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Bloomberg’s Latest Donation to Johns Hopkins Tops $1 Billion Mark

by Suada Kolovic

Giving back to your alma mater is a tradition deeply rooted in the inner workings of any university. Once your status has shifted from “student” to “alumni,” you can bet there is an expectation for you to give back. And while some go out of their way to avoid the financial strains of contributing (we are technically still in a recession), Michael Bloomberg isn’t one of them: The New York City mayor’s latest $350 million pledge has pushed his lifetime donations to his alma mater past the $1 billion mark. Yup, that’s billions. With a b.

Johns Hopkins announced the donation late Saturday, saying it believed Bloomberg – who amassed his fortune creating the global financial services firm Bloomberg LP – is now the first person to give more than $1 billion to a single American university. (This assertion, however, is hard to verify since many donors tend to give anonymously.) About $250 million of Bloomberg’s latest contribution will be part of a larger effort to raise $1 billion to foster cross-disciplinary work at Johns Hopkins; the remaining $100 million will be devoted to need-based financial aid for undergraduate students in the form of 2,600 Bloomberg scholarships in the next 10 years. "Johns Hopkins University has been an important part of my life since I first set foot on campus more than five decades ago," Bloomberg said in the statement issued by the university. "Each dollar I have given has been well-spent improving the institution and, just as importantly, making its education available to students who might otherwise not be able to afford it."

What do you think of Bloomberg’s generosity? Do you plan to donate to your college after you graduate?


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Changes to 529 Savings Plans

February 5, 2013

Changes to 529 Savings Plans

by Suada Kolovic

Figuring out how you’re going to pay for your college education can be intimidating. No one wants to pay off student loans for the rest of their lives, full-tuition scholarships are rare and federal student aid seldom covers all college costs but if you’re lucky enough to have a parent or relative willing to help curb the financial strains, it’s important to note that college savings plans are becoming increasingly flexible and affordable. Here are some of the changes to the 529 savings plans for 2013:

  • Increase gift tax exemptions: Grandparents can gift $14,000 annually before they’re charged a gift tax. Since five years of the exempted amount can be gifted at one time, that’s a five-year donation of $70,000 per grandchild while a married couple could potentially gift $140,000, provided they don’t give additional funds to the same grandchild in the five-year span.
  • Expanded qualified expenses: Last year, families couldn’t use 529 plan funds for laptops, iPads, internet service and software but the IRS is going high tech and realizes these are necessary items for higher education. Parents of a student who receives a full or partial scholarship can now use the funds to enhance their child’s educational experience.
  • Declining plan prices: Competitive bidding among plan management companies to run 529 plans on behalf of states is contributing to the trend of downward pricing. (For more information about 529 plans, click here.)

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Four College Majors to Avoid

February 7, 2013

Four College Majors to Avoid

by Suada Kolovic

With recent college graduates facing an unemployment rate of 7.8 percent and substantially lower starting salaries, we have to ask: What path should students take in order to flourish after graduation? And while there isn’t one direct route that translates into success, Georgetown University’s Center on Education has compiled a list of majors that college students should avoid:

  • Liberal Arts (Unemployment Rate for Recent College Graduates 9.2 percent): Studying a broad palette of subjects including everything from literature and philosophy to history and sociology sounds like a dream. Unfortunately, employers may not see a liberal arts degree in the same divine light as the ancient Greeks did.
  • Philosophy and Religious Studies (Unemployment Rate for Recent College Graduates 10.8 percent): With the demand for these two degrees particularly lackluster, it’s difficult to justify them as your desired majors. Susan Heathfield, a career expert and writer of About.com’s Guide to Human Resources, suggests considering a degree in communications instead.
  • Information Systems (Unemployment Rate for Recent College Graduates 11.7 percent): "I'm not exactly sure what someone would do with [an information systems] degree in the current world," Heathfield says. "In the early days, the roles of various programmers, software developers, and network administrators were more distinct, but not anymore. Now the degree to have is computer science or computer engineering."
  • Architecture (Unemployment Rate for Recent College Graduates 13.9 percent): Thanks to the massive hit the housing and commercial real estate industries took in the past decade, architecture has highest unemployment rate among the degrees examined. If you’re interested in the process of planning and designing, engineering might be a more lucrative option.

