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Report Shows Student Debt by State and by School

December 2, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Although the economic downturn has changed some borrowing and spending habits, recent college graduates are more in debt than ever before. Average student loan debt has continued its steady rise, with graduating seniors holding an average of $23,200 in student loans in 2008. This information comes courtesy of a report by the Project on Student Debt on average debt for the college class of 2008, the latest in an annual series profiling the previous year's graduating class and the financial situations they face upon leaving school.

As debt rose for graduating seniors, so did unemployment, with the unemployment rate for workers age 20-24 (the typical age range for recent college graduates) now standing at 10.6 percent, the highest on record. This combination of factors is likely contributing to the rising student loan default rates we've seen in the last year.

The highest-debt states include the District of Columbia, whose class of 2008 held an average of $29,793 in student loans, Iowa ($28,174), and Connecticut ($26,138). Six other states also topped the $25,000 mark, compared to only two last year: Iowa and New Hampshire. Utah and Hawaii held onto their low-debt distinctions, once again being the two cheapest bets in higher education, at $13,041 and $15,156 respectively. Other low-debt states for 2008 included Kentucky, Wyoming, Arizona, Georgia, and California, though soaring tuition and reduced state funding may soon bump California off this list.

South Dakota, West Virginia, and Iowa had the highest portion of student borrowers in 2008, with 79 percent of graduating seniors in South Dakota taking out a student loan at least once in their college career. More than 70 percent of 2008 graduates in Minnesota and Pennsylvania also went into debt to fund their educations. Hawaii, Nevada, and Utah had the fewest students borrowing, with 37 percent of students in Hawaii, 40 percent of students in Nevada, and 41 percent of students in Utah graduating with debt in 2008.

In addition to describing trends state-by-state, the Project on Student Debt also looked at debt by college. An interactive state map offers not only pop-ups of the state's average debt and percentage of students borrowing, but also provides a link to a list of data by college, including the percentage of borrowers and the average debt for 2008 where available. The report, available on the Project on Student Debt website, also lists which colleges' graduates had the highest and lowest average amounts of debt.

This information can be especially useful to students currently involved in the college search or college application process. Schools whose students borrow less to complete college often have low tuition, generous scholarship opportunities, or other programs to keep costs down. If you're concerned about paying for school, this can be very appealing.

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Study Shows Students' Troubles in Reaching "Gatekeeper Courses"

December 3, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

A new study surveying community college students in Virginia shows that more attention should be paid by those schools, and perhaps at schools across the country, in making sure students are getting the proper guidance when making course decisions and are being placed in the appropriate classrooms.

The study, from the Community College Research Center at Columbia University's Teachers College, tracked more than 24,000 students entering Virginia's community colleges in 2004. It found that most of those students never completed, or even reached, the important "gatekeeper courses" necessary to complete most fields of study. Gatekeeper courses are typically prerequisites that students must take - and pass - before moving on to more advanced courses that may have more to do with their intended degrees. These are considered the fundamental college courses, often in subjects like math and English, that often make up general education requirements at four-year institutions. Most of those students surveyed never made it past the remedial courses they were placed in when their academic records suggested core courses would be too intense for their first semesters on campus.

Academic credit is usually not awarded for remedial coursework. A long-standing criticism of remedial courses has been that the classes do little in the way of preparing students for college-level work. The study found mixed results on the issue. Students who were placed in remedial courses and completed them did just as well in the gatekeeper courses as those who didn’t need remediation, but the researchers suggest getting rid of remedial courses would be a mistake. Instead, students should take remedial courses at the same time as gatekeeper courses, to use what they learn in remediation in courses that may be more difficult for them.

So what kind of supports do community college students across the country need in place? Schools should consider having additional supports for those targeted for remediation. While those students may need more help in terms of developmental coursework, they should also be introduced to college-level coursework as soon as possible, as the study found that students who needed multiple remedial courses rarely reached the gatekeeper courses.

