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Obama Extends an "Opportunity" to College Students

The American Opportunity Tax Credit, That Is

October 13, 2010

Obama Extends an "Opportunity" to College Students

by Suada Kolovic

The financial aid process can be a daunting one but if you’re planning on attending college any time soon, you should know that there are tons of federal student aid options out there – from Pell Grants to Perkins Loans to FAFSA – but your eligibility to receive aid depends on your level of need and, subsequently, how much aid you are eligible to receive. So, to the folks right in the middle: How does a tax credit sound? The American Opportunity Tax Credit, created in the 2009 economic stimulus bill, expires in 2010, but President Obama has proposed making it permanent, with a price tag of $58 billion over 10 years.

Now what does this mean to you? Because the Opportunity Tax Credit is more generous than its predecessor, the Hope Tax Credit, it provides a credit of up to $2,500 rather than $1,800 and it phases out at a higher income level – $160,000 for married couples filing jointly instead of $100,000. According to a report by the Department of Treasury, it’s also partially refundable so students and families with little or no tax liability can receive up to $1,000 of it as a tax refund. The report comes as lawmakers are debating a bill to extend several expiring tax credits. Recent versions would not extend the American Opportunity Tax Credit, but President Obama hopes lawmakers will reconsider.

"The president obviously feels strongly that this is an important relief for middle-class families," said Gene Sperling, counselor to the Treasury Secretary.

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College Software Suggests Courses Based on Student Data

October 14, 2010

College Software Suggests Courses Based on Student Data

by Suada Kolovic

What do Amazon, Netflix and Google all have in common? Well, they are constantly learning about you – the user – storing and analyzing data to find relationships and patterns about what you’re viewing. A new project, unveiled at the Educause conference, plans to provide college students with a similar experience on academic websites. The software, called Sherpa, was developed by the South Orange County Community College District and intends to mine data about students to guide them to courses, information and services.

That’s a shift from what students experience today with the Blackboard course-management system, said Robert S. Bramucci, South Orange’s vice chancellor for technology and learning services. “It’s as if Blackboard is somebody with hippocampal damage, that has severe amnesia,” he said. “It’s never seen you before, other than knowing that you have an account in the system. The systems outside learn about you. But the systems typically in academia do not.”

The goal of Sherpa is to offer students an array of options pertinent to them. For instance, a student with a high grade-point average might get a link to the honors program, while a student with low grades might be directed to tutoring services. And with more information about students, the suggestions could get even more specific. Jim Gaston, South Orange’s associate director for IT, academic systems, and special projects, gave this example of a tip he hopes to send to a student who hasn’t yet registered for class:

“Your classes are filling fast. We looked at your academic plan and saw that you plan on transferring to UC Berkeley as a biology major. We searched the class schedule. We found a set of courses you said you were interested in. Based on the pattern of classes you’ve taken in the past, here are the four classes we think you’re going to be most interested in. We’ve already screened them for pre-recs. They don’t have a time conflict with when you said you were going to work. And one of them is your favorite instructor.”

If that’s doesn’t scream convenience, you may want to have your ears checked.

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The Early Student Gets Admitted

Colleges See More Interest, Accept More Students Early

October 21, 2010

The Early Student Gets Admitted

by Alexis Mattera

Hiring managers and interviewers like to say “If you’re early, you’re on time and if you’re on time, you’re late” and over the course of the most recent recession, that motto has been unofficially adopted by admissions committees and prospective college students.

According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC)’s annual “State of College Admission” report, many colleges (private and public) have reported increased interest from applicants in applying early and a jump in the number of students admitted this way. The former remained relatively the same as over the last two years but the latter – 65 percent of schools accepting more early decision applicants compared to 43 percent just one year prior – is pretty remarkable. The same can be said about the growing gap between the admissions rates for early decision and regular applicants at the same institutions: Colleges with early decision admit about 55 percent of all applicants, but 70 percent of early decision applicants, though only 7 percent of applications received take advantage of the early decision option. Another facet of the NACAC report is the overwhelming popularity of applying online, up to 80 percent in 2009 from 68 percent in 2007.

