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by Emily

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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by Scholarships.com Staff

Federal student loans aren't the only form of student borrowing that may soon undergo a legislative makeover. As Congress debates the creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Agency, advocacy groups are continuing to push for inclusion of rules that would give the agency more oversight of student loans.

The Consumer Financial Protection Agency would already oversee other kinds of lending, such as credit cards and student loans. However, there's growing debate over how extensive the agency's student loan oversight should be, specifically regarding loans that some colleges make directly to their students. A House amendment to specifically include these loans under the agency's purview was rejected by the Financial Services Committee, but is expected to be revisited as the House prepares to take up a floor vote on the bill. The Senate version of the bill, meanwhile, does authorize the agency to supervise loans made by colleges to their students.

The House version initially excluded loans schools make to their students because many colleges make small, short-term, "emergency" loans to their students to help them pay bills while they secure other forms of funding. Career colleges, on the other hand, have begun lending large sums to their students, often with terms that are less favorable than many private loans. These loans typically have a high default rate and can burden students with difficult payments, as interest rates can easily reach 18 percent and the schools may have less forgiving repayment processes than traditional lenders. This has student advocates concerned, especially in light of recent economic events.

Colleges have been increasingly encouraged to act as lenders to their students in the face of the economic recession and the preceding credit crunch. As it became harder for students to obtain sufficient student loans from banks and other traditional lenders, schools began to step in to close the gap. This included for-profit career colleges lending significant portions of the cost of tuition to their students. The latter category of loan is increasingly widespread, with many of the largest career colleges reporting plans to lend out tens of millions of dollars directly to their students next year.

In addition to being a way to enroll students who wouldn't otherwise be able to secure funding, these direct-to-student loans are also ways for for-profit colleges to get around the "90/10" rule that states that no more than 90 percent of a for-profit college's revenue can come from federal student financial aid. By charging more in tuition but giving more in loans, colleges can get around this requirement, even as more of their students qualify for federal aid.

This isn't the only career college practice that's receiving criticism at the federal level. The Department of Education has been investigating recruiting practices at for-profit colleges and recently issued several proposed rules in its negotiated rule-making process with career colleges. The proposed changes would do more to ensure that colleges aren't giving incentive pay to recruiters and that students who are being enrolled are able to adequately benefit from a degree.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Congress has a lot going on right now, from the ongoing health care debate to a number of bills looking to improve student lending and credit card practices. But that doesn't mean college football fans shouldn't have their day in government.

Just in time for this season's Bowl Championship Series (BCS), a House Energy and Commerce Committee subcommittee approved legislation Wednesday that would change the way the current championship series is run. Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, who introduced the bill, said college football champions should be crowned through a playoff method rather than a series of bowl games, such as the Fiesta, Sugar, Meineke Car Care and Rose Bowls, among others. The bill, named the College Football Playoffs Act, would ban the promotion of a postseason NCAA Division I football game as a national championship, which Barton called unfair, unless it's the outcome of a playoff.

An article in the Dallas Morning News today details how the subcommittee came to its decision, noting that even President Obama has voiced his displeasure over the lack of playoffs in college football. One legislator said the current process was less about finding the best team out of dozens but about revenue sharing. Another said schools with less fundraising power are less likely to find themselves in a Bowl game. The one dissenting vote, Rep. John Barrow of Georgia, said Congress had better and more important things to do than worry about college football.

In other college football news, a recent study released by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida showed that of the 67 schools surveyed, 57 had graduation success rates of 66 percent or more for white football players participating in bowl games. But 21 colleges (up from 19 in 2008-2009) graduated less than 50 percent of their African American football athletes; 35 colleges (up from 29 in 2008-2009) had graduation success rates for African American football athletes that were at least 20 percent lower than their rates for white football athletes. What's it all mean? Racial gaps remain between white and African American football student-athletes despite any progress with overall graduation rates. As the findings only looked at schools appearing in bowl games this year, it would be interesting to see what kind of data exists across the board.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

Students who are interested in applying for private loans may soon see the process changing. The House of Representatives passed consumer protection legislation last week that would further regulate private student loans, ensuring that students interested in borrowing them are aware of rates, federal alternatives, and borrowing limits at their school.