What are your thoughts on the majors that made the list? Do you agree that they should be avoided at all costs or should students be encouraged to pursue their passion regardless of potentially high employment rates? Let us know in the comments section.


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Study: Pell Grant Restrictions Affect Enrollment at Community Colleges in the South

by Scholarships.com Staff

Community colleges across the country have seen a steep decline in enrollments this year for a few reasons. A recovering economy steering students toward jobs and budget cuts that have led to fee increases have played key roles but changes to federal Pell grant eligibility are most notable. According to a new study, community colleges in the Deep South have been hit hardest by the changes that took effect last year.

The study, by Education Policy Center at the University of Alabama director Stephen Katsinas, argues that community college enrollments in Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi are highly sensitive to changes in the federal grant program. Enrollment in 47 of the 62 two-year colleges across the three states declined this past fall and more than 5,000 students lost Pell grants – a change that the report's authors say can be directly attributed to the changes in eligibility. Students are now limited to just six years of Pell grants, fewer students automatically qualify for the maximum grant because of a lower income cap for receiving an “automatic zero” expected family contribution and students without a high school diploma or GED are no longer eligible.

While many states have started to see their economies improve, that’s not the case for the three states included in the study. In fact, not only have their economies not recovered but state-supported student aid programs are much smaller, so colleges have fewer resources for low-income students who no longer qualify for Pell grants. Both Pell grants and community colleges are "vital to enhancing college degree completion in the Deep South, for it is the community colleges where economically disadvantaged students begin higher education," the study noted. The enrollment numbers were based on surveys of community college officials. All of the two-year colleges in the three-state region responded. However, the national enrollment data for 2012 hasn't been compiled yet, said David Thomas, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education.


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California Universities Instate College Graduation Fees

by Suada Kolovic

In the coming weeks, college seniors across the country will take their first steps towards new beginnings with their diplomas in hand…that is, of course, if they pay the recently instated college graduation fees.

According to a recent report, more than half the schools in the California State University system are charging a graduation fee that students are required to pay before receiving their diplomas. While the fees aren’t astronomical (they range from $45 to $115), students are frustrated with a struggling school system that has increased tuition every year and are only now discovering that their diplomas weren’t included in the tuition hikes. "We already have to pay to be here and [now] we've got to pay to leave," California State East Bay sociology major Donnisha Udookon told the Tribune. Students who have long complained about the extra charges agree that by the time they reach graduation, they almost come to expect an add-on fee at every turn. To them, graduation no longer signifies a moment filled with a sense of incredible accomplishment but as the last chance for the institution to nickel-and-dime the graduating student body. (Fine print: Student loans not included.)

Recent college graduates, do you think it’s fair for schools to charge a separate fee for students to receive their diplomas? What’s your school’s stance on graduation fees?


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Study: College Pays, Even for College Dropouts

by Suada Kolovic

If you’re a high school student, chances are you’ve probably heard this at some point in your high school career: “College graduates will earn $1 million more in a lifetime than those with only a high school diploma.” And while completing your college education is the ultimate goal, students who get at least a partial college education will earn on average more than $100,000 over a lifetime than those with just high school diplomas.

According to a study conducted by The Hamilton Project, a Washington, D.C. think tank, even small increments of additional education pays off: The annual return on a partial education is 9.1 percent and while that’s well below the annual return of 15 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree, it is considerably more than high school graduates with no college education. "It is vastly better to get a college degree," said Adam Looney, policy director at The Hamilton Project. "But I think the evidence says that fears of dropping out, that there are big downside risks to trying it and not finishing it, I think those are overblown. For people who are interested in college, who have ambitions of going and have the ability and qualifications to succeed, I think the evidence suggests it's an extremely good deal right now." (For more on this study, click here.)

Recent high school graduates, do you agree with the study’s findings that investing in some college education is better than none? Let us know in the comments section.


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