starts accepting the 2009-2010 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (more commonly known as "FAFSA") on January 1.  State application deadlines start happening soon after, beginning with Connecticut's February 15 priority deadline.  So while you might not be starting school until August or September, you want to be applying for financial aid right now.

What You Need

In order to complete a FAFSA, you will need the following documents: 

     
  • your social security card
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  • a driver's license if you have one
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  • bank statements and records of investments (if you have any)
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  • records of untaxed income (again, if you have any)
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  • your 2008 tax return and W2s
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  • all of the above for your parents if you are considered a dependent (to determine dependency status, check here)
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  • a PIN number to sign electronically (go to pin.ed.gov to get one)
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 If you've applied before, you can fill out a renewal FAFSA, which will let you skip a few questions.  You will still need your tax, savings, and investment information for the new year, though.

If you do not have your tax information yet, and most likely you don't, you can use your 2007 tax information to estimate 2008.  That way, you have a FAFSA on file and once you've done your taxes for the new year, you'll be able to submit a correction online.  While that might seem like more work, it's the best recipe for maximizing your state and campus-based aid packages.  If things changed drastically for your family in 2008, apply for student financial aid with the information you have, then talk to your school's financial aid office to adjust your information accordingly.

Why You Should Apply

Completing a FAFSA is an important step in funding your education if you don't plan on paying for everything out-of-pocket.  The FAFSA is used by the Department of Education to determine eligibility for federal student financial aid for college.  This aid includes federal grant programs (such as the Pell Grant), federal work-study, and federal student loans.  It is also used by states to determine eligibility for their financial aid programs, such as state grants.  Colleges also use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for the need-based aid programs they administer.  Finally, many scholarship opportunities request FAFSA information as part of their application process.  Even if you think that you won't qualify for free money in the form of need-based college scholarships and grants, you should still apply.  At the minimum, the vast majority of students qualify for Stafford Loans, low-interest federal student loans that represent one of the best deals in borrowing for school.

Where To Get More Information

Start on the FAFSA homepage and go through the links under "Before Beginning a FAFSA" to get started, especially if this is your first time filing.  You'll find information about application deadlines, required documents, applying for a PIN, and other things you need to know about to begin.  If you don't want to wait until tomorrow, 2009-2010 worksheets are already available on fafsa.ed.gov.  The ambitious among us can even fill out a worksheet now, then copy the information into their FAFSA on the Web beginning tomorrow.

We also offer a wealth of resources on financial aid at Scholarships.com.  Check out the financial aid section on our Resources page for further reading.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

Full-tuition scholarships, half-tuition scholarships, and financial aid packages free of student loans continue to be unveiled at institutions across the country.  While it may be too late for many students to alter their college application plans, if you are still looking for colleges for 2009, or if you happen to have applied to one of these schools, you may find the following information useful.  This week, The Chronicle of Higher Education profiled several significant scholarship programs private, community, and state colleges are launching or expanding for incoming students in 2009.

Northern Illinois University recently announced the Huskie Advantage, a program that will ensure that all incoming freshmen eligible for Federal Pell Grants will receive enough financial aid to meet the full cost of tuition.  Similarly, Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania is raising money to provide larger scholarships to students who receive a small Pell Grant or narrowly miss the cutoff for Pell eligibility.

The University of Pennsylvania will be eliminating student loans from the financial aid packages of all students this fall.  It's the latest in a string of well-endowed private colleges to put forward generous institutional aid for its students.  The Sage Colleges of New York are also following suit, promising to offer aid to meet new students' full financial need in the next academic year.

Two private colleges in Georgia and Minnesota aren't eliminating loans, but they are drastically reducing the cost of college for many applicants.  Agnes Scott College in Georgia is offering scholarships and grants to nearly halve the cost of attendance for all recipients of the Georgia Hope Scholarship, as well as an additional $3,000 grant for first-year students.  Saint Mary's University of Minnesota offers students with family incomes of under $100,000 financial aid packages that will reduce the cost of attendance to the average price of a Big Ten school.  For the neediest 25 percent of students, St. Mary's will provide all of this aid institutionally, allowing students to use federal student financial aid to cover much of the rest of their college costs.


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by Emily

While many stories right now are focusing on financial aid programs finding themselves strapped for cash to award an increased of needy applicants, this is not universally the case. Data published by The Chronicle of Higher Education shows that two federal grant programs that were added in 2006 still have more awards than applicants.  The Academic Competitiveness Grant (ACG) and Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) Grant have gained some participation, but still they're still falling short of enrollment goals.

