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by Scholarships.com Staff

Yesterday, the House of Representatives formally introduced legislation to reshape federal student loans, federal Pell Grants, and other aspects of student financial aid. The Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009 builds on presidential budget recommendations and features several substantial changes to student aid.

A preliminary breakdown of the bill provided by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators lays out the following proposed changes:

  • Dividing the Federal Pell Grant into mandatory and appropriated funding, then fixing the mandatory portion to the consumer price index plus 1 percent. Currently, the mandatory portion of the grant is $490 and the appropriated portion is $4860, so if these proportions remain the same, increases in the Pell Grant would still largely be at the whim of Congress each year.
  • Eliminating several questions on the FAFSA related to assets, but preventing anyone with assets of over $150,000 from qualifying for federal student aid.
  • Ending the Federal Family Education Loan Program and moving all federal Stafford Loans to Direct Loans.
  • Ending subsidized Stafford Loans for graduate and professional students in 2015.
  • Reverting to a variable interest rate that would be capped at 6.8 percent for subsidized Stafford Loans.
  • Expanding the Federal Perkins Loan program, with part of the new funding going specifically to schools that keep tuition low and graduate a high proportion of Pell-eligible students.
  • Changing the rules for drug offenses to make students ineligible for aid only if they've been arrested for selling a controlled substance.

The Democratic majority in the House has indicated a strong intention to pass this bill quickly, with the Committee on Education and Labor planning to vote on it as early as next week.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Sen. Edward Kennedy, a U.S. Congressman for more than 40 years, has left behind a long history of higher education programming, including the passage of an act last summer that expanded grant funding for low income students.

Kennedy died late Tuesday from the cancerous brain tumor he was diagnosed with in May of last year. One of his most recent efforts was working to pass the Higher Education Opportunity Act last August, which reauthorized the Higher Education Act for the first time since 1998. The act increased Pell Grant maximums, reaffirmed several scholarship programs, including the Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholarship Program, implemented loan forgiveness programs for eligible teachers and services in areas of national need, and detailed requirements that lenders provide borrowers with more information before issuing loans. The focus of the latest reauthorization was on expanding opportunities for scholarships and grant funding and streamlining the federal financial aid process in the wake of rising tuition costs and a more competitive student loan industry.

Kennedy had a long history of crafting higher education and student financial aid programs beginning with his work in 1972 on Pell Grants and Title IX, which prohibits the discrimination of women in education institution and has become known for increasing the number of women participating in college sports typically dominated by men. An article in the Chronicle for Higher Education today describes him as a "lifelong champion of equal rights and educational opportunity," attributing to him much of the work that went into the implementation of the federal direct-loan program introduced in the 1990s. The program allowed the government to lend money directly to students through their colleges.

>Kennedy, while not without his share of controversies, was able to get much of his work done through compromise and friends in the Republican base. Still, he was not without his critics. He publicly expressed his displeasure when the No Child Left Behind Act, legislation he had worked on with a number of Republican lawmakers, was passed with restrictions on grant aid to high-achieving math and science majors. In 2003, Kennedy attempted to move a bill through that would target colleges that gave preference to children of alumni, a timely topic today in the wake of the admissions controversies at several Illinois universities. His ties to his home state were obvious in much of his work in higher education, as Kennedy opposed any legislation that would impact the amount of student financial aid available to Massachusetts students

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the Senator's sister and the founder of the Special Olympics, died earlier this month. Jean Kennedy Smith is the last surviving Kennedy daughter.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

According to newly released data, default rates on federal student loans continued to climb in 2008, reaching a nine-year high of 6.7 percent, most likely as a result of the recession. The annual cohort default rate, released by the Department of Education on Monday, covers federal student loans that went into repayment between October 2006 and September 2007 and had gone into default by September 2008.

The 2007 cohort default rate was 1.5 percentage points higher than the rate for the previous year, as significant increases took place across the board. Defaults were higher in the bank-based Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program than in the Federal Direct Loans Program, which is typically the case, but the discrepancy between the two grew this year. A total of 7.2 percent of loans in the bank-based system were in default, compared to 4.8 percent of the loans in the Direct Loans program.  he numbers for 2006 were 5.3 and 4.7 percent, respectively.

