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by Emily

Yesterday, President Obama signed into law a bill to expand Americorps, a national service program that provides small stipends to people of all ages engaged in volunteer work throughout the country.  The act, officially known as the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, paves the way for Americorps to grow in size from its present 75,000 volunteers to as many as 250,000 volunteers by 2017.

In addition to creating more volunteer positions, the Serve America Act will also increase the education stipend for volunteers to $5,350, the same amount as Federal Pell Grants.  This will enable more recent graduates and people currently attending college to participate in Americorps programs, which are becoming an increasingly popular alternative to employment in the current economy.

The national service bill, sponsored by Senator Kennedy, quickly made its way through both houses of Congress, receiving bipartisan support, as well as a ringing endorsement from President Obama, who has long been a proponent of community service.  Congress still needs to find funding for Americorps to begin to expand, but a provision to provide an immediate 25% increase in funding to the program was included in Obama's 2010 budget proposal.


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by Emily

As Congress moves forward with a federal budget plan for 2010, rhetoric is ramping up on both sides of what is proving to be one of the most contentious budget debates so far:  whether or not to eliminate the Federal Family Education Loan Program.  President Obama initially proposed this move in his budget outline, saying that a move to Direct Loans would result in a savings of $48 billion, money that could be put towards expanding the Federal Pell Grant program.

After the Congressional Budget Office revised the estimated savings to $94 billion over 10 years, many members of Congress and several higher education professional organizations have been offering up tentative support for the plan.  Democrats on the joint budget committee have even begun paving the way for this portion of the budget to be eligible for reconciliation, a filibuster-proof process that will allow portions of the budget to pass with a simple majority vote in the Senate.

However, lenders and other groups have begun suggesting and campaigning for alternatives that would allow the bank-based student loan program to continue to exist while still cutting costs to some extent.  Concerns have been raised that Direct Loans will not be as efficient or as kind to borrowers in the long run, though the credit crisis has made the program especially appealing as FFELP has required repeated government interventions to avoid grinding completely to a halt.  With many schools voluntarily making the switch to direct lending based on the program's current stability, concerns have also been raised about a rapid expansion in Direct Loans overwhelming the program as it currently stands.  Others worry that eliminating FFELP may speed lenders' exodus from private loans, ultimately leaving many students in a worse place financially than they find themselves in now.

What's emerging is a war of words between banks and the President.  In a speech on Friday, Obama characterized lenders as, "gearing up for battle," to which he responded, "So am I. . . And for those who care about America's future, this is a battle we can't afford to lose."  Considering the President's popularity and lenders' tarnished reputations from crisis after scandal after crisis over the last two years, we may see big changes happening soon in student loans.


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by Emily

Student loans and credit cards make up the two most dangerous, and often difficult to avoid, debt traps for college students.  While some amount of borrowing for college can make life easier for students, too much debt can make life nearly impossible for graduates.  The same goes for credit cards.  Having a card is great for emergencies and your credit rating, but running up a large balance while in college can really hurt, especially for students who were approved during days of easy credit and are now seeing rates soar and credit limits plummet.

However, Congress is working to make things easier for current credit card holders and also to make the choice of whether or not to open a credit account less nerve-wracking for new college students.  Legislation in both the House of Representatives and the Senate seeks to create a "credit card holders' bill of rights," curbing confusing and predatory practices by banks issuing credit cards.  While the bills have received bipartisan support, including a ringing endorsement from President Obama, there is still some concern about possible backlash in the form of even more stringent credit requirements for people who want to open credit card accounts.

Still, picking up a poorly screen printed t-shirt along with a new line of credit with an 18+ percent interest rate is a campus tradition unlikely to be missed by many.  With college students' credit card debt still on the rise as of 2008 and relief from private loans still nowhere in sight, any new consumer debt protection will likely be welcomed by many college students and recent graduates.


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by Emily

A little over a week after announcing his plans to gear up for battle with student lenders over the future of the Federal Family Education Loan Program, President Obama has begun calling in the troops.  An e-mail message sent to young Obama supporters by the Democratic National Committee is urging students to speak up in favor of the President's proposal to switch all federal lending to the Direct Loans program and to use the savings to expand Federal Pell Grants.

