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by Agnes Jasinski

While it is important to make sure you choose a career in a field you would be happy and fulfilled in, it doesn't hurt to do a little investigating as part of your college search before you make your decision to see which jobs are in high demand and recession-proof. Positions with nationwide shortages in fields such as nursing and education, especially in low-income and rural communities, also often come with a wider net of scholarship and grant opportunities as incentives to attract new students. And the college-bound are taking notice.

Many students once set on careers in business or real estate have begun reconsidering those decisions for safer options in the health care, information technology and "green" industries. Others who have already been through college but have been laid off in their intended careers are using the layoffs as a reason to return to school for more training in their fields or to launch brand new careers. A recent Reuters article described the story of an out-of-work mortgage broker struggling with the effects of a weak housing market who was going back to school to become an accountant.

Lower-cost, flexible options like community colleges can also help you get the job skills and career opportunities that remain in demand in a tough economy, and make you a more viable candidate when the job market improves. Over the last year, enrollments at community colleges have increased by as much as 25 percent, according to the American Association of Community Colleges, with many of those new students adult learners. A recent article in the The Chronicle of Higher Education described the new role of the two-year institutions as launching pads to get into jobs in local industries still hiring in a struggling economy. Macomb Community College, for example, has shifted its focus from preparing workers for jobs in the local automotive industry - a very uncertain field - to positions as nursing home aides and graphic designers.

Some words of caution: No amount of job security will make up for pursuing a career you dislike, so make sure that if you are considering going into a field for economic reasons that it's balanced with what you see yourself doing once the job market improves. If you're undecided about majors, take a variety of general education requirements so you get a good idea of what you like about one field over another. Good writing, math and science skills translate into a number of job opportunities, so even if you don't stick to positions in your major once you're out of school, a background in those subjects would be helpful. If you really are passionate about a particular field and can't see yourself doing anything else, the economy won't be struggling forever, so chances are that even if you do go into a riskier field things may have turned around by the time you graduate.

In our last part of the series tomorrow, we'll look at reasons to think positive despite the economy, and offer tips for recent graduates.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Despite all the news you read about the economy on a daily basis, there are reasons to stay positive and believe the situation is and will continue improving. There are still dozens of scholarships out there that you're probably qualified for, and although the admissions process has become more competitive, the level of funding available to high school seniors and beyond has remained solid. The economy won't keep you from going to college, especially if you plan ahead and apply for your financial aid packages early via FAFSA. The longer you wait, the less funding there will be and the harder it'll make your decisions on which college to attend.

New scholarships are being posted all the time. A recent blog post described two such opportunities in two Michigan communities, a region that has been hit fairly hard with economic effects. Both awards are very generous, and could serve as a lesson not to rule out local scholarships when you're looking for ways to pay for college. Although some schools have had to scale back their budgets, local scholarships have remained in tact as private organizations only want to help you get to school even more in a struggling economy.

Even if the economy hasn't recovered by the time you graduate, chances are the positions you'll be applying for won't be as scarce as jobs affected by layoffs. Entry level jobs are more readily available because it's less expensive to hire a new graduate than someone with decades worth of experience. Internships are also plentiful, since they unfortunately often offer a less-than-generous stipend or no payment at all, so if you're able to abandon the summer job next year, consider finding an internship that fits your field and interests. Internships are a great way to pad your resume, as even entry level jobs want to see that you've had some experience in your chosen field in the real world.

Although there's no guarantee you'll land a great job right out of college, that guarantee has never existed, even in the best economy. The cost of attending college is worth that risk, and the pros outweigh the cons in a climate where more people are going to college than ever before. You'll make more money and have more diverse career opportunities than high school graduates entering the job world. There are many options to cut college costs, from attending school in-state or working through school. Consider community college, as many specialize in programs that are in high demand right now. Any excuse on why you should put off college can be dealt with, so file those applications and get yourself on a scholarship search to overcome the biggest hurdle: paying for your higher education.


