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by Scholarships.com Staff

A frequent feature of this year's college application season has been discussion and debate surrounding the CollegeBoard's new Score Choice program, which allows students to select which SAT scores they want to submit as part of their college application packets.  Schools are beginning to announce whether they will still require students to submit all SAT scores, and much ado is being made about whether students will use Score Choice and expensive and extensive standardized test prep to game the system.  At the same time, a number of college admission officials are talking, or in some cases cheering, about de-emphasizing standardized tests in the admissions process.

Meanwhile, numbers are emerging that suggest much of the hype surrounding the competitiveness of the college application process is a bit overblown.  As The Chronicle of Higher Education reported today, just over half the students who take the SAT take it a second time, and the vast majority stop there.  A study discussed last week in Inside Higher Ed says that despite the relatively small number of repeat test takers, 88 percent of college students surveyed were admitted to their first choice school.  In addition, students typically apply to only three or four colleges on average.  The high school students who spend years testing and retesting and compiling an extensive list of reach schools and safety schools may be well-represented in media, but prove to be scarce almost everywhere else.

To summarize, getting into college may involve a lot of work, but it doesn't have to involve a lot of worry. If you're a high school senior waiting nervously for an acceptance letter or a high school junior starting a college search, try not to stress.  If you write a strong application essay, maintain decent grades and some kind of extracurricular or community service activities, land a solid test score, and apply to a few colleges that seem to be good fits for you, or even if you just do most of these, you will most likely find yourself in the majority of students who wind up going where they want to go.  Now all that's left is figuring out how to pay for school.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

College and university endowments plunged an average of 23 percent between July 1 and November 30 in 2008, with many sustaining further losses since then.  While almost everyone who's been reading higher education news or attending college knows that endowments have dropped, the depth and the breadth of the damage has largely been left to the realm of speculation.

Endowment losses had become a hot topic at some schools, including the one my youngest sister attends, even before the release of this study.  Undergraduate students previously unaware that colleges even have investments are worrying about the (admittedly slim) chance of their schools' investment funds disappearing, taking their scholarships, their degree programs, or their favorite instructors with them.  While such drastic cuts have not been made, schools are facing very real struggles to preserve their staff, their services, and their endowments in the face of a still-deepening recession.

The extent of losses varies, as does the extent of reactions to losses.  Several universities have instituted hiring freezes, while others have resorted to layoffs or mandatory unpaid furloughs.  Brandeis University and the University of Pennsylvania have both made unpopular moves to cut budgets. Penn has done so by cutting 18 campus museum staff positions, and Brandeis has announced plans to close the institution's art museum entirely and sell its collection. Some state universities battling shrinking endowments and drastic cuts to state funds have been forced to look at double-digit tuition increases.

Still other schools are making almost opposite responses.  Some institutions are looking into freezing tuition or increasing it by small amounts, such as Princeton University, which has announced a tuition increase of only 2.9 percent for 2009-2010.  Others are hiring new faculty as planned or launching additional searches, hoping to attract stronger talent.  Many schools are also increasing student financial aid to help families hit hard by the recession.  Even schools making budget cuts are reluctant to touch financial aid, recognizing its importance.  However, fears remain that students who need money for college may be unable to find it from their schools.  Whether these fears are justified remains to be seen, though many hope that the proposed economic stimulus package will allow schools to continue to fully fund or even expand essential programs.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

More Americans are regarding a college education as necessary, but fewer are regarding college as accessible for everyone according to survey results released today by Public Agenda and the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.  While the economy is likely a factor, these trends have been ongoing since at least 2000, even during times of relative economic strength.

In the latest survey, conducted in December 2008, 55 percent of Americans regard a college education as not only advantageous but essential for success in today's work world.  Meanwhile, 67 percent of respondents believed that many qualified people don't have the opportunity to go to college.   63 percent believed that college costs are going up faster than other costs, and 53 percent believe that colleges could reduce tuition while still offering a high-quality education.

While 74 percent believed that cost should not deter students from attending college, concern is growing about the availability of financial aid and the extent of students' reliance on student loans.   67 percent (up from 60 percent in 2007) believed that students were borrowing too much to pay for school, while 22 percent (up from 15 percent in 2007) believed that sufficient financial aid was not available to everyone who needed it.

While public perception does not always accurately reflect reality, these survey results do suggest that more needs to be done to make college affordable or to inform the public about grants, scholarships, and campus-based and federal student financial aid.  College scholarships and grants are still out there, and they're not just for A students or the exceptionally needy.  Complete a FAFSA (a free application for federal student aid) and conduct a free scholarship search to see what's available for you.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

Advanced Placement, or AP, classes are becoming more popular and more students are passing the exams, according to annual data released by the exam's publisher this week. Approximately 15.2 percent of the class of 2008 received a passing score on the AP exam, as compared to 14.4 percent of the class of 2007.