Does this mean schools are becoming less selective and simply rewarding the early birds in their quests for the worm? Not entirely…and not at all for the Ivies. The top criteria remain grades, the strength of the high school curriculum and admissions test scores but what NACAC calls "demonstrated interest in enrolling" is also climbing those ranks. Does this info change how you plan to apply?

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Credit-Card Companies Paid Colleges Almost $84-Million

Payment Based on Cards Issued to Students and Alumni

October 27, 2010

Credit-Card Companies Paid Colleges Almost $84-Million

by Suada Kolovic

As a college student, I must admit I was duped into opening a credit card my freshman year. I was lured in by the fact that all my friends were rockin’ their free TCF sweaters and, of course, the concept they pushed of “buy now, pay later.” But credit-card companies marketing themselves heavily on college campuses isn’t new: It’s the perfect place to find new customers who are low on cash and looking for a sweet deal. But have you ever wondered why some colleges allow TCF on campus as opposed to Bank of America- they pay to be there. That may not be the shock of the century but with payments hovering at almost $84 million, you have to question the ethics of it. According to a report released by the Federal Reserve Board, credit-card companies paid $83.5 million to colleges, their foundations and alumni organizations last year under agreements that allow them to market credit cards to students and alumni. Under the agreements, schools and affiliated groups were generally paid for each account opened.

Why were credit-card companies willing to disclose such details? Under the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, credit-card issuers are required to submit their agreements with colleges and related organizations to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve; they must also disclose the total number of opened accounts. Of the agreements reported, about 40 percent were with colleges and 33 percent were with alumni associations. The agreements resulted in the opening of 53,000 accounts in 2009.

The college with the most accounts was Penn State Alumni Association at 1,600 and they were paid $2.8 million by the card issuer FIA Card Services, a subsidiary of Bank of America. The University of Illinois Alumni Association received the most money at about $3.3 million. If you’re interested about your school’s agreement with credit card issuers, check out the Federal Reserve database.

The agreements, certainly ones that involve marketing credit cards to students, can be considered predatory in nature. An examination of this year’s contracts found that they required colleges to provide personal information about their students and, in some cases, even paid the institutions extra when students carried a balance on their cards. And with what sounds like colleges profiting from student debt, it would seem that “free sweater” doesn’t seem like such a sweet deal after all.

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Unemployed Boston College Law Student Wants a Refund

October 28, 2010

Unemployed Boston College Law Student Wants a Refund

by Suada Kolovic

Recent college graduates entered one of the worse job markets in history. And while some have opted to stick it out busing tables to pay the debt caused by their college education, a third-year Boston College Law School student decided he wasn’t willing to bear the cost of an education that did not guarantee a job upon completion. In an open letter posted on EagleiOnline — an online student-run newspaper at BC’s law school — the anonymous student made a proposition to the school’s dean: Refund his tuition and he’ll leave school without a degree.

The student explained that the lackluster job market, a massive student loan debt load and his wife's pregnancy were all causing him undue stress. And he went on to say, “This will benefit both of us: on the one hand, I will be free to return to the teaching career I left to come here. I'll be able to provide for my family without the crushing weight of my law school loans. On the other hand, this will help BC Law go up in the rankings, since you will not have to report my unemployment at graduation to US News.”

How did the school respond? Shockingly enough, BC did not meet the student’s request. According to the Boston Herald, the law school said in a statement that while it is "deeply concerned" about its students' job prospects no institution of higher education can guarantee a job after graduation. "What we can do is provide the best education possible, and work together to provide as many career opportunities as possible," the statement said.

What do you think? Should tuition be conditional?

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Students Shamed for Not Contributing to Senior Gift

Two Ivy League Students Publicly Humiliated for Not Donating

October 29, 2010

Students Shamed for Not Contributing to Senior Gift

by Suada Kolovic

“Have pride in giving back to the institution that has given you so much” is surely the sentiment colleges intends for students to graduate with. And while a majority may decide to give back, what will come of the students who decide not to? Two students from elite Ivy Leagues – where you might expect a higher degree of integrity – were faced with that exact predicament and were subsequently shamed by their peers for not contributing to the senior class fund.