Students have been asked to call, write, or e-mail their Representatives and Senators to let them know what they think of the proposal to eliminate FFELP for Stafford Loans and PLUS Loans.  The text of the e-mail, as reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education, urges students to stand against "special interests" and to help "fix a broken system."  Rhetoric on the other side has focused primarily on preserving jobs and preserving choice (technically, the choice is primarily left to schools, not students, as students aren't able to choose freely between DL and FFELP until they graduate and consider consolidation loans).

Regardless of whether you favor or oppose this plan, now is a good time to let your people in Congress know how you feel, since changes in federal student financial aid are likely to affect you directly.  So, what do you think?  What changes, if any, should Congress make to student loans? Do you plan on writing to Congress about this issue?


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by Emily

Yesterday, Congress held a hearing to begin the process of determining the fate of the Federal Family Education Loan Program, the bank-based federal student loan program that President Obama has proposed eliminating in the 2010 federal budget. Voices from both sides of the debate chimed in, with one clear theme emerging: in 2010, student loans are definitely going to change. The questions at this point are to what extent federal student lending will change and whether the banks currently involved in FFEL will still have a place in the new system.

The Obama administration proposes switching all federal Stafford and PLUS loans to the federal Direct Loans program, then using the savings from eliminating lender subsidies to increase Federal Pell Grants and make funding mandatory, while also greatly expanding the federal Perkins Loan program and spending more on college completion. Opponents of this plan, primarily consisting of FFEL lenders and representatives of schools that participate in FFEL, have suggested alternatives that would restructure student lending, but still leave a place for lenders to service the loans. Not one witness at the hearing advocated keeping the system as it is, though, and it seems that a shakeup in student lending is inevitable. Hopefully, this will result in more available financial aid for students.  Inside Higher Ed has more information on the hearing.


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by Emily

With President Obama's proposal to end the bank-based Federal Family Education Loan Program, there has been much speculation on what role would be left for banks in student loans, as well as which banks would be allowed to play that role.  An announcement made yesterday by the Department of Education indicates that at least four banks will remain involved in federal student loans for the forseeable future.

The Department of Education has selected four companies to service loans made through the federal Direct Loans program.  Sallie Mae, Nelnet, American Education Services/Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, and Great Lakes Education Loan Services will all be awarded contracts of five to ten years to manage the increasing volume of student loans the federal government owns.

The servicers selected will be responsible for the student loans currently in the Direct Loans system, as well as loans the federal government has purchased as part of the federal rescue plan.  If all federal student loans are moved into Direct Loans, these agencies will also service them.  For now, what this means for student borrowers is that you may be dealing with different people if you have questions about your Stafford loans next year.  However, if Congress eliminates FFEL, this news could become more significant.


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by Emily

As part of his campaign's focus on education, President Obama pledged his administration would address issues of the financial aid application process, such as the length and complexity of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has previewed some of the administration's proposed changes, with a formal announcement expected today. While not as sweeping as the two-page FAFSA EZ Congress already mandated when renewing the Higher Education Act last year, these changes are still a step towards simpler financial aid applications.

Changes will be rolled out in phases, with the first phase being a smarter FAFSA on the Web.  Rather than forcing students to read fine print to determine whether they need to provide information requested by each question, as of next January, the application will use the information students have provided to determine which questions they need to answer.  Students with independent status will not be shown the questions about parental income and low-income students will not be shown certain questions about assets that they don't need to complete.  This is a fairly simple step to save time and hassle, and eliminate some of the barriers that keep students most likely to be eligible for federal grant programs from applying.

A pilot program has also been initaited to test the feasibility of allowing students to access their tax information online to complete the FAFSA.  If successful, it could be expanded to all users, saving headaches involved in finding their 1040s, W2s and related forms, then scouring each for the correct lines to copy into the FAFSA.

Duncan also stated that the administration will seek permission from Congress to begin taking steps that could eventually result in eliminating the FAFSA entirely and relying solely on tax information to apply for federal student financial aid.  While not explicitly stated by Duncan, it could be an end result of his request to Congress to remove questions from the FAFSA that do not pertain to information reported to the IRS on a student's (or their parents') 1040.  Once the complicated need analysis formula of the FAFSA has been set aside in favor of this simplified process, the idea of allowing students to apply for aid by checking a box on their tax return seems almost within reach.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

Congress has passed and President Obama has signed a bill that provides "technical corrections" to the Higher Education Act, which Congress renewed last year. In addition to offering clarification on several points and correcting minor errors, the Technical Corrections bill also makes some useful changes to federal student financial aid.