Much of this discrepancy can be attributed to a higher percentage of students at proprietary schools participating in the FFEL Program, as these schools carried a default rate of 11.1 percent, compared to rates of 6.0 percent and 3.8 percent at public and private colleges. Still, the lower default rate in the direct lending program is likely to be brought up as Congress debates moving all lending from FFEL into Direct Loans.

Default is defined as failure to make payments on a student loan according to the terms of the master promissory note the borrower signed, and federal student loans are considered in default only after several months of missed payments. This means that 6.7 percent of students in this cohort had stopped making payments for 270 days or more within 1-2 years of their first loan payment coming due. It's likely that the cohort default rate numbers released paint an optimistic picture of the number of borrowers currently having trouble making payments on student loans.

New repayment options may help troubled borrowers, though, and several have been introduced in recent months. One is the federal Income-Based Repayment Plan, which allows students to make payments they can afford and forgives all remaining debt after 25 years. Borrowers worried about repayment can also look into loan forgiveness programs offered in exchange for public service, which have been expanded under the Higher Education Act and national service legislation.

The best way for students to avoid the prospect of defaulting on loans is to limit borrowing as much as possible. Put some serious effort into a scholarship search, and consider affordability when doing your college search, as well. Practices such as keeping your options open and landing a scholarship can go a long way towards reducing your loan debt and your risk of being unable to pay once you graduate.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

The House of Representatives is poised to vote today on legislation to eliminate the Federal Family Education Loan Program and increase funding for Federal Pell Grants. The bill, currently known as the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009, is widely expected to be approved by the House, possibly with some amount of bipartisan support.  While most of the provisions in the bill have relatively widespread backing, one element has generated a fair amount of controversy. Under the proposed legislation, all federal student loans, such as Stafford Loans and Plus Loans, originated after July 1, 2010 would be part of the Federal Direct Loans Program, rather than the current bank-based system.

While initially both sides appeared ready for battle over the proposed legislation, controversy and rhetoric have cooled since the legislation was introduced. Alternative proposals that preserve some element of FFEL or otherwise grant a larger role to banks than in the bill currently before Congress have been proposed, but ultimately failed to generate the savings the Congressional Budget Office estimates this plan to carry, and thus have gained little momentum. Some Representatives still suggest submitting the proposal for further study and reviewing alternatives, but the plan to eliminate FFEL has gained the most widespread support.

Many Republican lawmakers still oppose the proposal to switch entirely to Direct Loans, with some making comparisons to the bank bailouts of earlier this year and the healthcare legislation currently being debated. The move to direct lending has also been repeatedly framed as eliminating choice for students, though the choice of direct loans versus bank-based loans has always rested with colleges and never with student borrowers.

Despite these objections, though, the bill appears to have the support necessary to pass the House and move on to the Senate, where it may face greater challenges. The option of passing it through the process of budget reconcilliation, which requires only a majority vote in the Senate, has been proposed, but whether the Senate goes that route remains to be seen.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Despite some Republication opposition, The House of Representatives voted 253-171 to approve a bill Thursday that would stop lending from the bank-based Federal Family Education Loan Program in favor of the Department of Education-run Federal Direct Loans Program by July 2010. The bill, known as the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009, would also increase the current maximum Federal Pell Grant from $5,350 to $5,550 and provide for annual increases to the grant in the years to follow through a $40 billion pool of funding over the next decade.

The bill is expected to have more of a fight when it comes before the Senate, where even Democrats have voiced concerns about the potential for job losses in states that headquarter private loan agencies. Many Republican lawmakers argue that the student loan industry has served college students well, and oppose the government takeover.

Amendments to the bill that failed before its passage looked at ways to allow the private sector to continue student lending as a way to offer the college-bound more choice in financing their educations. Amendments that passed included strengthening support services to borrowers and making part-time students eligible for Year-Round Federal Pell Grants, according to the National Association of Student Financial Aid and Administrators.

The bill would also:

  • use the projected $87 billion in savings from the move to direct lending to expand aid to students and colleges.
  • provide $10 billion in grants to community colleges as part of the Obama administration's American Graduation Initiative, a project that aims to nearly double the number of two-year institutions across the country.
  • overhaul the Perkins Loan program and expand its funding from $1 to $6 billion per year.
  • provide $8 billion in grants targeting early-learning programs over the next 10 years.
  • make interest rates on need-based federal student loans variable starting in 2012.
  • simplify the financial aid application process.