At Dartmouth, the single student from the 1,123-student Class of 2010 that did not contribute was publicly criticized in the college newspaper where they addressed Laura DeLorenzo directly without publishing her name, writing she has “symbolically shown the Class of 2014 that she did not consider their chance at happiness valuable.” The next day, another student – writing under a pseudonym – revealed DeLorenzo’s identity on the Little Green Blog, a popular blog on campus. But why was there such a hostile response towards a student with possible financial strains? Her decision jeopardized a potential donation from the Class of 1960, which had promised to give $100,000 to the college if every graduating senior contributed. In response, DeLorenzo sent out an e-mail, posted on the Little Green Blog, writing that her decision not to donate was personal and reflected “that the negative aspects of Dartmouth outweigh the positive, and nothing more."

At Cornell, volunteers overseeing fund raising efforts were provided lists of classmates who had not donated. They were encouraged to send multiple e-mails and to call students on their cell phones, telling them that they were among the few who had not yet given. One student, Erica Weitzner, reported getting four or five e-mails in addition to phone calls imploring her to contribute. "I understand the theory behind the Cornell campaign is they want their seniors to donate, but pushing this hard makes it seem like it's no longer really a donation but more like part of tuition," Weitzner told the New York Times.

Do you think imploring such pressure tactics – repeatedly calling and sending multiple e-mails – and public humiliation is the approach in which well-respected institutions should conduct themselves in order to solicit donations?

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Ohio Program Rewards Higher GPA’s with Cash

November 8, 2010

Ohio Program Rewards Higher GPA’s with Cash

by Suada Kolovic

Imagine a world where cold, hard cash was the incentive for doing well in school. A new study, that examined three Ohio community colleges, attempted to explore if paying students is the answer for an authentic effort in their education. The report, "Rewarding Progress, Reducing Debt: Early Results From Ohio's Performance-Based Scholarship Demonstration for Low-Income Parents," showed that using financial aid strategically – providing low-income parents scholarships based on their performance – was “encouraging.” The program offered the low-income parents up to $1,800 for one academic year if they earned at least a “C” in 12 or more credits, or $900 for the same grade in six to 11 credits.

According to Lashawn K. Richburg-Hayes, deputy director of young adults and postsecondary education with MDRC, a nonprofit research organization based in New York, “the goal is to understand if performance-based scholarships can work for different populations, in different amounts." The result – of the students assigned to the scholarship group, 33 percent earned the full-time award and 41 percent received the part-time award in the first term. Thirty percent earned the full-time award and 31 percent the part-time award in the second term. The scholarships earned were then paid directly to the students, “allowing them to use the money for whatever expenses were most pressing”, said Reshma D. Patel, a research analyst with MDRC and a co-author of the report. Unlike scholarship funds that must be put towards tuition fees or books, the student has the freedom to use the cash as they see fit. “That flexibility was especially important for the program's target population, low-income parents, who could use the money for child-care or other living expenses,” Patel said.

So, future college attendees, do you think students would be more inclined to put in a wholehearted effort in their education if they were paid to do so?

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Get Rewarded for Giving Back

Students Serve Offers $2,000 Grant

November 8, 2010

Get Rewarded for Giving Back

by Suada Kolovic

Do you think a college degree should provide students with real-life experiences, not just textbook theories? Should college students have the chance to use their knowledge and skills to improve communities across America? Well, Students Serve couldn't agree with you more! Students Serve provides service-learning grants up to $2,000 to innovative college students across the country. The grants enrich the academic experience of the students who are implementing the service-learning projects, inspire confidence in students, and create meaningful changes in communities.