Both grants are intended to supplement Federal Pell Grants for students who are both academically talented and financially needy. The ACG is a grant of $750 to $1,300 for college freshmen and sophomores who have completed a rigorous high school curriculum and excelled academically, while the SMART Grant is an award of up to $4,000 per year designed to support college juniors and seniors who are enrolled in a science, math, engineering, technology, or critically needed language program.  Approximately 465,000 students received the ACG and SMART grants in the 2007-2008 academic year, up 95,000 from the first year they were offered.

In order to attract more applicants and meet their goal of doubling participation by the 2011-2012 academic year, the department is pushing financial aid administrators to become more aware of award criteria and to make sure the grants are being fully awarded.  In addition, requirements have also been loosened and students enrolled in eligible five-year programs will be able to receive a SMART grant in their fifth year of school beginning in July.


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by Emily

While it's still a long way from becoming law, the first published draft of the economic stimulus legislation created by the House of Representatives includes billions of dollars for higher education, including several provisions designed to make paying for school easier.  The bill still has to be approved by both the House and the Senate (which is drafting its own stimulus legislation) then signed by the President, so it remains to be seen how many of the following appropriations will make it into the final version of the stimulus package.

The stimulus bill would increase funding to several federal student financial aid programs, as well as providing emergency funds to states to prevent further drastic budget cuts, and designating money to help colleges, especially ones affected by disasters, make needed improvements and repairs.  If the bill is passed, federal work-study will receive a boost in funding, as will Pell Grants, eliminating a projected budget shortfall for the program.  Unsubsidized Stafford Loans will increase by $2,000 per year, bringing the loan limit to $7,500 or more for undergraduate students.  The maximum Pell Grant award will also increase to $5,350.  In addition, lender subsidies will also increase, hopefully enticing more banks to remain in the FFEL program.  The Hope tax credit and a provision that allowed families to deduct up to $4,000 in educational expenses will also be combined into a new $2,500 tax credit, through which families with too little income to file taxes could still receive $1,000.

As Congress hammers out the details of the stimulus bill in coming weeks, these numbers will likely change.  A more detailed breakdown of these and other proposals affecting colleges and universities is available from Inside Higher Ed.


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by Emily

The University of California system's board of regents is considering a proposal to extend financial aid covering full tuition to families earning under $60,000 per year.  The change, suggested by University of California President Mark Yudof, is still under review and will likely be voted on next month.

The concerns that motivate this move are becoming more pressing and are shared by many figures in higher education.  The University of California, like other state university systems, is facing budget cuts and plans to increase tuition in response.  California is also one of the states hardest hit by the recession, especially the collapse of the housing market.  There is widespread concern that these factors may put a college education out of reach for many.  The University of California system also serves a relatively large number of low-income and moderate-income students, so Yudof's proposal could potentially benefit a substantial portion of the student body.

Despite economic hardship and shrinking endowments, California is not alone in considering increases to college scholarships and grants for students struggling the most financially.  A number of prestigious schools have eliminated student loans for less affluent students in recent years.  These significant financial aid packages may be becoming more of a draw students this year, as many of the most prestigious and most generous schools are reporting double-digit increases in applications for the 2009-2010 academic year.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

It's looking like federal student financial aid will be increased in the forthcoming economic stimulus package, at least based on the legislation presented in each house of Congress in its current form.  While the House stimulus bill contains more aid for education, the Senate bill also proposes higher education tax benefits and increases in Federal Pell Grant funding.

The House bill promises:

  • $15.6 billion to increase the Pell Grant by $500 to $5,350 and fully fund the increase
  • $490 million to Federal Work-Study
  • $12.5 billion over the course of 10 years to offer a $2,500 tax credit that will be 40% refundable for those who would otherwise make too little to qualify
  • $6 billion to higher education infrastructure
  • $1.5 billion to improve energy efficiency for colleges, schools, and local governments
  • $39 billion to school districts and state colleges
  • $25 billion to states for "high priority needs" which can include education
  • a $2,000 increase in loan limits on federal Stafford Loans

The Senate bill appropriates:

  • $13.9 billion to increase the Pell Grant by $281 in 2009-2010 and $400 in 2010-2011 and fully fund the increase
  • $12.9 billion to create a 30% refundable $2,500 tax credit
  • $61 million to Perkins Loans
  • $3.5 billion to improve energy efficiency and infrastructure on college campuses
  • $39 billion to school districts and public colleges
  • $25 billion to states for "high priority" needs which may include education

The House bill also includes money to improve financial aid administration and further assist student loan lenders, while the Senate bill will allow computers to be counted as education expenses towards which 529 plans can be used.  The bills are facing some Republican opposition, especially regarding education spending, as it's been argued that construction projects and increases to student financial aid will not directly and immediately benefit the economy.  As Congress and the White House continue to hash out the details of these bills, amounts are likely to change.  But for now, it appears that colleges and college students may receive a little extra financial aid from the government this year.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