Schools should also maintain the financial supports many community college students rely on to attend those institutions. The new NBC comedy "Community" plays with the idea of a stereotypical community college and stereotypical community college population, but the reasons college-bound students choose two-year schools are much more complex, and often not as funny, than the show allows. Most often, cost considerations and personal responsibilities come into play when students are considering alternatives to four-year schools in their college search. If you're planning on attending a community college for your post-secondary education, make sure you and your study skills are prepared for the rigors of a college education just like any traditional four-year student so that you're successful, and that you know of the financial aid options available to you to pay for that education.

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Historically Black Colleges an Affordable Option

December 16, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Are you looking for an affordable college option, but finding yourself less than interested in huge state colleges? You might want to look into attending a HBCU. A new study by the United Negro College Fund finds that, on average, historically black colleges and universities charge much less than their historically white counterparts. The study found that not only do HBCUs charge 31 percent less than comparable institutions, but that their tuition and fees also rose more slowly than similar colleges.

The report compares total tuition charges at UNCF's 39 member institutions with comparable institutions for the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 academic years. The average tuition and fees at the HBCUs was $20,648 for 2006-2007 and $21,518 for 2007-2008. In comparison, comparable institutions had total tuition and fees of $26,451 and $28,156 respectively. Their tuition charges also rose between 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 at a rate more than double that of HBCUs ($870 to $1706). Five of the HBCUs surveyed did not raise tuition at all, whereas all comparable institutions charged some amount more.

UNCF analyzed data from the National Center for Education Statistics Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. Comparable schools were selected based on a variety of criteria, including Carnegie Classification, level of institution, degree granting status, and private or public status. However, as U.S. News' Kim Clark points out, the study did not take into account the net prices of these schools--the amount students can actually expect to pay. Many colleges and universities offer substantial scholarships and grants, especially private colleges where most students see significant discounts off the sticker price.  There are a variety of institutional and UNCF-sponsored scholarships offered specifically to students at HBCUs, as well as a number of African American scholarships that can help make tuition more affordable for students at these schools.

With or without financial aid, choosing to attend college at a historically black college or university can result in substantial savings. There are other benefits to attending HBCUs, as well, especially for students who may need extra support. Since many HBCUs serve students from diverse and often disadvantaged backgrounds, they have systems in place to better support students who might otherwise struggle in college. HBCUs also tend to produce students more appreciative of diversity, so if that's important to you, you may find your home at one of these colleges. Regardless of what you ultimately decide, it can't hurt to diversify your college search. By learning about and visiting a variety of schools, you're more likely to find the one that fits you best.

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Community College Enrollment is Growing

December 18, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

If you're a student at a community college, you may have noticed campus has been a lot more cramped lately. Anecdotal reports of students flocking to community colleges have been steadily rolling in over the course of the last couple years. But now a study by the American Association of Community Colleges has numbers to back up these reports. It appears enrollment is up at community colleges nationwide, especially among full-time students.

Nationwide, full-time enrollment at community colleges is up 24.1 percent since 2007, with overall community college enrollment increasing 16.9% over the same period. Enrollment increases are most pronounced in the Rocky Mountains region of the country, where overall enrollment has climbed 36% between 2007 and 2009. In most regions, full-time enrollment increases have significantly outdistanced increases in part-time enrollment. Considering the majority of community college students traditionally attend part-time, this represents a dramatic shift for schools and a greater drain on resources.

Several community college systems have had to cap enrollment, while many others have effectively done so, as they have more students interested in enrolling in classes than they can accommodate. Over 34 percent of respondents to the AACC survey reported that they believed some potential students had been turned away due to capacity issues. Some schools are adding "graveyard shift" sections of classes to try to find room for all of the students who are interested in taking classes. Others, including administrators interviewed by Inside Higher Ed, reported reshuffling administrative and classroom space to try to accommodate more students.

