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Incentive for Unemployed to Attend College

May 12, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

The Obama administration recently announced steps that will be taken to make it easier for unemployed Americans to return to college and pay for school. Through a national effort to revise unemployment benefits and financial aid packaging, the administration hopes to make it possible for more displaced workers to return to school.

Currently, many states reduce or cancel unemployment benefits for students who are enrolled in college part-time or full-time, removing the possibility of a financial cushion that could enable more people to afford to enroll in school. In addition, financial aid is calculated based on previous year income, so lost wages are still included when estimating a student’s ability to pay. Even after financial aid is adjusted to reflect a job loss, income from earlier that year is still included and can disqualify a student from receiving a Pell Grant or other need-based aid their first year of school. In some cases, unemployment benefits also are currently counted as income, further compounding the problem.

To help alleviate these problems and encourage the unemployed to enroll in college, financial aid administrators are being given more leeway in using professional judgment to determine unemployed students’ ability to pay, and states are being encouraged to revise their policies to encourage college as an option. In addition, many community colleges nationwide are offering financial incentive to unemployed students who enroll, such as free or reduced tuition. If you’re unemployed and thinking of college, complete the FAFSA, talk to schools in your area, and finally, do a scholarship search to find additional money for college.

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Study Shows Standardized Test Prep Can Pay Off

May 20, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Standardized tests area huge part of the college application process, and one of the biggest issues college-bound students and their families face is whether and how extensively to make use of ACT and SAT test preparation services. Standardized test prep can range from taking a practice test online to spending hours in intensive one-on-one tutoring sessions, with countless options in between.  Debate has raged for years over how much test preparation courses actually pay off, and a new study published by the National Association for College Admission Counseling represents perhaps the most ambitious effort to quantify these gains.

Through analysis of previous research, the NACAC study concludes that a consensus has emerged that score increases for students who use test prep services tend to be fairly small, often only 5 or 10 points on the critical reading section of the SAT and 10 or 20 points on the math section.  Evidence is still inconclusive as to ACT score gains, according to the study.  However, the study also surveyed college admissions offices to determine the impact of score gains and found that score increases on the upper end of this average range can have a significant affect on a student's chances of being admitted to a top college.  Inside Higher Ed has a more detailed breakdown of the study and its implications.

With many high school juniors already signing up to take, or in some cases already awaiting scores from, the SAT and ACT, the release of this study is timely.  It is not a ringing endorsement of extensive and expensive test preparation programs, but does provide an argument for at least taking some time to familiarize yourself with the standardized test you will be taking before you show up for the test day.  If you're competing for admission at your dream school or vying for an academic scholarship, those few extra points on your test score could make all the difference.

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Congress Holds Hearing on Lender Subsidies

May 22, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

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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Loan Forgiveness Programs Among Budget Cuts

May 27, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Loan forgiveness programs have been helping encourage students to enter careers in fields like education and nursing for years.  Such programs are typically offered by state student loan agencies or non-profit organizations, and are often well-publicized to prospective college students.  In many cases, students have borrowed liberally, banking on having a substantial portion of their student loans forgiven after five or ten years of work in their field.  But budget cuts and stock market woes have been forcing agencies to make cuts to their loan forgiveness programs, in some cases almost entirely eliminating them.

Kentucky, Iowa, California, and New Hampshire are some of the states that have made changes to loan forgiveness programs, according to The New York Times.  Even if you don't live in one of these states, if you're banking on having your student loan debt forgiven after you graduate college, you may want to see what guarantees there are that your state's program will still exist in its present form.  Make sure you know how much of what you borrow you can expect to repay, even in a worst case scenario.

Regardless of repayment and forgiveness options, it's still a good idea to minimize your borrowing by finding scholarships and practicing good money management.  Nursing scholarships and education scholarships are out there, as are numerous other scholarship opportunities.  There are also several federal loan forgiveness programs for teachers, nurses, and other public service employees.

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More States Making Cuts to Student Loan Forgiveness Programs

June 2, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Last week, we blogged about states and loan companies making cuts to student loan forgiveness programs.  The New York Times initially ran a piece on these budget cuts and has followed up this week with a chart of state loan forgiveness programs and their current financial status.  If you're planning on using one of these programs to cancel some of your student debt after college, you can head over to their website to see if your program is among those facing potential budget cuts.  If you don't see it listed, The New York Times is encouraging people to contact state and local loan forgiveness programs and report back with details.