The legislation has broad support from the Obama administration. The president called the bill a "historic set of reforms," adding in a statement that the bill "will end the billions upon billions of dollars in unwarranted subsidies that we hand out to banks and financial institutions." Currently, about one-forth of students' loans come through the government's direct loan program.


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by Agnes Jasinski

As the Senate prepares to begin looking at similar measures recently passed by the House to stop or further regulate bank-based lending, student-loan companies have been looking for ways to lobby for their own cause, spending millions in the process, according to an analysis of federal records done by The Chronicle for Higher Education.

Earlier this month, the House of Representatives voted to approve the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009, legislation that would stop lending from the bank-based Federal Family Education Loan Program in favor of the Department of Education-run Federal Direct Loans Program by July 2010. Student-loan companies have understandably been feeling threatened, and have spent nearly $14 million over the last year and a half lobbying the government to abandon attempts to stop bank-based lending. The country's largest lender Sallie Mae, which handed out about a quarter of the nation's federal student loans last year, spent $2.5 million this year alone, according to the Chronicle. The Senate's version of the legislation could come onto the floor as early as this week.

While the legislation has strong support from the Obama administration, some  Democrats in Congress have voiced concerns about the potential for job losses in states that headquarter private loan agencies. Sallie Mae has reported it would need to lay off about a quarter of its workforce if Congress voted to end bank-based lending. Republican lawmakers have argued more broadly that the student loan industry, while it could use some tweaks, has served college students well and should not go under the control of the federal government.

So does the bill stand a chance? The Obama administration would like it to be a sure thing, as legislation to limit bank-based lending was a campaign promise during election season. The Congressional Budget Office claims it would save taxpayers around $87 billion, but that's a figure disputed by Republican lawmakers. Colleges and admissions officials seem to be on the fence, worried mainly about any delays in financial aid funding for their neediest students and potential costs to schools' already tight budgets. The bill's proponents argue that savings from the legislation would either go toward overhauling the financial aid system or higher education programs. While the Obama administration has urged lawmakers to avoid interactions with special interest groups, the upcoming arguments on the Senate floor will determine whether those lobbying dollars swayed any opinions.


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by Agnes Jasinski

The topic of health care has dominated the news recently. Voices on both sides of the political spectrum have been trying to either stop the debate entirely or come up with ways to compromise on a complicated issue even legislators have become perplexed by. In a big push forward, the Senate Finance Committee voted "yes" yesterday to approve an overhaul of the country's health care system, signaling at least the first step toward potential medical reform.

But how will college students be affected in all this, if at all? An article in Inside Higher Education today looks at whether the proposals currently being considered will have an adverse affect on students and campus-based health care plans, which many students leave their parents' plans for. The article suggests that without any major changes, the bill up for debate ignores college health insurance plans altogether as it focuses instead on employer-based group plans and individual policies. Allowing students to remain on their parents' health insurance plans for a longer period of time could be an option under the proposal, although this would not address students whose parents have lost their jobs and health insurance, for example, and need an affordable plan to get them through their college careers.

Lookout Mountain Group, a nonpartisan group that researches the impacts of health care reform on students, released a statement last week that the proposals currently on the table did little in the way of making sure college students had access to affordable, quality health care plans. The group further warns that the cost of health care for students could actually increase if language isn't included in the bill that would address the lack of campus-based options. Jim Mitchell, the director of Student Health Services at Montana State University and spokesperson for the Lookout Mountain Group, said in a release that any health care proposals should strive to include college? and university?sponsored student health insurance/benefit plans under the bill's definition of "group insurance."

Worst case scenario, how would students' health care be affected if no changes were made? According to the Government Accountability Office, 71 percent of four-year private colleges, 82 percent of four-year public colleges, and 29 percent of two-year public colleges offer student health care plans. Best case scenario, legislators realize the oversight and work on including amendments that would not only maintain campus-based student health insurance plans, but expand health insurance offerings for college students, a population that definitely needs affordable options.

