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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 a speech delivered before a joint session of Congress, President Obama called for every American to complete at least one year of postsecondary education and pledged greater financial support for those attending college.  He also urged that America become the "best educated" nation and set the goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.

In addition to healthcare and alternative energy, the president declared education to be a top priority for improving America's economy and its place in the world.  He called on families, schools, and Congress to embrace this priority, and to better prepare citizens for careers that increasingly require some amount of  education or training beyond high school.

President Obama promised greater funding for higher education in the federal budget for 2010. This may include the educational tax benefits he advocated in his campaign, as well as other increases to federal student financial aid. He once again mentioned community service or other national service as requirements for future financial aid.

In addition to pledging greater state support, he also asked for an individual commitment by each American to not only graduate from high school, but to set college goals and attend a college, university, community college, or vocational training program for at least one year.  In addition to helping people succeed individually, greater education and training can lead to greater success for society.

Obviously, problems with paying for school will not disappear overnight.  But with help from schools and the government, individuals who work hard and make higher education a priority can reap the benefits, despite the challenges that remain.


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by Emily

A bill to expand AmeriCorps and create new community service opportunities has passed the House of Representatives.  The Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education, or GIVE, Act passed today with bipartisan support in the House, and a similar bill, named the Serve America Act, has also been approved by the Senate education committee.  It will move to the Senate floor early next week, where it is expected to be met with a similar level of enthusiasm.  National service has been a priority of the Obama administration, so expect to see opportunities for community service expand shortly.

Over the course of five years, the bill will appropriate $6 billion to AmeriCorps, increasing positions from 75,000 to 250,000 and also increasing education stipends to $5,350--the same dollar amount as Federal Pell Grants.  The GIVE Act also includes provisions to encourage middle school students to volunteer, as well as funding to increase volunteerism on college campuses.  The GIVE Act will create volunteer programs focused on issues that have become major priorities in recent years, such as education and healthcare.

This legislation is heralded as the largest expansion in national service since the Kennedy administration.  While AmeriCorps and other volunteer programs pay far less than a full-time job, many students have been showing increased interest in them due to the education stipends and living allowances they provide, as well as the opportunities for service and unique experiences volunteers gain.  People serving full-time in positions affiliated with AmeriCorps or other programs also qualify for a new federal loan forgiveness program, which forgives Stafford loan debt for public service employees after ten years.


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by Emily

Yesterday, President Obama signed into law a bill to expand Americorps, a national service program that provides small stipends to people of all ages engaged in volunteer work throughout the country.  The act, officially known as the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, paves the way for Americorps to grow in size from its present 75,000 volunteers to as many as 250,000 volunteers by 2017.

In addition to creating more volunteer positions, the Serve America Act will also increase the education stipend for volunteers to $5,350, the same amount as Federal Pell Grants.  This will enable more recent graduates and people currently attending college to participate in Americorps programs, which are becoming an increasingly popular alternative to employment in the current economy.

The national service bill, sponsored by Senator Kennedy, quickly made its way through both houses of Congress, receiving bipartisan support, as well as a ringing endorsement from President Obama, who has long been a proponent of community service.  Congress still needs to find funding for Americorps to begin to expand, but a provision to provide an immediate 25% increase in funding to the program was included in Obama's 2010 budget proposal.


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by Emily

Loan forgiveness programs have been helping encourage students to enter careers in fields like education and nursing for years.  Such programs are typically offered by state student loan agencies or non-profit organizations, and are often well-publicized to prospective college students.  In many cases, students have borrowed liberally, banking on having a substantial portion of their student loans forgiven after five or ten years of work in their field.  But budget cuts and stock market woes have been forcing agencies to make cuts to their loan forgiveness programs, in some cases almost entirely eliminating them.

Kentucky, Iowa, California, and New Hampshire are some of the states that have made changes to loan forgiveness programs, according to The New York Times.  Even if you don't live in one of these states, if you're banking on having your student loan debt forgiven after you graduate college, you may want to see what guarantees there are that your state's program will still exist in its present form.  Make sure you know how much of what you borrow you can expect to repay, even in a worst case scenario.