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by Emily

Community colleges are becoming increasingly popular options for young people looking to save money on their college degrees. However, despite their initial college plans, community college students are statistically less likely to earn a degree within six years than students who enroll immediately in a four-year college or university.

A report released this week by Demos, a non-partisan public policy research and advocacy institution, looks at the role of financial obligations in college completion rates for community college students under the age of 24. The report points to two things students can do to beat the odds and achieve their college goals: enroll full-time and work no more than part-time.

One of the key findings highlighted in the report is that most community college students have thousands of dollars in unmet financial need, even after accounting for grants and student loans. The lowest income quartile of students had $7,147 in financial need on average after grant aid, and $6,544 in need after accounting for all financial aid. Virtually all students in this quartile had unmet need and 92 percent of these students still had unmet need after all scholarships, grants, and loans. The overwhelming majority of students in the bottom 50% of family income had unmet financial need, averaging nearly $5,000 even after all financial aid.

Based on the substantial amount of unmet financial need these students had, it's not surprising that most community college students worked through school. The report shows 84 percent of young community college students worked while attending college in 2007-2008, and 61 percent of these students worked more than 20 hours a week, despite research showing that students who work fewer than 15 hours a week are the most successful academically. Community college students are more likely than students at state colleges to work their way through school and to work more hours while attending school. Of students who worked, 63 percent said they would not be able to pay for college without work, and 72 percent said they worked to help pay their college costs.

Community college students are also increasingly likely to enroll part-time, despite full-time enrollment being a key predictor of college success. Over half of community college students enrolled part-time in 2007-2008, compared to 19 percent of state college students, and most of these students worked more than part-time, primarily at low-wage jobs that are unrelated to their major or field of study. Just over half of students who initially enrolled part-time left college after 3 years without earning a degree or certificate, compared to only 14 percent of students who initially enrolled full-time.

This report adds to the growing body of research suggesting that borrowing heavily or relying entirely on income from work are not the best way to pay for college. In order to succeed in community college or any higher education institution, students should strongly consider attending full-time and only working part-time. To do this, saving for college or finding additional financial aid may be required. Applying for and winning scholarships can become a major component of college success--not only can scholarships help students meet their full financial need, but students who earn scholarships are also more likely to earn a college degree.


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by Emily

While prospective college freshmen are already beginning to fill out their college applications in preparation for fall application deadlines, transfer students traditionally enjoy a bit more leeway. However, the sharp state budget cuts and larger enrollments in community and state colleges this year may mean that students planning to transfer from a two-year to a four-year school will want to get their applications together as early as possible this year.

California, a state whose severe budget crisis has made it something of a canary in the mineshaft for most funding issues this year, has recently begun turning transfer students away in droves from its four-year public colleges. The reason: the state university systems have had to cut back enrollments across the board, and after many decisions had already been made for the academic year now underway, in order to deal with a sharp decrease in available state funding for the current fiscal year.

This means that many conditionally admitted transfer students have been told they need to wait a year or look elsewhere, simply because they didn't correctly complete all the necessary steps far enough ahead of time to secure seats in state universities for the fall and spring semesters this year. This leaves students applying last-minute to pricey private colleges, vying for seats in courses that likely won't even count just to kill time until the next admissions cycle, or even dropping out for a semester or more.  The state's budget picture shows no signs of improving, meaning transfer students will likely need to contend with the same situation next year, as well.

While other state university systems haven't had to cap or reduce enrollments or close budget holes to the same extent as California, a decrease in funding coupled with an increase in interest in state and community colleges may still result in wrenches being thrown in many students' transfer plans. More students at community colleges will make it harder for some students to get into classes they need to complete to successfully transfer to a four-year college. More students applying to state colleges means available seats may fill up faster and transfer applications may be delayed. It can also mean stiffer competition for financial aid, such as transfer student scholarships. Like in California, it could also mean that students whose transfer applications are not perfect the first time may see their plans derailed, or at least delayed, much more easily than in previous semesters.