AP courses, typically offered to high school juniors and seniors, allow students to take college-level classes in high school and potentially earn college credit.  Each AP course ends with an exam, scored on a scale of 1-5, with a score of 3 considered to be "passing" and credit-worthy by most colleges.  A few high schools also offer the option to take an AP course as dual-enrollment, where students pay to earn college credit for their work completed, rather than their test score.  Students can potentially shave a semester or more off their college experience through AP coursework, or AP work can free students' time in college up for more exploration of a variety of courses.  Either way, many students see AP courses as a way to work towards their college goals.

Despite the benefits of AP, there are some arguments against it, as with any standardized test.  For students, AP exams cost money, often have relatively low pass rates, don't guarantee college credit, aren't offered in every subject at every school, and are likely to conflict with at least one event your senior year of high school.  For teachers and college administrators, there's a concern about depth of coverage, quality of instruction, and students missing out on a key part of the college experience by coming in with so many AP credits.

Advocates of AP coursework say it can help students start college planning, get excited about the subject area, and save money by shaving off a few general educational requirements.  As AP grows in popularity, high schools are continuing to add courses and improve their teaching of the subject.  As long as you weigh the benefits and drawbacks, AP courses are definitely worth considering.  AP credit can be a way to build your resume, explore a potential college major, and jumpstart your career.


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by Emily

The loss in funding faced by state and community colleges this year may not be a one-time thing.  A report issued this week by the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) indicates that state budget cuts to higher education made during recessions tend to become permanent.  With many attempting to eliminate multi-billion dollar budget shortfalls, cuts to education are almost certain to happen across the country, and based on data collected by SHEEO, they are likely to continue into the future.

Per-student state higher education spending peaked in 2001, when it hit the highest level in inflation-adjusted dollars since data was first collected in 1983.  A recession in 2001 prompted drops in education spending that continued until 2006, when spending began to grow again until 2008, though per-student funding did not return to 2001 levels before another recession interfered.

In response to cuts in funding of around 7 percent between 1998 and 2008 and increases in enrollment of around 25 percent over the same period, tuition revenue has risen 20 percent.  The report suggests this trend is likely to continue, with funding potentially falling off permanently and tuition hikes continuing as a result of this year's budget cuts.  Thus, the burden is passed on to already cash-strapped students and families, who are already facing the prospect of needing more student loans due to losses of income and declines in college savings plans.

The SHEEO expressed hope that the stimulus package currently moving through Congress might mitigate this effect.  However, the version passed yesterday by the Senate eliminated billions of dollars that would have gone to offset state budget cuts, so the positive impact on higher education could be less than is hoped.  Additionally, members of Congress have expressed frustration with rising tuition rates, especially given tuition's likelihood to continue to outpace increases in Federal Pell Grants, such as the new funding currently included in the stimulus.


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Making College More Affordable

February 17, 2009

by Emily

Reducing college costs continues to be a hot topic of discussion, especially given survey results that show that college affordability is a growing public concern.  Recent congressional acts, including the education provisions in the stimulus bill President Obama will sign today, the Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act of 2008, and last year's reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, have kept the issue in focus, as have economic events, such as losses to 529 plans, rising unemployment, and new financial troubles for colleges.  A wide range of ideas have attracted the attention of lawmakers and the media, including several suggestions making the rounds this month.

Jesse Jackson recently wrote an article in the Chicago Sun-Times suggesting that Congress pass a law to offer a 1% interest rate on federal student loans, including Stafford Loans and PLUS Loans.  The Minneapolis Star-Tribune ran a column in January that went even further, suggesting that the federal government forgive all student loan debt.  Meanwhile, Lamar Alexander, a republican Senator from Tennessee, has gotten some publicity for suggesting that more colleges offer three-year paths to degrees, as one of many potential cost-saving measures.  Some states are looking into "no-frills" universities, and partnerships between state colleges and community colleges are also gaining traction as cost-saving options.

So we were wondering what people who are in the process of paying for college think.  What would you like to see happen to make college more affordable and reduce the burden of student loan debt on college graduates?


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by Emily

In yet another sign that a college education is becoming a necessity, rather than a luxury, a recent study of the stimulus legislation reveals that many of the jobs the stimulus is expected to create will require some education or training beyond high school.  In fact, at least 54 percent of the estimated new positions will require at least a postsecondary certificate according to analysis by Georgetown University’s Center for Education and the Workforce.  Considering a major goal of the stimulus package was to create jobs for less-skilled workers who are usually hardest hit by economic downturns, this figure is especially telling.