The bill moves to further regulate Wall Street in the wake of the credit crisis and ensuing economic recession, and also creates a consumer financial protection agency that's responsible for overseeing consumer credit such as credit cards, mortgages, and other bank loans. An amendment introduced by Democratic Representative Jared Polis of Colorado ensures that private loans to students are also included under this umbrella, and sets up additional rules that lenders and colleges must follow in issuing and certifying private loans.

Under this legislation, all private loans will have to be certified by a student's college, verifying the student's enrollment and the amount he or she can borrow. Before a school can certify a private loan, it must also inform the borrower of the availability of federal student financial aid. This builds on rules that will go into effect in February that state that students must be informed of interest rates and repayment terms up front by banks, and must certify that they have been informed of federal student loan options.

Effectively, it puts an end to direct-to-student private loans, which students can borrow without even informing the financial aid office, and which can be taken out for more than the student's cost of attendance for the academic year. With rising student loan default rates, risky loans like these have increasingly come under fire. These loans can be a quick way for students to find themselves in excess debt, as they make it easy for students to borrow more than they need to pay for school without having to investigate alternatives first.

The bill still needs to pass the Senate and be signed by the President before it can be enacted. Whether the Senate introduces language similar to the Polis Amendment remains to be seen, as it's unlikely financial legislation will be debate until after they finish with healthcare.


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by Agnes Jasinski

A report released today examines what policy makers should be paying attention to when crafting educational policies that benefit all college students. The report also comes to the conclusion that many decisions regarding Latinos in higher education are based on misconceptions about that student population.

The report, "Taking Stock: Higher Education and Latinos," was put together by Excelencia in Education, an organization that looks at racial and ethnic trends to identify where the need exists for more effective educational policies. The Lumina Foundation for Education, Jobs for the Future, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI), and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) supported the report.

In a preview of the report earlier this week, The Chronicle of Higher Education described conversations at a panel discussion on Monday morning with the report's authors and leaders from a number of Hispanic organizations. The panelists suggested that public policy is based less on facts and more on stereotypes that define Latinos as an immigrant population with high drop-out rates. A majority of Latinos, however, are native-born and want to succeed in higher education.

Other highlights of the report include the following:

  • Administrators should look into expanding current college and university programs that are proven to accelerate Latino success and graduate Latino students.
  • Policy makers should consider the success of Latino students, a rapidly growing student population, when considering the educational success of the entire country.
  • In order to meet President Obama's degree-completion goals, policy makers must make degree completion among Latino students more of a priority.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of Hispanics enrolled in college rose from 20 percent in 1996 to 24 percent in 2006, a greater increase than seen among white students. Still, Hispanic students are still lagging behind other groups when it comes to college admission, retention and graduation rates. Studies looking into that attainment gap suggest that while most Hispanic students believe in the value of a college degree, their educations may be cut short for a variety of reasons. In data released in October by the Pew Hispanic Center, about 74 percent of respondents said they had to leave school because of personal and family responsibilities. Others said poor English skills hampered their ability to keep up with the rigors of college, and even high school. About 40 percent said it was just too expensive to go to college.

All minority students should know there is help out there when it comes to funding your education. Scholarships for minorities are the most common student-specific awards out there, and minority students are eligible for funding from not only the federal government, the state, and their intended colleges, but outside organizations that aim to diversify college campuses. Try conducting a free scholarship search to find not only Hispanic scholarships, but scholarships based on a myriad of criteria specific to you.


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by Agnes Jasinski

A recent Scripps Howard News Service article looks at one government job you may be surprised you don't need a college degree for. According to the Congressional Research Service, 27 House members, one senator, and two governors are currently serving without college degrees.

The article claims this is great news, considering the history of the position. Just 30 years ago, Congress had at least 48 representatives and seven senators without college degrees. Historians point to the idea that a college degree is becoming increasingly relevant for the position, which currently only requires U.S. citizenship and a number of years of residency in the state a politician is running in.