No matter what happens with the health care bill, consider your health insurance options before you get to college. Many insurance plans will allow full-time students to remain dependents under their parents' health care plans while those students are in college. If you choose to go this route, make sure you've notified your college; many schools that carry student health insurance plans automatically charge and enroll new undergraduates for their plans. (You may need to provide proof of your insurance in this situation, but that's for your own benefit. Trust us. You don't want to start college uninsured, and will be thankful for insurance when you get sick at college.) If you go with your college's plan, you'll probably pay less than you would for a private plan, and you'll need to be comfortable going to your school's clinic or health center for most of your minor ailments.


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by Agnes Jasinski

As tuition and fees continue to rise and students need more financial aid to complete their college educations, ideas on how to both keep costs for students low and bring schools' budgets under control continue to crop up among lawmakers.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, a former president at the University of Tennessee turned Republican lawmaker, has an editorial on the topic in Newsweek this week, where he compares the three-year degree track to a fuel-efficient car. It would save students money, ease the dependence on federal and campus-based financial aid, and allow students  to move into the working world or to pursue an advanced degree in less time. And it would be up to the students to decide whether to complete their degrees in three years.

Many schools allow students to complete their degrees in three years, but few have official programs set up where students enter college knowing they'll be done in three years. Hartwick College has allowed students to complete their studies in three years for a while, but announced earlier this year a more official academic program for high-performing students that could be completed in three years. Students in that program will save about $43,000 in tuition and fees by forgoing a fourth year. This fall, 16 first-year students and four second-year students entered into the three-year program at Hartwick. Lipscomb University also unveiled a three-year option this year to students willing to attend classes in the summer. The state of Rhode Island has legislation on the table this month that would require all schools in the state to offer a three-year option.

On the other side, Waldorf College will stop offering the three-year programs it had set up as most students and staff preferred a traditional four-year track. Many students want the full four (or however many) years on campus. I still often wish I was back there. Students who have compressed a four-year program into three years have less time for what often makes the college experience memorable - time for friends, social outings and extracurricular activities that make you more well-rounded and able to juggle many aspects of your life at once. Alexander acknowledges possible obstacles in his piece, but maintains that something needs to be done to stay competitive and address an economic fallout that could affect schools for years to come.

Why not leave the choice to the students? What do you think of the opportunity to complete a college degree in three years? It could make sense for students looking at completing advanced degrees in addition to their master's. And the cost-saving aspect of the idea would turn many students on to the idea, especially returning adult students. Let us know whether you're planning on completing a degree in three years, and whether you think all schools should offer a three-year program as an option.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

As the wrangling over proposed healthcare legislation drags on in the Senate, progress on other bills has stalled, including a piece of legislation that would impact federal student financial aid programs.  The Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, passed by the House of Representatives in September, has yet to see its counterpart taken up for debate in the Senate.  Yet the debate over student loan reform is heating up again as the Department of Education and lenders both attempt to press their agendas forward.

Student loan reform has been a topic of contention since President Obama announced his 2010 budget proposal at the beginning of the year.  Among them was doing away with the Federal Family Education Loan Program, which subsidizes private banks to make and service federal student loans, such as Stafford Loans and PLUS Loans. Students would borrow directly from the Department of Education through the Direct Loans Program. The money saved from the subsidies would then be channeled into Pell Grants and Perkins Loans, among other education funding priorities.  The proposed changes would go into effect on July 1, 2010 necessitating a quick switchover to direct lending for all colleges still participating in FFELP.

After the bill passed the House, the Department of Education began urging schools to voluntarily make the change to Direct Loans, which concerned some financial aid administrators and most lending agencies.  Concerns have been expressed over the efficiency of direct lending, the loss of choice in eliminating FFEL, the feasibility of making the switch, and the continuation of services such as financial aid counseling that some lenders currently provide.  Many of these were aired at a recent meeting of a panel of financial aid experts in Washington.  Representatives of student lenders were also there to champion an alternate plan that would bring some of the savings proposed by SAFRA, but would maintain a role for banks in student lending.

It's widely expected that the Senate will ultimately pass a version of the bill similar to what was passed by the House, but when that will happen remains uncertain.  Procedural regulations and concerns over support are currently preventing the bill from progressing until the issue of healthcare is settled.  In the meantime, it appears debate, analysis, and lobbying will continue on both sides of the issue.


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by Agnes Jasinski

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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