While many state programs are facing cuts, federal loan forgiveness programs have expanded in recent years. New federal options include a public service loan forgiveness program and a repayment plan set to debut next month that will forgive students' remaining balances of federal student loans after 25 years of income-based payments. Congress has also approved more funding for Americorps, which can help volunteers pay for school. Cancellation programs for Perkins Loans may also become more popular if an expansion to the Perkins Loan program is approved in the 2010 federal budget.

Regardless of the state of your loan repayment and forgiveness options, keep in mind there is free money out there.  Grants and scholarships are available for virtually every student based on any number of characteristics and criteria.  For example, many groups offer nursing scholarships and education scholarships, among other major-specific awards.  To find out more, do a free college scholarship search.

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Study Compares College Graduation Rates

June 3, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

If you're planning on attending college, chances are you're also planning on one day graduating.  Depending on which school you choose, getting out in six years or less could be anything from a long-shot to a near certain bet.  A new study has been published by the American Enterprise Institute comparing graduation rates among colleges based on selectivity ratings as part of an overall push for more accountability and transparency in higher education.  In addition to discussing the gaps in graduation rates among schools, the study also lists some of the best and worst performers in each category by name.  If you're a high school junior or senior just beginning to compare colleges, this could be good information to have.

Overall, the data show that about 53 percent of first-time college students at four-year universities graduate from the school they enrolled in as freshmen with six years. The study does not include non-traditional students or transfer students.  Not surprisingly, students at the most selective schools, such as elite private colleges, were among the most likely to graduate from the school at which they initially enrolled.  Six-year graduation rates at individual schools ranged from the single digits to nearly 100 percent across the whole spectrum of schools, with the most competitive category graduating nearly 88 percent of students on average, and the least competitive schools graduating only 35 percent of students.

Graduation rates also varied greatly within selectivity categories.  Two schools in similar locations with similar ratings could have vastly different graduation rates.  This is where the study becomes particularly useful for students choosing between schools.  If you have a roughly equal chance of getting into two colleges, and one graduates a significantly larger percentage of students then the other, it's not hard to imagine that having this information might influence your decision of which school to apply to or attend.  You can read more over at Inside Higher Ed, which also includes a link to the full study. Along with things like available financial aid and quality of on-campus housing, graduation rates are definitely something to consider incorporating into your criteria for your college search.

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Eight Chicago Students Win New Full-Tuition Scholarship

June 9, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Roosevelt University in Chicago has just awarded its first batch of full-tuition scholarships to students graduating from Social Justice High School, a school on the city's southwest side.  Eight graduates from Social Justice High School earned four-year scholarships, each worth more than $80,000, for earning good grades and doing well on the ACT.

The program was announced in 2006 to give low-income students at a predominately Hispanic high school incentive to succeed in high school and go on to college.  To qualify, students must earn at least a 20 on the ACT and maintain a cumulative GPA of at least a 3.0 on a 4.0 scale.  The scholarships cover up to the full cost of tuition at Roosevelt for four years, minus other aid.  In addition, the students will also receive housing allowances of $11,000 per year to allow them to live in the Roosevelt University dorms downtown.

Winning scholarships can hold many benefits for students beyond just financial ones.  The Roosevelt University scholarships at Social Justice High School encourage students not to give up on academics and to push themselves in school.  Several of the recipients retook the ACT or put in extra effort on their coursework in order to qualify for the scholarship.  Winning a scholarship can also motivate students to be more successful in college, according to research into benefits of scholarships.

The Chicago Sun-Times has more information on the Roosevelt University scholarship porgram. This is just one of many generous local scholarships out there.  To learn about other scholarship opportunities, you can conduct a free college scholarship search.

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More College Students Taking Summer Classes

June 12, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Early reports suggest that summer enrollment is up at colleges across the country, likely due at least in part to the recession.  Since summer jobs are harder to find and some summer internships have also been taken off the table, more students are looking to summer classes as a way to stay productive between spring and fall semesters.  Dwindling college funds and other economic difficulties may also be pushing students to try to finish college as quickly and cheaply as possible.  Most state colleges and community colleges offer summer classes, as well as many private schools.