Eligibility Requirements:

  • undergraduate attending a college or university in the US
  • self-designed service-learning project to be completed individually (service-learning is defined as applying academic knowledge from a class taken in school to solve a legitimate problem in your community)
  • targeted community is within the US
  • 2 letters of recommendation from professors or community leaders who may advise you on your project

Current Deadlines:

  • November 30th (Spring Project)
  • March 15th (Summer Project)

For more information on community service scholarships, as well as scholarships for your other attributes and interests, conduct a free college scholarship search.

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Wacky, Unusual and Just Plain Weird Scholarships

November 10, 2010

Wacky, Unusual and Just Plain Weird Scholarships

by Suada Kolovic

Sure there are tons of scholarships out there for the egghead, the jock, the feminist, the free spirit, and even the average student. But what about those of you with strange talents? Those talents that really make you stand out in a crowd are the same talents that could potentially earn you loads of cash for college!

Unlike your typical scholarships, where the selection pool is humongous, a specific criterion – like having the name Zolp – is required for unique scholarships. There are tons of wacky, unusual and just plain weird scholarships out there. For instance, can you call ducks? Seems like a strange question but if you can, check out the Chick and Sophie Major Memorial Duck Calling Contest; with a grand prize of $2,000, that’s sure to ruffle a few feathers. Do you have a sweet tooth? Who doesn’t, but unlike the rest of us who just sit around and enjoy those tasty treats, you’re interested in creating the next Snickers, making the National Candy Technologists Scholarship the perfect outlet for you to put those taste buds to good use. (The rest of us will be indebted to you!) Are you someone with a knack for fashion and have creativity coming out of your ears? Then take on the Duck Brand Stuck at Prom Scholarship Challenge and create your entire prom attire out of Duck tape.

Remember, if you have an unusual talent, there may just be an equally unusual scholarship out there. For a complete list of wacky, unusual, and just plain weird scholarships, conduct a free scholarship search at Scholarships.com and put those talents to good use!

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Grace Period for Student Loans Coming to an End

Simple Tips to Managing Your Loans

November 11, 2010

Grace Period for Student Loans Coming to an End

by Suada Kolovic

With the typical six-month grace period on student loans right around the corner, recent college graduates across the country will start making monthly payments whether they’re ready to or not . If you’re one of those students, or just starting your college career, here are a few suggestions from the Project on Student Debt, an initiative of the Institute for College Access & Success, a nonprofit independent research and policy organization, on how to manage your loans.

  • Know where you stand.

    A great way to get the exact amount you owe is to visit your lender – in some cases, lenders – or you can find details of your student loans, including balances, by visiting the National Student Loan Data System, the U.S. Department of Education’s central database for student aid. If you have non-federal loans, there is a possibility they won’t be listed so contact your institution for that information.
  • When’s the first payment?

    The grace period for student loans is the time after graduation before having to make your first payment. But the length of grace periods can vary; for Federal Stafford loans it’s six months, nine months for Federal Perkins Loans and Federal Plus Loans depend of when they were issued. To find out the grace period attached to private loans contact your lender.
  • Keep in touch with your lender.

    It’s important to remember to keep your contact information updated with your lender. Whether you’re moving or changing your phone number, an updated contact sheet could save you from unnecessary fees.
  • Consider what repayment option works best for you.

    One option is the Income-Based Repayment Program (IBR), which is not available on private loans, that sets a reasonable monthly payment based on a borrower’s income and family size. Under IBR, after 25 years of qualifying payments, your remaining debt, including interest, will be forgiven.
  • Prepare for life and the unexpected.

    Sometimes life doesn’t go according to plan. If you can’t make payments due to unemployment, health issues or other unexpected financial challenges, you have options for managing your federal student loans. There are options to temporarily postpone your payments, such as deferments and forbearance. Contact your lender for more information and the interest attached to those options.
  • Never ignore your financial responsibilities.

    Ignoring your student loans – or any loan for that matter – can result in serious consequences that can last a lifetime. When you default, your total loan balance becomes due, your credit score is ruined and the total amount you owe increases dramatically. If you default on a federal loan, the government can garnish your wages and seize your tax refunds.
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