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Federal Incentives for Aid

September 9, 2013

Federal Incentives for Aid

by Mike Sheffey

Recently, the federal government came out with a proposed plan to encourage academic excellence in college and linking it to federal aid.

Linking financial aid to academic performance? Wasn’t this already a thing? I mean, really? I completely understand where they’re coming from – I can’t slip below a 3.0 or I risk losing scholarships – and would have thought the federal government would be on a similar page. OK, so maybe that’s a bit harsh and I’m not saying that the minimum GPA would have to be a 3.0 but having some minimums on grading is something I fully support the federal government doing. I mean, if they view college students as the future, then they are investing in America’s future...and they’re probably going to want to emerge at the other end having viewed that investment as a smart idea. I know I’ve seen my fair share of people getting by without incentive to succeed but if your money and future were on the line, you’d see drastically different outcomes. And in the long run, I think we’d appreciate it: Better grades = better GPA = better skills = better jobs. (Or at least in simple terms, that’s how it would go.)

There is, however, the other side of the argument: In the same way that I believe high schools are pushed to be teaching to a test and not to the things we really need to learn (let alone the fact that ALL PEOPLE learn differently but standardized testing pushes a one-way system), I believe a federal system for weighing academic merit could descend into standardized tests for college professors. To be able to hold all college students to federal standards, the government would have to, right? THAT I cannot agree with.

The proposed plan also proposes a heavier focus on online classes. You can read my previous post about online textbooks but would a federal push for online classes devalue the classroom? All I know is that I’d need more details before they could sell me on some of this. But allocating more money to those doing well in school and less or none to those who don’t take it seriously or do well? I can see that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying a 2.5 GPA or anything like that, but if you have a 0.5 and you are receiving federal aid, that’s a problem.

What do you think about the proposed federal plan?

Mike Sheffey is a junior at Wofford College double majoring in computer science and Spanish. He loves all things music and has recently taken up photography. Mike works for an on-campus sports broadcasting company as well as the music news blog PropertyOfZack.com. He hopes to use this blogging position to inform and assist others who are seeking the right college or those currently enrolled in college by providing advice on college life, both in general and specific to Wofford.

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LGBT Students Can Face Serious Roadblocks to Financial Aid

October 31, 2013

LGBT Students Can Face Serious Roadblocks to Financial Aid

by Suada Kolovic

Unless you plan on paying for your college education out-of-pocket, completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (more commonly known as the FAFSA) is essential in your quest for financial aid. For the uninitiated, the FAFSA is used by the Department of Education to determine your eligibility for federal student financial aid for college, including the Pell Grant, federal work-student programs and federal student loans. And while most students struggle with the complicated application process, LGBT students potentially face more serious roadblocks: According to U.S. News & World Report, name changes, gender identification and strained family relationships can present unique FAFSA challenges.

In 2012, sexual orientation and gender identity were the number one reason for youth homelessness in the U.S., notes Thomas Krever, chief executive officer of the Hetrick-Martin Institute. Almost 40 percent of homeless youth identified as LGBT and of those teens, 46 percent ran away because their family rejected their sexual orientation or gender identity. What does this have to do with the FAFSA? Students under the age of 24 need tax returns and bank statements from their parents in order to file for financial aid and those without family support are left in limbo. Other LGBT students struggle with the fact that the FAFSA doesn’t necessarily reflect their identity. Questions about name and gender can be enough to keep transgender teens from even applying, says Eli Erlick, founder of Trans Student Equality Resources. "One thing about funding, specifically FAFSA, is that transgender students may not be able to change their name due to parents not being supportive or not having the money to do so," says Erlick. "This can lead to transgender students being nervous to apply, or not even applying at all, because they're scared for their own safety, because using these forms with their legal names may out them." (For more on this story, click here.)

What do you think about the challenges LGBT students face when seeking financial aid? Can you think of something the government can do to ease this pressure?

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President Obama Encourages More Students to Fill Out FAFSA

March 13, 2014

by Suada Kolovic

While the road to a college degree may include countless detours, it’s essential to understand the importance of financial aid and filling out the FAFSA. But don’t just take my word for it – President Obama agrees: Last week, the President announced an initiative that would encourage more students to apply for federal student aid.

Under the FAFSA Completion Initiative, the Department of Education will work with states to identify students who have not completed the form and employ new outreach efforts to help more students through the process. The White House said the effort would build on earlier steps by the Obama administration to simplify the form and make it easier for parents and student to use information from their tax returns to complete the paperwork. "We made it simple. It doesn't cost anything. It does not take a long time to fill out. Once you do, you're putting yourself in the running for all kinds of financial support for college," said President Obama.