It appears this enrollment boom has not come at the expense of more costly private colleges. Several private schools are reporting that early enrollments for the most part are either flat or up, as compared to last year. Based on these and other reports, it appears college admissions and financial aid may be even more competitive this year than last. If you're planning to attend college next year, whether it's a community college, state college, or private college be sure to meet application deadlines for admission and financial aid, and apply well ahead of deadlines if possible. You may also want to look at broadening your college search and applying for a couple extra schools to maximize your chance of getting in and winning scholarships.

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Yale University Offers Admission to Quadruplets

December 23, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

For the first time in history - or in admissions officials' memories - Yale University has offered admission to a set of quadruplets. Ray, Kenny, Carol, and Martina Crouch of Danbury High School in Connecticut haven't yet decided whether they'll be attending the Ivy League school, but they've already made history just by receiving those acceptance letters.

In an article in The New York Times recently, the quadruplets describe being shocked by the news. While they were all hoping for that best-case-scenario of all being admitted to Yale, they were ready for at most one of their brothers or sisters being admitted, and the awkward scenarios that would follow. Jeffrey Benzel, the dean of admissions at Yale, called the quadruplets' applications "terrific," and that the school hoped they would attend.

The quadruplets have all also applied to the University of Connecticut and a number of other institutions separately. In the New York Times article, they describe the pros and cons of all attending the same school. “It might be fun to go somewhere where I’m not ‘one of the quads,'" said Kenny, who has also applied to Princeton University, Williams College, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Pennsylvania. The cost of attending an elite private university is also a large factor. The kinds of financial aid the quadruplets receive from each school they've applied to could very well make their decisions for them.

The New York Times' education blog The Choice revisited the quadruplets' story this week after a number of comments from readers over the weekend suggested that the siblings only gained admission to Yale based on their minority status. (Their mother is Nigerian, and their father is white and from Connecticut.) Their applications, however, were solid. According to the New York Times article, their class ranks ranged from 13 out of a class of 632 (Kenny) to 46 (Martina). They also had impressive standardized test scores. Carol scored a perfect 800 on the verbal portion of the SAT.

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States Explore Changes to Community College Systems

December 29, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Community colleges are enjoying a growth in enrollment numbers like never before. Nationwide, full-time enrollment at community colleges is up more than 24 percent over the last two years. The American Association of Community Colleges suggests the economic recession has led to more adults returning to college and improving upon their skills, or learning new ones. And the community colleges themselves are taking notice and planning for the future as their institutions become increasingly important on the higher education landscape.

In California, lawmakers are considering allowing the state's community colleges the authority to award bachelor's degrees, a move that is already in practice in 17 other states across the country. In Florida, for example, a number of community colleges offer nursing and teaching bachelor's degrees to address shortages in those fields across that state and, more generally, a shortage in college-educated residents. (Community colleges typically offer two-year associate degrees and certificates for a number of different professions.) While California's community college administrators agree the move would be a good one at a time when the state's four-year institutions are overcrowded and, many students say, overpriced, the state would need to budget it doesn't really have at this time to cover the costs of new programming. According to an article in the Contra Costa Times recently, California's community college system consists of 110 schools and nearly 3 million students. The campuses are also already overcrowded, according to state administrators.

Meanwhile, in Tennessee, lawmakers are looking to introduce proposals that would have the state's 13 community colleges working more closely together with the state's four-year institutions. One plan would make it much easier to transfer credits from community colleges to four-year schools, something that has been a problem among students transferring after two years on the community college level. Legislators also hope to raise the state's graduation rates from both two- and four-year schools by offering remedial classes solely on the community college level rather than at four-year institutions and coming up with a broad curriculum that would remain the same across the board at all of the state's community colleges.

In Florida, the state administrators say is the best example of how a community college system should work, the graduation rate from the two-year schools is about 30 percent, the highest out of anywhere in the country. According to an article today in The Tennessean, this is thanks to how easy it is to transfer credits in Florida between two- and four-year schools. Indiana and North Carolina are also moving to similar models, making community colleges more "feeders" to four-state private and public universities rather than independent entities that only award associate's degrees.