Because of these concerns, students who are planning to transfer from a community college to a state college (and also students considering a move between four-year schools) will want to stay in touch with their academic advisors this year and complete all required steps as quickly as possible. Make sure you are applying for admission and aid well ahead of deadlines, and make sure you're meeting all requirements to ensure a smooth transfer process. Staying on top of things this fall can save you headaches, and possibly money, when it's time to switch schools.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Although community colleges nationwide have seen significant boosts in enrollment, a report released yesterday suggests many will be forced to put their educations on hold or find new sources of funding if their institutions continue blocking access to federal student loans.

The Project on Student Debt released the report, and despite their stance on promoting that students take on as low a student loan burden as possible, they say community college students are at risk for taking on riskier private student loans or watching their grades slip as they take on more work hours to cover gaps in funding because they aren't able to apply for and receive federal student loans. About one in 10 students in 31 states surveyed don't have access to federal student loans, and in some states, more than 20 percent of students can't get the federal loans. Minority students have less access to federal loans than other student groups, as the report found many minority students attending community colleges that don't participate in the federal student loan program.

Why have many community colleges moved away from offering federal student loans? In an uncertain economy, the answer is risk, according to the report. Defaults on student loans have begun to rise among not only community college students, but among all college students over the last few years. The report always says many community college administrators believe students shouldn't have to borrow to attend their schools. Tuition is lower, they say, and if students are saddled with large amounts of debt now, they could hurt their chances for qualifying for low interest rates and federal student loans if they were to transfer to a more expensive, four-year institution.

But some students do need the additional funding even at a low-cost option like a community college, especially in the current economic climate. According to survey results released by the National Council of State Directors of Community Colleges last month, about half of the nation's community colleges are expecting budget cuts and midyear reductions in their state appropriations. Many administrators in that survey also reported that stimulus money provided by the Obama administration went toward meeting existing budget deficits, and that they would be forced to raise tuition rates substantially despite record enrollments to make up for a lack of state funding. (The average tuition increase among community colleges is expected to be about 5 percent for the 2009-2010 academic year.)

While you should always exhaust your options with grants and scholarships first, student loans are often a necessary evil, and we have plenty of tips on how to go about applying for them and making sure you're getting the best rate possible. Never rely on credit cards to fund your education, or you'll run the risk of getting into more debt than you can handle not only post-graduation, but while you're still in school. Browse through our site for more information on your student loan options.


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What to Expect at a Community College

by Carly Gerber

During the summer before my sophomore year of college, I knew I wasn't going back to the college I had been attending. It was too late to apply to a four-year university so I decided to attend a community college before entering a new university. From my experience, here's what you can expect while attending a community college:

  • Academics: Many students enter community college thinking it will be academically easier than a four-year college...but that couldn't be further from the truth. Community colleges are academically rigorous and the professors expected to see all your effort in your work. And if you need help, they have the right resources: My community college offered a writing center and a tutoring center, both of which I visited regularly.
  • Personal Life: A few students I met were balancing jobs, school and families. That’s obviously a lot of work but if students attended classes, did their homework and communicated with professors about their circumstances, many instructors were willing to work with the students to help them pass the class.
  • Community: Despite being part of the name, many students don’t think there will be a sense of community at community colleges. But there is! There were a number of sports teams and student organizations with lots of participation at my school. Plus, the college would have events going on during the school day, like a game of Jeopardy! that would bring students together and lighten the mood on a particularly stressful day.

Overall, I enjoyed the community college experience because it helped me grow both as a student and as a person. For those students who have also attended community colleges, how would you rate your experience?

Carly Gerber is majoring in journalism at Columbia College Chicago. She loves fashion and hopes to cover the topic for a Chicago-area magazine. In her free time, she focuses on her blog, loves making jewelry and spending time on Pinterest and Pose. She hopes to use this blog to guide and relate to its followers: college students like herself!


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by Emily

Can college students correctly answer basic questions about federal student financial aid? Researchers from CALPIRG, the California Public Interest Research Group, sought to find out, asking California community college students three questions about financial aid. The results of the survey were published this week. The majority of students did not do so well, with over half of students answering one or zero questions correctly.