Summer classes are a great way to keep yourself on track for graduation, as well as to get required courses out of the way as quickly as possible.  While more time might be spent in the classroom at once, summer terms are shorter than regular semesters, so that class you've been dreading won't seem to drag on quite as much.  Summer classes often come with smaller class sizes and more support from the instructor, in addition to longer class times, so they can also be a good way to master subjects that might otherwise be a struggle.

One problem that comes with summer enrollment is finding financial aid, however.  Often, schools award fewer summer scholarships and depending on the school's approach to summer aid awards, students may have already used up their federal aid for the academic year, or may have to reduce the amount they receive the following fall and spring in order to pay for summer.  Some schools are working to make it easier to pay for school in the summer, though, as a piece in Inside Higher Ed reports.  Several have instituted summer payment plans similar to those available during the regular academic year, while others are offering tuition discounts and summer scholarship awards.  You may also be able to apply other college scholarships towards your summer tuition, or even still win scholarships this summer.

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Several States Contemplate Cuts to Scholarships and Grants

June 16, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Student financial aid programs in several states may soon fall victim to sweeping budget cuts necessitated by the recession.  Ohio, Florida, Michigan, and California are all considering proposals to reduce or eliminate some state student aid programs, including popular grants and scholarships.

Ohio and Florida are both making slight changes to rules in existing aid programs, resulting in less aid for some students, but mostly leaving financial aid intact.  Florida is capping their Bright Futures scholarship so it no longer covers all of students' tuition or tuition increases, while Ohio is changing rules in their Ohio College Opportunity Grant to focus aid towards tuition and fees at public schools.

California and Michigan, however, are making far more sweeping cuts.  California has proposed eliminating CalGrants, a popular state grant program, for incoming college freshmen and cutting CalGrants for current college students.  Michigan may eliminate the Michigan Promise scholarship and make sweeping cuts to several other state financial aid programs, including work-study.  Students in both these states could find themselves suddenly thousands of dollars short on college financial aid.

While federal stimulus money has mitigated some of the damage in many states, in Michigan it has also played a large role in the proposed cuts to financial aid, according to The Detroit News.  Since a provision in the stimulus legislation prevents states from drastically reducing funding to higher education institutions, Michigan may be forced to turn to cutting state grant and scholarship programs to make up some of their budget deficit.

While some state aid and loan forgiveness programs are being reduced or eliminated, financial aid is still available.  Many college are actually increasing their budgets for university scholarships, and private foundations are still offering scholarship aid, as well.  Federal student financial aid has also seen some increases in the last two years.  Money is still out there if you know where to look, and a great place to start is doing a free college scholarship search.

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Three Universities Subpoenaed in Admissions Investigation

June 19, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Want to get into college but don't have the best grades?  Consider making friends with some prominent politicians, then apply in Illinois.

Earlier this month, The Chicago Tribune revealed the existence of a special admissions list at the University of Illinois main campus that consisted of politically connected applicants.  Now, records from University of Illinois, Northern Illinois University and Southern Illinois University have been subpoenaed in the ongoing federal investigation of corruption charges against former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.  Investigators want to determine whether Blagojevich recommended candidates for admission into state colleges in exchange for money or favors.

While going for the wow factor of a big name is an understandable strategy when it comes to letters of recommendation, it looks like more may have been going on with some applications in Illinois. There are concerns that some well-connected applicants received extreme advantages in admissions, in some cases getting in seemingly solely based on who they knew, even over the objections of the admissions officials reviewing their college applications.  The University of Illinois has suspended its special admission list and claimed to have not followed practices out of line with what other colleges do in considering applications.

The practice of relying on political connections in the college application process is not unique to Illinois, but in light of recent scandals in the state, it is garnering a lot of attention.  Using clout to get into college is still a  highly contentious practice in any case, whether the applicant is connected to university officials or state government figures.  Hopefully, this scandal will influence colleges to think twice before overlooking merit in favor of connections in future admissions decisions.

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