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Obama Pledges New Funding for Community Colleges

July 15, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Yesterday, President Obama announced a new focus on community colleges in a speech delivered at Macomb Community College in Michigan. Obama pledged $12 billion to improve facilities, increase enrollment, and boost graduation rates at the nation's community colleges, a shift in education policy from the traditional focus on K-12 education and public universities. In addition to the proposed federal funding increase, Obama's speech also called for community colleges to graduate five million more students by the year 2020.

Community colleges have already seen increased enrollments and publicity in recent years.  According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, community colleges saw the greatest enrollment boom since the 1960s during the first half of this decade. The current economic downturn has prompted even more first-time college students and unemployed adults to enroll at community colleges this academic year. Community college officials and the Obama administration hope that the increased attention paid to community colleges will prompt more students to consider enrolling, either as a path to a career training degree or certificate, or in order to transfer to four-year colleges.

Beyond Presidential endorsement, there are many other incentives to pursue a degree at a community college. Tuition is typically much lower at two-year schools than at private colleges or state colleges, and courses are often offered with the scheduling needs of working adult students in mind. Additionally, numerous scholarship opportunities exist specifically for students pursuing two-year degree programs. Community college students can do a free college scholarship search to learn more about funding opportunities available.

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Scholarships for the Unemployed

August 20, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Over the course of the last year, a number of colleges and universities have begun to offer scholarship opportunities for people who have found themselves out of work and in need of further education or job training. Yesterday, U.S. News profiled several newer community college programs, including several full-tuition scholarships, but even more awards are out there. Here's a run-down of some of the scholarships for displaced workers that we've found.

Community College Scholarships: Scholarships for recently unemployed students offered by community colleges are the most common. Colleges in several states are offering free tuition for one to two semesters, or even more, for displaced workers. Some, such as Oakton Community College in Illinois and the Community College of Allegheny County in Pennsylvania stipulate certain degree or certificate programs for their tuition benefits, and others, like several community colleges in New Jersey, will allow students to enroll in any course with empty seats. Others are offering partial tuition discounts, such as Anoka-Ramsey Community College in Minnesota. Michigan has launched a state-wide No Worker Left Behind program, which provides up to two years of free tuition for unemployed and underemployed workers at state community colleges. Students can also apply the credits towards an undergraduate degree at a state college or university. To qualify, students must be pursuing degrees that will lead to employment in high-demand occupations.

Undergraduate Scholarships: This summer, DeVry began offering scholarships to students who have enrolled at one of the seven schools owned by DeVry and who have lost their jobs in the last 12 months. As one example, the Employment Gap Scholarship gives students $1,000 per semester towards their tuition at DeVry. Many other four-year schools have also launched generous aid programs, or even offered full-tuition scholarships, for new and returning students who are facing economic difficulties. A number of these scholarships and grants may be available to displaced workers, especially if you now qualify for a Federal Pell Grant after losing your job. Scholarships for adult students are also worth looking into. While only a few are specifically for the recently unemployed, several are designed to generously aid adults who are enrolling in undergraduate programs.

Graduate Scholarships: In addition to offering free career center services, several universities are also aiding their alumni through tuition discounts on graduate programs and additional certification and training. Manchester College in Indiana will allow students who fail to find a job or a graduate program within six months of graduation a year of free coursework. Similarly, St. John's University in New York allows laid off alumni to attend its graduate programs for half price.

Government Benefits: Recently, the Obama administration began a national push for states to grant full unemployment benefits to recipients who choose to enroll in a college degree program, as incentive for unemployed workers to attend college. Additionally, financial aid adminstrators have been instructed to use greater lattitude in dealing with financial aid appeals from students who have lost their jobs, which could result in more federal grant money for returning students.

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New Scholarship for Alabama Transfer Students

August 27, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Attending community college is a great way to save money on the first two years of higher education, but for many students, paying for school after they transfer to a four-year college or university can still be difficult. Now, transfer students in Alabama will get help with their last two years of school, thanks to a new state scholarship.

Alabama has launched a new scholarship program for graduates of the state's two-year community and technical colleges that will allow them to receive a bachelor's degree for free. Alabama State University and Alabama A&M will each award 250 two-year full-tuition scholarships starting this fall, with the number of available scholarship awards to double to 500 apiece next year.