As we mentioned last month, financial aid application deadlines are fast approaching for the coming fall.  While students technically have until June 30, 2010 to complete a FAFSA on the Web for the 2009-2010 school year, state aid deadlines happen much sooner with some occurring as early as February--this February.  So if you're waiting to do your taxes first or just generally procrastinating on your application, check the deadlines below to make sure you don't miss out on state or campus-based aid programs

     
  • Alabama:   Check with your financial aid administrator
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  • Alaska:  April 15, 2009
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  • American Samoa:  Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
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  • Arizona:  March 1, 2009
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  • Arkansas
       
    • For Academic Challenge - June 1, 2009
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    • For Workforce Grant - check with your financial aid administrator
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    • For Higher Education Opportunity Grant - June 1, 2009 (fall term); November 1, 2009 (spring term)
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  • California
       
    • For initial awards - March 2, 2009
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    • For additional community college awards - September 2, 2009 - date postmarked (additional forms may be required)
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  • Colorado: Check with your financial aid administrator
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  • Connecticut: Priority deadline February 15, 2009 (additional forms may be required)
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  • Delaware: April 15, 2009
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  • District of Columbia: June 30, 2009 (additional forms may be required)
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  • Federated States of Micronesia: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
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  • Florida: May 15, 2009 - date processed
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  • Georgia: Check with your financial aid administrator
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  • Guam: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
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  • Hawaii: Check with you financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
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  • Idaho:  Opportunity Grant - Priority deadline March 1, 2009 (additional forms may be required)
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  • Illinois
       
    • First-time applicants - September 30, 2009
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    • Continuing applicants - Priority deadline August 15, 2009
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  • Indiana: March 10, 2009
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  • Iowa: July 1, 2009
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  • Kansas: Priority deadline April 1, 2009 (additional forms may be required)
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  • Kentucky: Priority deadline March 15, 2009
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  • Louisiana: July 1, 2009
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  • Maine: May 1, 2009
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  • Marshall Islands: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
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  • Maryland: March 1, 2009
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  • Massachusetts: Priority deadline May 1, 2009
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  • Michigan: March 1, 2009
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  • Minnesota: 30 days after term starts
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  • Mississippi
       
    • MTAG and MESG Grants - September 15, 2009
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    • HELP Scholarship - March 31, 2009
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  • Missouri: April 1, 2009
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  • Montana: Priority deadline March 1, 2009
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  • Nebraska: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
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  • Nevada: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
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  • New Hampshire: May 1, 2009
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  • New Jersey
       
    • June 1, 2009 if you received a Tuition Aid Grant in 2008-2009
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    • All other applications - October 1, 2009, for fall and spring terms;
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    • March 1, 2010, for spring term only
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  • New Mexico: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
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  • New York: May 1, 2010 (additional forms may be required)
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  • North Carolina: Check with your financial aid administrator
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  • North Dakota: March 15, 2009
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  • Northern Mariana Islands: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
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  • Ohio: October 1, 2009
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  • Oklahoma: Priority deadline April 15, 2009 for best consideration
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  • Oregon: Check with your financial aid administrator
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  • Palau: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
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  • Pennsylvania
       
    • All 2008-2009 State Grant recipients and all non-2008-2009 State Grant recipients in degree programs - May 1, 2009
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    • All other applicants - August 1, 2009 (additional forms may be required)
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  • Puerto Rico: Check with your financial aid administrator
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  • Rhode Island: Priority deadline March 1, 2009
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  • South Carolina: Tuition Grants - June 30, 2009
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  • South Dakota: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
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  • Tennessee
       
    • For State Grant - Priority deadline March 1, 2009
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    • For State Lottery - September 1, 2009
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  • Texas: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
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  • U.S. Virgin Islands: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
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  • Utah: Check with your financial aid administrator
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  • Vermont: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
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  • Virginia: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
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  • Washington: Check with your financial aid administrator
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  • West Virginia: Priority deadline March 1, 2009 (additional forms may be required)
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  • Wisconsin: Check with your financial aid administrator
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  • Wyoming: Check with your financial aid administrator (additional forms may be required)
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 Additional information about federal and state financial aid application deadlines can be found on the official FAFSA website.  Deadlines for individual campuses may occur earlier than the deadline for your state.  Check with your college's financial aid office to find out deadlines for campus financial aid.


Comments

by Emily

The House of Representatives just passed the compromise version of the economic stimulus package.  Now there are just two stop left for it before it becomes law: the Senate and President Obama's desk.  The Senate plans to vote later this evening, putting it on track to be signed on Monday.