That shouldn't come as a surprise, right? We want our lawmakers to be educated. Do you know if your Congressman or Congresswoman holds a college degree? Considering the number of bills moving through Congress now related to college students' financial aid options and student lending practices, a college campus experience could be especially beneficial.

According to the article, the degree-less lawmakers defend themselves by saying they came up in a different era, when it was more beneficial to have a background in labor-intensive professions. In certain constituencies across the country, it may also be more useful to come from a farmer's background than an Ivy League one to better serve the communities those lawmakers look to represent. "They put their pants on the same way I put my pants on," Rep. Solomon Ortiz, a Democrat representing Texas' 27th District, was quoted as saying in the article about the difference between lawmakers with and without college diplomas. Ortiz joined the Army as a military officer to help support his migrant family, eventually becoming a sheriff when he returned home. Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican, ran a construction business for 28 years in Western Iowa before pursuing a Congressional seat.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the more educated Congressional lawmakers include 169 House members and 57 senators with law degrees, 83 House members and 17 senators with master's degrees, 16 doctors, six former Peace Corps participants, and five accountants. A more educated Congress also reflects the national trend. The percentage of people 25 and older with bachelor's degrees has increased from 4.6 percent to 28.7 percent between 1940 to 2007, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.


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by Emily

A lot has happened in the last twelve months. We inaugurated a new President, weathered a recession, and obsessed over and forgot hundreds of minor crises and scandals. College students and recent graduates have marked all these events, and have very likely also noticed some pretty sweeping changes in their financial situations.  Here are a few of the most memorable.

At the start of the year, President Obama encouraged more Americans to enroll in college, calling for the U.S. to again lead the world in college attendance by 2020.

The recession also motivated more students to go back to college, especially community colleges. Enrollments surged at two-year schools across the country. State colleges also saw increases in applications and enrollment. Along with this, financial aid applications were up in 2009, as were aid appeals.

Colleges and universities searched for creative ways to cope with the recession and the accompanying booms in enrollment and financial aid applications. Several community colleges added late night classes and many public and private colleges boosted their financial aid offerings to assist needy students.

Federal aid also underwent significant changes. Revisions to the Higher Education Act went into effect, as did new and renewed economic stimulus legislation. Pell Grants went up, as did Stafford Loan borrowing limits.  The Income-Based Repayment plan premiered, guaranteeing college graduates affordable federal loan payments, and a new public service loan forgiveness program.

Veterans' benefits were reworked in 2009, as well, and the resulting backlog of applications had students waiting weeks or even months to receive the money they needed to pay their tuition and their bills. Once the bugs are worked out, though, veterans will see an expansion of their college benefits, and in the meantime, veterans were able to receive emergency payments to help them get by.

States also received much needed cash from the government to help them minimize cuts to education while they dealt with budget crises. However, several states had to make cuts to education budgets, including state aid and loan repayment programs. California made some of the most sweeping budget reductions and the state's university systems were forced to cap enrollment and hike tuition over 30%.

As we look toward 2010, more changes appear to be underway. Congress is (still) considering changes to federal loan programs and the creation of a consumer financial protection agency, and recently passed credit card legislation will soon go into effect. States and colleges are still struggling with fallout from the recession and may alter their financial aid offerings more in the next year.


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by Emily

It's January, which means it's time to start thinking about completing a new FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) for the 2010-2011 school year. This can be a long, complicated process for parents and students, but the Department of Education has begun taking steps to make the form easier to complete.

In a presentation to high school students and school counselors in Washington, DC today, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and other officials demonstrated the 2010 FAFSA, which went online January 1. While the paper form remains roughly the same length, at 107 questions, changes have been made to the online application to allow applicants to skip several questions that don't apply to them. A few other changes have also been made to make the website easier to navigate and the form easier to complete. These steps will hopefully speed up students' application processes and reduce confusion.

Progress is also being made on syncing the FAFSA and tax information from the IRS. In late 2009, the Department of Education announced that beginning in 2010, some students would be able to access a new tool that would allow them to import their 2008 tax information into a 2009-2010 FAFSA. The tool is expected to go live later this month, with work continuing on making the feature available to everyone.