How would you do? Students were asked to say whether the following three statements were true or false (the questions below are paraphrased from the report):

  1. I have to go to school full time to be eligible for financial aid.
  2. Taking more classes per term could increase my financial aid award.
  3. Financial aid can be used to cover expenses beyond tuition and fees, such as living expenses.

The answers:

  1. False. You do not have to go to school full time to be eligible for financial aid. Students enrolled at least half-time are able to apply for and receive federal student financial aid, including Pell Grants and Stafford Loans. Only 47 percent of students surveyed answered this correctly.
  2. True. If your tuition goes up, your aid award can go up, especially when it comes to federal work-study and low-interest student loans. Additionally, students who move from half-time to three-quarter-time or full-time enrollment can see an increase in Pell Grant awards and also potentially become eligible for more college scholarships and grants. Half of students answered this correctly.
  3. True. Financial aid can be used to cover college expenses including food, rent, car maintenance, books, computers, and other essentials. These items are included in the living expenses portion of the cost of attendance figure used by the financial aid office to calculate your aid eligibility. Students surveyed did the best on this question, with 54 percent answering correctly.

Knowing About Aid Can Boost College Success: At this point, it's becoming fairly well-documented that not enough community college students apply for federal student financial aid, despite the fact that many are eligible. While some students don't apply because their schools do not participate in federal aid programs, others don't apply because they don't know they're eligible for aid. The results of the CALPIRG survey suggest that this is a fairly substantial group of students. Namely, 13 percent of students surveyed didn't get a single question right, 44 percent of students answered only one question correctly, and only 2 percent of students who did not apply for aid got all 3 questions, compared to 10 percent of students overall.

Additionally, the survey shows that many students are loan-averse, with almost half of students saying they would drop a class or an entire semester than take out a student loan to cover books or other expenses, and students showing nearly as much willingness to put their books on a credit card than to take out a federal loan for books.  A full 57 percent of surveyed students saying they would only borrow as a last resort or would not borrow for college at all. With additional research suggesting that many community college students are not balancing work and college effectively and that their reluctance or inability to borrow is hurting their chances of graduating, more financial aid education is important.

Community college students are not the only college students who may need help learning about financial aid. If you found that you answered one or more question incorrectly, you may want to review information about paying for school. We have a wide variety of student resources available that can help you learn about financial aid programs and requirements and maximize the amount of aid you receive.


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by Emily

Is it feeling crowded on campus? It should be, according to new research. A Pew Research Center report released this week shows that in 2008, colleges experienced record enrollments, and early estimates indicate that 2009 enrollments may break the newly minted records for 2008.

Nearly 40 percent of young adults ages 18-24 were enrolled in college in October 2008, up from the previous record of 38.9 percent set in 2005. About 8 million young adults, or 27.8 percent, were enrolled in four-year colleges, representing a slight increase from 2007. However, community colleges have seen an enrollment boom, with their numbers swelling from 3.1 million students, or 10.9 percent of the young adult population, in 2007 to 3.4 million students, or 11.8 percent of young adults, in 2008.

A large part of the enrollment increase is attributed to the growing size of high school graduating classes, with the nation graduating the most students in 2009. This likely accounts for the growth in numbers overall, but something else may be contributing to the increase in community college enrollment. For that, most people are pointing to the recession, which encouraged students who may not have otherwise attended college to enroll, while pushing other college-bound students to explore less expensive options.

Giving further evidence to this theory is the decline in employment among young adults. In 2008, only 50.4 percent of young people aged 16 to 24 were working, compared to 52.7 percent in 2007. However, while more trouble finding work may have encouraged some students to consider attending college, it also has likely created a problem paying for school for many students. A large number of community college students tend to rely on income from work to pay their tuition, as opposed to applying for financial aid or student loans.