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More Colleges Adding Green Majors

December 29, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Even as many colleges cut course offerings in the wake of budget crises, "green" college majors are booming. According to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, more than 100 majors, minors, and certificates in programs related to energy and sustainability were created in 2009.

The growth has been partly attributed to employer demand, as more companies and individuals show an interest in pursuing greater environmental-friendliness and sustainability in their work. The Obama administration has been promoting green jobs and predicts a growth of 52% in energy and environmental-related occupations through 2016, compared to a projected 14% growth rate for other occupations. With added incentives at the state and federal level for going green, and the prospect of major environmental policy changes on the horizon, there's a growing demand for workers trained in a variety of fields that can contribute to these efforts.

Students, especially those whose plans have been changed by the current job market, are also increasingly interested in training for green careers, partially because it appears to be a growth industry. Beyond economic interest, a personal interest in sustainability is also driving demand. According to a survey by the Higher Education Research Institute, protecting the environment was one of the issues with broadest support among college freshmen in 2008. In 2007, the College Sustainability Report Card was launched to help students choose eco-friendly colleges. Green scholarships also are increasingly popular college-funding options. Students at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania can even earn up to $40,000 by taking time off before school to help the environment.

With all the growth in green education options, there is some skepticism. Critics have long accused corporations of "greenwashing," declaring things environmentally-friendly to tap into the green movement, without actually making a significant contribution to sustainability. A post on the Wallet Pop blog wonders whether colleges might be doing the same with their new green programs and encourages students to investigate whether the new green majors are truly new, and whether they're really able to prepare students for good, green jobs. It's good advice for students truly interested in both sustainability and employability-a thorough college search can ensure that you get a good education at a school that fits your needs and helps you meet your college goals.

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Kiplinger Ranks 100 Best Value Public Colleges

January 6, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

Whether you place much value on the lists that come out ranking colleges each year or not, it's never a bad idea to do your research and be informed when starting your college search. The latest, a ranking of the "100 Best Values in Public Colleges," comes from Kiplinger, which based its conclusions on a combination of academic quality - standardized test scores, retention and graduation rates, student-faculty ratios - and the schools' costs vs. financial aid offerings.

Knowing what the "best deals" are out there, at least according to Kiplinger, may not be bad information to have, especially as tuition costs continue to rise and high school graduates are increasingly looking at college costs and the best bang for their buck when choosing their intended colleges. The list is led by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for overall value, and Binghamton University for best out-of-state value. Kiplinger says both those schools offer either the same or more financial aid than they have in previous years, despite a year where schools have looked to raise tuition and cut aid to recoup budget losses, while still delivering impressive academic programs. Other schools that ranked high included the University of Maryland at College Park and the University of Virginia.

Using the magazine's scoring tool, Kiplinger also offers a large amount of data that allows students to make their own assumptions, including in-state vs. out-of-state costs at public institutions and the average financial aid award at any given school. You're also able to search by state or by school to see whether the school you intend to attend is a "good deal." It may not hurt to know whether you're sacrificing quality for cost, or weighing the options of an expensive private college over a less expensive public institution. (Kiplinger also ranks the "Best Value" private colleges with rankings for the top 50 private liberal arts colleges and the top 50 private universities. Pomona College led the liberal arts colleges; the California Institute of Technology led the private universities.)

Remember that it's also important to do your own research when choosing the right school. Consider not only the tuition and fees associated with the school, but whether the colleges you're considering offer the fields of study you may be interested in down the line. Do you want to be close to home, or a little farther away? What kinds of extracurricular activities are you interested in? Are you an athlete, narrowing your choice by a school's sport offerings and athletic scholarships? Weigh the pros and cons of every school you're considering to make the best choice, and when you've narrowed that list down, it may come down to the financial aid each school is offering you.