According to Nextgov, one of the main barriers still remaining is a conflict between state FAFSA deadlines and the dates 2009 tax information will be available on the IRS website. Currently, previous year tax information goes online in the middle of the year, after many state deadlines have passed for FAFSA filing. The Department of Education and the IRS are working to find a solution to this problem to make the data transfer tool more widely useful. Other tweaks are likely to be made once the pilot program gets underway.

Legislation currently in Congress may further simplify the FAFSA by eliminating additional questions that many deem unnecessary. While the financial aid application process is likely to remain long and complicated for the foreseeable future, concrete steps are being taken to make it shorter and simpler, and it appears the movement is gaining momentum.


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by Emily

As January gets underway, college students across the country are waiting eagerly for that spring financial aid disbursement. While a variety of students will encounter processing delays and unexpected errors this spring, one group may be particularly likely to see problems: student veterans.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill, which went into effect August 1, offers expanded education benefits to veterans who have served their country since 2001. GI Bill benefits include money for tuition and fees, a stipend that covers living expenses, and the option of transferring education benefits to their family members. However, many veterans who applied for this aid faced a months-long backlog in processing as the Veterans Affairs administration struggled to develop and streamline procedures for handling the new claims.

The delay caused a variety of problems for over 68,000 veterans who applied for the new GI Bill benefits in the fall. Over 26,000 veterans were still waiting for checks at the end of the fall semester, and thousands are still waiting to receive their first check. The VA issued emergency advances of $3,000 in October to veterans still waiting for their first disbursements, but for many that money ran out long before benefits checks arrived.

Some students have had to put tuition or food and rent on credit cards, while others faced problems stemming from still owing their universities for fall tuition. While schools pledged not to drop veterans with unpaid bills, some have prevented veterans from receiving their transcripts and diplomas or registering for spring semester while waiting for benefits checks to arrive, according to the Associated Press.

As of late December, the VA reported a remaining backlog of only 5,000 claims, but an Army Times story lists the number of pending claims as of January 4 at 48,000, many of which are for spring semester. Given the popularity of the bill and the continued delays, members of Congress have begun exploring ways to simplify the procedures for processing GI Bill benefits claims. In the meantime, the VA has pledged to have all claims received by January 15 processed by February 1, but given the number of pending claims and the speed at which processing moved in the fall, veterans may once again find themselves waiting months to receive their financial aid.


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by Emily

Immediately on the heels of an announcement that President Obama would be calling for additional assistance to college graduates struggling to repay student loans, the administration also unveiled a proposal to hold federal discretionary spending to current levels for the next three years, a move that could potentially have serious implications for colleges and students.

Currently, most federal education spending, including student financial aid, is discretionary, not mandatory, so it would fall under the umbrella of the budget freeze. This makes it possible that students will see limited increases to federal grants, work-study, and subsidized student loans in the coming years. The White House has pledged to make education a funding priority, but with states and colleges also struggling financially, it’s quite possible that financial aid programs will see an end to the boost in financial support they’ve received in the last few years.

It’s possible one federal aid program, at least, may be spared from the budget freeze. Last year, President Obama proposed making the Pell Grant an entitlement, putting it in the category of Medicare and other programs that would be exempt from the budget freeze, but the bill to do so still has not passed the Senate. If the bill passes, Pell funding will be mandatory and increases in Pell Grants will be tied to inflation, guaranteeing students a small, but steady, increase in available aid. If not, it’s up to Congress to allocate limited resources for any increases in grant amounts, and with increases in the numbers of college attendees, applications for financial aid, and Pell Grant recipients, it may be all Congress can do to hold funding levels steady for the next three years.

As details of federal and state budgets emerge, and emergency legislation that temporarily boosted funding to schools and student aid begins to be revisited and possibly phased out, exact changes to college funding will become clearer. Already, though, many families are finding paying for college increasingly challenging, even with the aid of college scholarships and grants. There’s a possibility that a federal budget freeze could mean that students in the next few years will see a situation similar to the one that faced students at the start of the last decade, where tuition increased rapidly while federal aid held steady and more and more students came to rely on private student loans.


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