Based on enrollment increases for 2008 and anecdotal evidence of continued enrollment booms in 2009, it appears students are still finding ways to fund their educations. Still, students applying to college for 2010 may want to take note of these numbers and begin the college application process and scholarship search early just in case.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

Last week, we blogged about the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), an annual report on students at four-year colleges and universities. The survey provided information about everything from academic advising to study habits at participating schools. This week, its community college counterpart was released, and for students deciding whether to save money by starting at a two-year school, that data might be useful, as well.

The Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSE) is conducted annually by the Community College Leadership Program at the University of Texas at Austin. This year, more than 400,000 student from 663 institutions participated. Engagement is regarded as serious concern at community colleges, as they tend to have a less clearly-developed sense of campus community as four-year schools and also have a far greater portion of part-time students and faculty.

Part-Timers and Engagement

The survey found that 60% of students were attending community college part-time, and that significant portions of students were taking night classes and online courses. Coming to campus less often, coming to campus at night, and having primary learning experiences take place off-campus can all result in less engagement among community college students. As a result, part-time students and students who work more than 30 hours a week are some of the least-engaged students on campus. Male students and traditional-age students were also among the least engaged students.

Study skill courses, orientation, learning communities, and developmental courses can all boost engagement. Interaction with students and faculty outside of class are also signs of a more engaged student body. Just under half of students currently engage in group activities in class, and just under two-thirds ask questions or contribute to class discussions, yet a small minority engage with instructors or peers outside of class. More faculty engagement and more programs to encourage student interaction may help.

Student Services and College Goals

Community college students and faculty recognize the role of student services, such as tutoring and advising, in promoting college success, but the numbers of each who participate in such activities are much lower than the numbers who view them as important. Few faculty members, especially part-timers, meet with students outside the classroom at least once a week, and few students regularly take advantage of advising or other services. This could partially explain the continued disparity between students' college goals and actual degree attainment.

A full 73 percent of students listed transferring to a four-year college or university as a goal they had when choosing to attend a community college, and 80 percent of students listed obtaining an associate degree as a primary or secondary reason for attending. Yet actual rates for both are much below the goals.

If you're considering attending a community college, the key seems to be to get involved and actively seek out help. Form study groups and talk to your instructors outside of class. Set and attend academic advising appointments to keep yourself on track for graduation and keep you informed of the next steps you'll need to take in your education. Also, consider applying for financial aid to reduce your need to work and allow you to more fully appreciate what your college has to offer.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Two Chicago-area community colleges are using zombies to urge students to consider their options before applying solely to four-year schools. Harper College and Elgin Community College, with some help from email provider Abeedle.com, are using a cartoon short featuring fictional high school seniors Lynette and Theo in a common predicament among the college-bound: to save money, or not to save?

In the short, Lynette goes to community college, is free of student loan debt, and uses the money she saved to become a filmmaker and purchase a sporty convertible. Theo, on the other hand, chooses the four-year university, and is depicted wandering around with the other "college zombies," saddled with a large amount of debt.

This isn't the first time the zombie hype has hit college campuses. The University of Florida recently posted a zombie preparedness plan on its e-Learning website, alongside more likely disaster scenarios. But this is a unique way to address the high costs of higher education and invite students to examine all of their options when considering where to go to school.

Enrollments at community colleges have increased by about 25 percent over the last year, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. The big decisions aren't only about filling out those college applications, but figuring out how you're going to pay for tuition at your intended school. If you're concerned about how you're going to cover the costs, consider a community college where you'd be able to complete your general education requirements and then transfer to a four-year college if you want that traditional college experience. Many community colleges and trade schools specialize in certain fields, so narrow down your college choices by your intended field of study, as well.

If you know community college isn't for you, there are other ways to save. Compare the costs of in-state versus out-of-state tuition. Depending on your home state, you could still go to a state university that is far enough away that you get that "away at college" experience, while still enjoying the perks of in-state tuition. (In-state tuition is often half that of out-of-state tuition. Do the numbers!) Whatever you do, don't assume that college is out of your reach because of the costs. While paying for college can take some creativity and persistence, it can be done, especially if you have some scholarship money padding that financial aid package.


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