Regardless of repayment and forgiveness options, it's still a good idea to minimize your borrowing by finding scholarships and practicing good money management.  Nursing scholarships and education scholarships are out there, as are numerous other scholarship opportunities.  There are also several federal loan forgiveness programs for teachers, nurses, and other public service employees.


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by Emily

Last week, we blogged about states and loan companies making cuts to student loan forgiveness programs.  The New York Times initially ran a piece on these budget cuts and has followed up this week with a chart of state loan forgiveness programs and their current financial status.  If you're planning on using one of these programs to cancel some of your student debt after college, you can head over to their website to see if your program is among those facing potential budget cuts.  If you don't see it listed, The New York Times is encouraging people to contact state and local loan forgiveness programs and report back with details.

While many state programs are facing cuts, federal loan forgiveness programs have expanded in recent years. New federal options include a public service loan forgiveness program and a repayment plan set to debut next month that will forgive students' remaining balances of federal student loans after 25 years of income-based payments. Congress has also approved more funding for Americorps, which can help volunteers pay for school. Cancellation programs for Perkins Loans may also become more popular if an expansion to the Perkins Loan program is approved in the 2010 federal budget.

Regardless of the state of your loan repayment and forgiveness options, keep in mind there is free money out there.  Grants and scholarships are available for virtually every student based on any number of characteristics and criteria.  For example, many groups offer nursing scholarships and education scholarships, among other major-specific awards.  To find out more, do a free college scholarship search.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

Pursuing a career in education shows a commitment to increasing knowledge and improving the lives of others. However, in order to become an educator, you need a college education, and the prospect of a teacher's salary can make many students reluctant to borrow heavily to achieve this goal. Thankfully, there are a number of education scholarships that offer future teachers an alternative to student loans. One of them is this week's Scholarship of the Week, the Scholarships.com College Education Scholarship. High school seniors and current undergraduate students are invited to write a scholarship essay explaining what influenced them to pursue a career in education for a chance to win a $1,000 college scholarship.

Prize: $1,000

Eligibility: Applicant must be a U.S. citizen, a registered user of Scholarships.com, and an undergraduate student or a high school senior who plans to enroll in a college or university in the coming fall. Applicant must have indicated an interest in Child Care/Education, Education, Health Education, Music Education or Special Education.

Deadline: August 31, 2009

Required Material: Completed online scholarship application, including essay of 250-350 words answering the question, "What has influenced you to pursue a career in education?"

Further details about the application process can be found by conducting a free college scholarship search on Scholarships.com. Once the search is completed, students eligible for this scholarship award will find it in their search results.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Samantha P. spent her childhood in Akwesasne, a Mohawk Nation territory on the New York-Canada border. When she moved from her Mohawk-language elementary school to an English-language middle school, she saw students from her reservation struggling with the abrupt transition and knew where her future would lead her. To help Samantha complete a degree in Education at the State University of New York at Potsdam and prepare for a career helping students from her community excel in both English and Mohawk, Scholarships.com has named Samantha the 2009 recipient of the annual $1,000 College Education Scholarship.

Scholarships.com has been awarding Area of Study College Scholarships since summer 2008 to help students like Samantha meet their college and career goals. The competition grants a $1,000 scholarship each month to a high school senior or undergraduate student planning to pursue a career in one of 13 areas of study, such as Education.

"Education is an important field in need of passionate and forward-thinking individuals," said Emily Hilleren, Director of Content for Scholarships.com. "Samantha’s dedication to her area of study and commitment to a multicultural approach to teaching made her entry stand out among the numerous applications we received. Scholarships.com is honored to play a role in funding her college education with this scholarship award."

Scholarship applicants are asked to describe what influenced their career choices. In her essay, Samantha described her goal of becoming an English teacher near the community where she grew up, so that she could “incorporate traditional Mohawk stories like ‘The Creation Story’ with classics like ‘Romeo and Juliet’” to instill in her students a passion for reading and writing. “I want my students to be chameleons and blend into the world of the Mohawk culture and the English world that surrounds them,” she wrote.

The Scholarships.com Area of Study Scholarships are open to all U.S. citizens who will be attending college in the coming fall, regardless of age, test scores or grade point average. To apply for the Scholarships.com Area of Study College Scholarships, students can conduct a free scholarship search and complete an online scholarship application.