As the dust settles, more detailed accounts of what's actually in the bill are emerging.  While the final totals have not yet been made public, Inside Higher Ed has an updated version of their stimulus chart online today, featuring many of the stimulus provisions related to higher education.  The $787 billion stimulus package will include: 

     
  • $17.1 billion to increasing the maximum Pell Grant award by $500 and eliminate a shortfall in funding
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  • $200 million to college work-study programs focused on community service
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  • A $2,500 education tax credit available for four years of college.  The credit is 40 percent refundable, so people who don't make enough to pay taxes can still receive $1000.
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  • A provision to allow computer purchases to count as qualified educational expenses for 529 plans
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  • $39.5 billion to offset state budget cuts to education, including money to modernize facilities
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  • $8.8 billion for states to award to high-priority needs, including education
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 While several items related to federal student financial aid were cut from earlier versions of the stimulus, the final verison will hopefully minimize tuition hikes by giving states more money for education, help the neediest students deal with tuition increases through an increase in grants and work-study, and help all college students a little with the tax option included.  The stimulus package also includes tax rebates, increased funding to several social welfare programs, and changes to unemployment benefits, which could further aid struggling students and families.


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by Emily

An omnibus appropriations bill for the current fiscal year passed the House yesterday and is on its way to the Senate.  This piece of legislation will raise the maximum award for Federal Pell Grants to $5350 for 2009-2010.  The bill was put on hold last year due to threats of a veto from President Bush.

While Pell Grants received a funding boost, SEOG grants will remain at 2008 funding levels, as will work-studyPerkins Loan cancellation programs will receive a boost in funding to cover shortfalls.  Additionally, TRIO and Gear Up programs, aimed at helping low-income students get into college, also received more funding.

The first draft of the budget for the 2010 fiscal year is also heading to Congress soon after being unveiled by President Obama this morning.  While details are still emerging, based on an address the president delivered Tuesday, it's likely that further funding for financial aid programs and higher education in general will be included. 

While budgets are being hashed out and college aid is generally on its way up, more trouble may be brewing for student loans.  A PLUS loan auction program slated to go into effect this summer could reduce the availability of these loans that parents take out on behalf of their students, at least at schools participating in the FFEL program. Financial aid officers have petitioned Congress to delay the scheduled cut in PLUS loan subsidies so as not to jeopardize students' ability to pay for school in the midst of a recession that has already driven dozens of banks away from one form of student lending or another.


Comments

by Emily

Details of President Obama's proposed 2010 budget are emerging, with education being one of the first sections unveiled.  In the budget proposal are increases and structural changes to Federal Pell Grants, changes to Federal Perkins Loans, and the potential elimination of the Federal Family Education Loan Program, so that all new Stafford Loans and PLUS Loans for 2010-2011 would be originated by the federal Direct Loans program.  The president's budget also recommends that the new $2500 American Opportunity Tax Credit be made permanent, and that $2.5 billion be devoted over the next five years to programs to increase college access and completion.

After remaining nearly stagnant between 2002 and 2007, the maximum award for the Federal Pell Grant has increased significantly over the last few years.  It shot up from $4050 in 2006-2007 to $4310 in 2007-2008, then $4731 in 2008-2009 and now stands at $5350 for 2009-2010.  If this provision in President Obama's 2010 budget is adopted by Congress, the maximum Pell Grant will be set at $5500 for 2010-2011, and from there on out, it will increase in step with the consumer price index, plus 1%.  This award amount would become mandatory, as well, saving Pell funding from being at the whim of Congress.  This is good news across the board for now, but may be a problem later, since tuition and fees have steadily outpaced inflation for most of recent memory and it is entirely possible that they will soon leave the Pell Grant in the dust, despite this new funding commitment.

While the president's plans for Pell Grants and tax credits have largely been met with enthusiasm, the proposed changes to student loans have received mixed reactions.  Changes to Perkins Loans would be good for some schools and students and bad for others, but would increase access to the loans overall.  The move from FFELP to Direct Loans also has its ups and downs.

Channeling all Stafford Loans and PLUS Loans through Direct Loans would save money and streamline the process, and it may even reduce confusion about federal versus private loans, since students would no longer be borrowing both from the same bank.  However, some worry that despite the extent to which incentives have already disappeared and the FFEL program has been subsisting off temporary goverment support for the past two years, abolishing it entirely may hurt students in the long run.  Moving to a single lender system would eliminate what little competition in the student loan market remained, doing away with the possibility of future repayment or loan consolidation incentives.  Others worry that some of the counseling and support that FFELP funding provided to borrowers would disappear, though a new $2.5 billion grant program would likely supplement these programs.


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