Initial funding for the scholarship program comes from the state's Education Trust Fund, and is part of the settlement in the 28-year-old Knight v. Alabama segregation lawsuit.  Knight, the lead plaintiff in the suit, is now a state representative and vows to do what he can to ensure continued funding for the program as long as he's serving in the state legislature.

Initially, 50 students have been awarded the scholarship, but the state is working to identify more eligible students. Students in Alabama who are planning to attend a community college then transfer to one of these two state schools will want to keep this scholarship in mind. Other local, state, and national awards are also available to students who are attending community college and planning to transfer to a four-year college or university.  More information on these and other scholarship opportunities can be found by conducting a free college scholarship search.

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Cuban Students Punished for Winning U.S. Scholarships

September 4, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

A group of Cuban students that had plans to attend American community colleges on U.S.-funded scholarships have been denied visa requests to leave their home country.

A Miami Herald article today says that some of the students were also expelled from the Cuban universities they had been attending prior to winning the awards. The group of about 30 Cuban students were part of the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs scholarship program. The program, which received more than 750 applications from Cuban students this year, provides scholarships to international students interested in attending American colleges. Candidates are chosen based on merit and are offered one-year scholarships to community colleges in Arizona, Tennessee and Idaho in fields like business, agriculture and communications.

The article suggests that the Cuban government felt the students would have been adversely affected by enrolling in colleges in the United States, and that the scholarships aimed to "ideologically permeate university students" because they included a summer program for the students on developing their leadership skills. This was the first year Cuban students would have participated in the program.

American students, on the other hand, have had success enrolling in Cuban programs. Recently, a medical student from Dallas opted to finish her degree in Havana because the Cuban school offered her a full scholarship, monthly stipend and room and board paid for by the Cuban Ministry of Public Health. The Latin American School of Medicine in Havana has seen an increase in the number of American students applying to its program the last few years. For those interested in less of a commitment but want a taste of college life outside the United States, perhaps a study abroad program is the way to go.

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Survive the Bad Economy, Part II: Keep Your Options Open

September 15, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Some students are college-bound before they even hit high school. They know they want to shoot for the Ivy Leagues, and map out plans to get there. But while there's a certain degree of pride that will come from landing a spot in the freshman class of that East Coast institution, the sticker shock that comes with attending a prestigious university is often inevitable.

This isn't meant to discourage you. Many private and expensive four-year schools offer generous financial aid packages to make up for the high cost of attendance there, and scholarship opportunities could offset some of those costs as well. But sometimes that isn't enough, especially in a struggling economy where parents are saving less for their children's educations and tuition costs continue to rise. If you're set on what you want to be when you grow up, consider looking at programs offered by schools rather than their reputations. Some smaller, less costly schools are known for certain fields, so do your research through a college search on schools that specialize in education, nursing or forensic science, for example, if you're sure about your future career.

Factor in your cost of living, as well. A college in a big city may seem like a grand adventure, but how much fun can you really have if you can't afford to leave your dorm room? A less expensive school in a college town may not seem very exciting, but most of those towns cater to young people, offering diversions outside of your academic calendar at a much lower cost to you than big cities. You'll also be competing against other students for part-time jobs rather than a few million city-dwellers. Look at your in-state options - you can still be far enough away from your parents' house that you'll get the privacy you're craving while enjoying home state tuition.

If you have your heart set on the big school that is perhaps just out of your reach financially consider doing your general education requirements at the local community college. Although you'll be sacrificing some of that typical college experience, two years in you could be ready to transfer to your dream school with fewer student loans and a better idea of what you want to study. Chances are you'd change your major several times your freshmen and sophomore years anyway, or go undecided until then. Just make sure your intended college will approve the courses you completed at the community college so that you aren't forced to retake any courses.

Tomorrow, we'll take a closer look at how low-cost options like community colleges can help you get the job skills and career opportunities that remain in demand in a tough economy.

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Survive the Bad Economy, Part III: Choose Wisely

September 16, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

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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Survive the Bad Economy, Part IV: Keep Positive

September 17, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

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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Balancing Work and School Key to College Success

October 1, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

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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Transfer Students: Start Early for Fall Admission

October 7, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

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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Community College Students Need More Access to Federal Loans

October 9, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

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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