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Tuition Discounts to Attend College Out-of-State

January 12, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

To make up for budget cuts and other difficulties caused by the recession, many state colleges, including some prestigious research universities, have begun admitting more out-of-state students, who typically pay more in tuition than in-state students. While this could make getting into a top school in your own state more challenging, this shift does present some unique opportunities. If you're starting your college search, you may want to consider applying to state colleges in neighboring states. You can get a bargain on tuition compared to private colleges, and there may even be tuition discounts and scholarship opportunities to further help you further bring down costs.

University systems and state higher education agencies offer tuition discounts for certain out-of-state students, bringing down your tuition costs to anywhere from 100% to 150% of in-state tuition: as much as a 50-75% discount on the regular out-of-state rate. High-achieving students, children of alumni, and residents of neighboring towns or states may qualify for programs at specific universities or for certain state scholarships.

If you have specific schools in mind, look to see if they offer discounts for students in your situation. Many large public universities will have some program in place to offset costs for out-of-state students. State colleges and universities near borders may also offer a discounted rate to students living just across a state line.

State-wide tuition discounts also exist. Students in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin can take advantage of a wide-ranging tuition reciprocity agreement: Minnesota's public colleges and universities charge in-state tuition for students from the Dakotas and Wisconsin, and schools in those states return the favor for Minnesota residents. Minnesota also has similar agreements with Manitoba and some community colleges in Iowa.

The Southern Regional Educational Board offers the Academic Common Market for students in the southeastern United States pursuing specialized degrees at schools out-of-state. Students who qualify to participate in ACM are able to pay in-state tuition at the school they attend, provided their degree program is not offered by any colleges in their home state.

Other regional tuition exchange programs offer students a chance to go to school out-of-state at a special discounted rate. The two largest of these programs are the Western Undergraduate Exchange and the Midwest Student Exchange Program. Both allow students to attend participating state colleges for 150% of in-state tuition, and MSEP also allows students to receive a 10% discount on tuition at participating private colleges.

If you want to attend school out-of-state, you may also be able to qualify for in-state tuition by becoming a resident of the state. Check the residency requirements of the state and the school where you want to attend college--while some will not allow college students to apply for resident tuition, others happily grant residency to students. A recent article by Kim Clark in U.S. News gives some other tips for how to get in-state tuition at out-of-state schools.

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Yale Takes Musical Approach to Reach New Applicants

January 20, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

Yale  University is playing on the popularity of the tween classic "High School Musical" with a new spot from its admissions - a peppy, somewhat cheesy music video that offers would-be applicants the answer to "That's Why I Chose Yale."

The video, which clocks in at around 15 minutes, starts off safe, with an admissions official discussing what makes Yale stand out above the rest as potential students and their parents look on. That same admissions official, while thinking of an answer to a prospective student's question with a wry smile, breaks out into song. What follows is campy, but it does make the Ivy League institution seem a little less stuffy. There's choreographed dancing in addition to the singing, along with a cameo from NBC news anchor Brian Williams, whose daughter attends Yale. The administrators love it, saying that an effort by students (only current students and alums participated in the making of the video) captures the spirit of the school better than any marketing professional could do. Many students love it, saying that the cheesiness of it makes it cool.

Not everyone has had a positive response to the video. One blogger described the video as "That's Why I Chose to Ram a Soldering Iron into My Ears" instead, calling the effort too earnest. The Yale Herald, while it admitted that the musical romp was fun to watch, especially for those currently at Yale who may recognize familiar faces, suggested the video may do little to entice new applicants not already interesting in the school.  Comments on the story about the video on the Yale Daily News range from "this is so embarrassing" to this: "Next year's class is going to be devoid of any serious academic talent. What a huge sap on our prestige."

What do you think? Are there any Yale students out there who like or dislike the video? Most would agree it's at least better than the effort from Harvard University last year, "Harvard by the Numbers." Let us know what you think, and whether these kinds of efforts hurt or help admissions.

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