A complete list of Area of Study scholarship winners as well as their winning essays is available on our Student Winners page.


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by Agnes Jasinski

President Obama announced a renewed focus on "Educate to Innovate" yesterday, this time targeting the need for more math and science teachers. As part of the most recent developments involving that initiative, leaders representing more than 120 public universities pledged to do their part to increase the total number of math and science teachers from 7,500 to 10,000 by 2015. Of those who pledged that promise to the White House, 41 said they would double the number of teachers they trained in that same period.

"Educate to Innovate" was first announced last November. The program was first announced with the aims to encourage more middle and high school students to pursue science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. The program called on outside organizations to spend their own money and time to educate students on the kinds of things they could do in those fields, and improve their skill sets in those areas. This time around, the focus was on the colleges. The Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities has admitted it could do more to not only get more students interested in the maths and sciences, but to better prepare those who do pursue those fields to make the United States more competitive on the international scene in those disciplines.

The White House also announced that the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowships in Math and Science program would be expanded to include Michigan and Ohio, the National Math + Science Initiative's UTeach program would be expanded to include 20 additional universities, and that NASA, in partnership with companies, non-profits, and states, will launch a pilot program to enhance learning opportunities in STEM fields for students during the summer.

If you're already interested in science and math, make sure you know about all of the scholarship opportunities that could be available to you. As more emphasis is placed those fields of study, the incentives to pursue those disciplines will grow, so the time is now to apply for funding to pursue a degree in a STEM field. The National Science and Mathematics Access to Retail Talent (SMART) Grant is awarded to undergraduates in their third or fourth year. Eligible recipients must already be Pell recipients, and the maximum award is $4,000. If you’re interested in competitions, the Intel Science Talent Search targets high school seniors with original research. To see whether you qualify for any of these or thousands of other scholarships, many of them related to the maths or sciences, conduct a free scholarship search to see the kind of awards you’re eligible for.


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by Administrator

Perhaps, for the time being, American colleges (see Harvard, Princeton, Yale, etc.) are among the most desirable in the world, but there is some concern that this might not always be so and that perhaps this shouldn't be taken for granted.

Before Toyota started shipping automobiles to the United states in ever-increasing quantities, General Motors ruled. The American car was king in the U.S. and led all other auto companies world-wide for three quarters of a century. That began to change in the 80's and now it is not uncommon, even right here in the heartland of America, to see more Japanese cars on your morning commute than those manufactured in the United St. Could we have learned a lesson from Japan? Taken a page from their playbook maybe and avoided the enormous failure and subsequent government bailout of what was once the auto sales leader for 77 consecutive years? There are those who believe education is set on a similar trajectory. Here are five things we might want to consider:

  1. Building Human Capital While college costs continue to rise in the U.S. and it becomes more and more difficult for high school grads to attend college, China is making sure its young people have an opportunity to get a post-secondary education. Apparently they, along with other East Asian countries, see a strong connection between the education of its citizens and its burgeoning economy and are working to build human capital to ensure continued growth and success.
  2. Policy May Set Pace China is set to outpace the U.S. not just in college grads, but also in world-class universities. This is primarily due to the amount of importance they place on education and the funding they commit to seeing that it succeeds. If we are to have any hope of keeping up with China, India and Japan in the coming decades, we may want to consider a similar approach and learn from the success of these programs and their dedication to higher education.
  3. Beware Hubris It's probably not a good idea to assume that, because there presently are no Asian institutions listed among the top 20 worldwide, there won't soon be. According to Yale's president, Richard C. Levin, there is likely to be some change in the coming years, with National University of Singapore one of the schools likely to break into the top twenty.
  4. Eyes on Asia It might be a good idea to take a serious look at some of the programs the most successful schools in Asia have implemented and consider building some of our own in select institutions, for a start. Getting students involved in more global, real-life situations and positions earlier, for example, might be something we should be doing more of.
  5. If You Can't Beat 'Em OK, it may be a bit early to admit defeat and, if we step it up a bit, maybe concession won't be necessary, but working with Asian universities could be among the key steps we could take to improve the quality of the education we offer in the U.S.


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