It appears that despite the calls for "shovel-ready" projects, few workers will be expected to merely wield shovels. Many of the "non-college" jobs created by this legislation still may require some employer-provided training or time spent at a community collegeInside Higher Education has more complete information, including a chart of the percentage of anticipated stimulus jobs that will require various education credentials.

While some required training will be covered by grants to employers and the increased Pell Grants and college tax benefits in the stimulus, those hoping for job security but apprehensive about college costs may be left with little choice but to go to collegeCollege scholarships and grants, as well as student loans and other financial aid can help.  A postsecondary education is becoming increasingly necessary in our economy, and it appears that this trend will continue.


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by Emily

Nervous about shelling out big bucks for a college degree in this economy? Here's a compelling reason to go to college: data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2008 indicates that higher education attainment still translates to a lower rate of unemployment and a higher salary.  A handy graphic here breaks it down.

The annual average unemployment rate for adults over 25 with only a high school education was 5.7 percent in 2008, 5.1 percent for adults with some college but no degree, and 9.0 percent for those with no high school diploma or GED.  Just finishing a degree at a community college drops the average unemployment rate to 3.7 percent, and getting a bachelor's degree reduces it to 2.8 percent.  The drop in unemployment was less substantial for master's, professional, and doctoral degrees, with rates for those ranging from 1.7 to 2.4 percent.

Graduate and professional degrees really pay off in terms of increased salaries.  Median full-time earnings for 2008 ranged from $426 per week for those with no high school diploma to $1,555 per week for those with doctoral degrees. Those with a diploma or GED but no degree could expect to make $591 to $645 per week working full-time, compared to $736 with an associate's degree. Median income rises rapidly from there, with four-year degree recipients making $978 per week and master's degrees and professional degrees resulting in median earnings of $1,228 and $1,522.

While these figures are for all adults age 25 and older in a wide variety of lines of work, they still present a compelling argument to at least consider a degree.  Choosing the right college and doing a thorough scholarship search can help make higher education affordable, as well as lucrative.


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by Emily

As college costs continue to rise, the percentage of students receiving financial aid also continues to grow.  As of the 2007-2008 academic year, a full two-thirds of undergraduate students received some form of student financial aid, with 47 percent receiving federal aid. This is according to the "First Look" report on the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study published by the National Center for Education Statistics yesterday.

The First Look report shows that the percentage of students receiving aid has continued to increase, from 63 percent in 2003-2004, and 55 percent in 1999-2000.  It also provides a breakdown of the percentage of students receiving different forms of financial aid, such as grants and scholarships, federal student loans, federal work-study, and federal PLUS loans.  According to the report, 52 percent of students received college scholarships and grants, while 38 percent of students borrowed federal student loans.  Relatively few students took advantage of work-study and PLUS loans.

NCES collects and publishes data on financial aid every three years and the First Look report is typically followed by a more in-depth analysis.  The National Postsecondary Student Aid Study draws from a sizable sample of students:  114,000 undergraduates and 14,000 graduates at 1,600 colleges and universities. Additional information is available on the NCES website.


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by Emily

Analyses of the data published last week by the National Center for Education Statistics are already starting to emerge.  The Project on Student Debt has announced that a significantly larger portion of students borrowed private loans in the 2007-2008 academic year than in 2003-2004, according to the NCES survey.

Private loan borrowing increased by 9 percentage points, with 14 percent of students now relying on private loans, as opposed to 5 percent in 2003-2004.  Not surprisingly, more expensive schools saw the biggest increase in private student loans.  At for-profit colleges, the percentage of students borrowing private loans increased from 14 percent to 43 percent, while private non-profit colleges also saw a substantial increase.  Overall, 32 percent of students at schools charging more than $10,000 per year in tuition wound up borrowing private loans in 2007-2008.

While the credit crunch may slow the rate of private borrowing in the near future, these student loans still are regarded as the best or only option by some students.  According to the Project on Student Debt's analysis, 26 percent of private loan borrowers did not take out any Stafford Loans first, and 14 percent did not even complete the FAFSA.

Private loans generally carry the highest interest rates and least flexible repayment terms out of all student loans and most experts encourage students to avoid them if possible.  Explore other options for financial aid first, especially grants and scholarships.  You will also want to consider your potential debt loand when choosing a college.  Since students at more expensive schools are more likely to have to borrow private loans, students with limited financial resources should think carefully about the relative merits of a private college as opposed to a state college or community college before committing themselves to private loan debt.


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