Minor clarifications include:

  • Updating the list of veteran's benefits not counted as financial aid to include benefits from the new GI Bill that goes into effect this year
  • Stating that lenders can provide both entrance and exit loan counseling to students
  • Setting 2010-2011 as the year in which the EZ FAFSA will need to be implemented
More substantial changes include:
  • Authorizing the Department of Education to buy up rehabilitated student loans (loans that have gone into default and since had consistent payments made on them) under the provisions outlined in ECASLA--previously students who had defaulted on loans and since resumed payments would find their loans stuck in default status due to the credit crunch.
  • Creating a new grant program for dependents of soldiers killed in Afghanistan or Iraq since September 11, 2001
  • Making Pell-eligible dependents of soldiers killed in Afghanistan or Iraq after September 11, 2001 eligible for an automatic 0 expected family contribution on the FAFSA
  • Changing the information schools must provide to lenders when students apply for private loans

The Chronicle of Higher Education has more information on the HEA Technical Corrections legislation here.


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U.S. Bank Exits FFELP

July 10, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Earlier this week, U.S. Bank announced that it would cease to act as a lender for Stafford Loans issued through the Federal Family Education Loan Program. U.S. Bank was the sixth largest participant in FFELP as of 2008, according to the Student Lending Analytics Blog, yet this news has caused barely a ripple.

This is partially due to the fact that the stream of lenders leaving FFELP has slowed considerably since last year and this particular student loan crisis seems largely to have passed. However, the news of another lender exiting FFELP seems less noteworthy or surprising in the face of increasing uncertainty about the future of FFELP as a whole. In what has been widely regarded as placing another nail in FFELP's coffin, the Department of Education has sent a letter to colleges currently participating in FFELP, detailing the steps being taken to ease their transition into issuing Stafford Loans through the federal Direct Loans program.

While Congress has not yet voted to move all federal student loans into the Direct Loan program, and while lenders and other organizations are still proposing alternatives to President Obama's suggestion of eliminating FFELP, many people seem to already regard the move as a done deal, regarding it as unlikely that any lenders will be around for much longer than the next academic year. Time will tell whether this proves to be the case, but for now students who were previously borrowing from U.S. Bank will still need to switch lenders at least one more time.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

On August 1, the new GI Bill will kick in, bringing with it increased education benefits for people who have served in the military since 2001. At least in theory.

The new GI Bill covers an undergraduate student's full tuition and fees at any four-year state college anywhere in the country, which is a more generous benefit than the veteran aid students received under the old GI Bill. Eligible students will also receive an additional monthly housing stipend and, thanks to the recently approved HEA Technical Corrections legislation, these benefits won't be counted as income for purposes of determining federal student financial aid eligibility.

The GI Bill also includes a new program that gives veterans benefits at private colleges and allows schools to match federal VA benefits for their students. More than 1,100 private colleges signed up to participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program, which should allow veterans to attend a larger number of institutes of higher education at little cost.

However, the formula for determining benefits under the Yellow Ribbon Program has been mired in controversy since its announcement, and as the deadline for the GI Bill to go into effect nears, many people are looking at the wide disparity in Yellow Ribbon benefits nationwide and scratching their heads.

Veterans attending private colleges can receive up to the full amount of tuition and fees at the most expensive public college in the state from the government, with their institution agreeing to assist with additional tuition costs at Yellow Ribbon schools. But the amount the federal government will cover varies widely from state to state, with government benefits ranging from just over $2,000 to just under $40,000, depending on how the department of Veterans Affairs calculated the maximum in-state tuition in each state.

These differences have caused some private schools to limit their Yellow Ribbon participation, meaning many veterans may still be on the hook for most of their college costs if they choose to attend private colleges. The wide variation in benefits also can cause confusion and uncertainty for veterans considering attending private universities but unsure of the financial aid they'll be eligible to receive.


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