For those of you that aren’t familiar, the FAFSA (which stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid) acts as a gateway between graduating seniors and almost $150 billion in grants, loans and work-study funds that the federal government has available. Funds do run out, though, so we recommend filling out the FAFSA as early as possible. Have you filled out the FAFSA? Let us know how it went in the comments section. If you haven’t done so yet, review our financial aid section for some tips.

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Colorado State U. Adds Women’s Soccer, Nixes Water Polo in Order to Comply with Title IX

November 21, 2013

Colorado State U. Adds Women’s Soccer, Nixes Water Polo in Order to Comply with Title IX

by Suada Kolovic

Four decades after Title IX was enacted, many colleges and universities across the country still struggle with the gender-equity requirements. If you’re not familiar with Title IX, allow me to give you a brief synopsis: The law states: “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” While Title IX has had obvious positive effects on women’s education, we most often associate this law’s success within athletics but compliance with Title IX isn’t always a clear task. Take for instance what’s happening at Colorado State University: The school plans to add scholarships through a new women’s soccer team but are doing so at the expense of the women’s water polo team. If you’re scratching your head in confusion, join the club.

According to reports, the complaint against the university filed in July 2012 alleged that CSU discriminated against female athletes by falling to provide opportunities equal to those afforded to their male counterparts. The university agreed to a turnaround plan that will bring it into compliance by September 2016 but many individuals have pointed out the odd juxtaposition of a women’s sport being eliminated to comply with gender-balance guidelines. “It definitely shows that they didn’t take our sport as seriously as maybe men’s basketball or football, because they definitely wouldn’t have eliminated them,” said Alexzandrea Daley, a 19-year-old junior and water polo team member at CSU. Officials at the university have sympathized with their outrage but reaffirm that the university could not afford to keep both sports. (For more on this story, click here.)

Sure, repeated failures to comply with Title IX can jeopardize a university’s federal financial support but do you agree with Colorado State’s solution? Do you think it fair to the female athletes? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

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The FAFSA: New Year Means New Application

January 1, 2014

The FAFSA: New Year Means New Application

by Alexis Mattera

Though it’s a day off from school and work, New Year’s Day is also a day to get down to business. While you’re starting in on your New Year’s resolutions, opening up a new calendar, and packing up the holiday decorations, there’s one more thing that college students and college-bound high school students should do each January. The Department of Education starts accepting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (more commonly known as "FAFSA") on January 1 each year. State application deadlines fall soon after—as early as February in some cases. So while you might not start classes until August or September, you want to start applying for financial aid as soon as the FAFSA is available each year.

In order to complete a FAFSA, you will need the following:

  • your social security number
  • a driver’s license if you have one
  • bank statements and records of investments (if you have any)
  • records of untaxed income (again, if you have any)
  • your most recent tax return and W2s (2012 for the 2013-2014 FAFSA)
  • all of the above for your parents if you are considered a dependent
  • a PIN to sign electronically (go to pin.ed.gov to get one)
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President, FLOTUS Push for More Access to Higher Education for Low-Income Students

January 21, 2014

President, FLOTUS Push for More Access to Higher Education for Low-Income Students

by Suada Kolovic

Higher education has always been a top priority for President Barack Obama. Back in February 2009, he told Congress, “By 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.” Five years later, whether or not we as a nation will achieve that benchmark remains unseen but he believes that reaching out to low-income students may be just the key to getting there.

On Thursday, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama met with more than 80 college presidents and dozens of nonprofits committed to raising the number of low-income students who attend college. “We want to restore the essential promise of opportunity and upward mobility that’s at the heart of America,” he told the group. "To that end, young people, low-income students in particular, must have access to a college education." The participating schools have agreed to take action in one of four areas: connecting young people to schools that are right for them; early intervention to ensure a larger pool of students prepare for college; more college advising and test preparation; and more on-campus remedial education. And while President Obama’s various education initiatives are ambitious, it doesn’t appear to be lost on him that there is much more work to be done to get college degrees in the hands of more American students, regardless of their economic class. (For more on this story, click here.)

What do you think of the President’s education push? Let us know in the comments section.

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Top Issues Millennials Want Discussed in State of the Union Address

January 28, 2014

Top Issues Millennials Want Discussed in State of the Union Address

by Suada Kolovic

For those of you that don’t closely follow politics, tonight President Barack Obama will deliver his fifth State of the Union address. If you aren’t familiar, the address not only reports on the condition of the nation but also allows the President to outline his legislative agenda and national priorities. And with potentially millions of young Americans watching, we wondered what issues mattered most to Millennials? Fortunately, Generation Progress asked them just that! Check out some of the top responses below: (For the full list, head over to Generation Progress.)

  • A solution to the student debt crisis. With 40 million Americans shouldering $1.2 trillion dollars in educational debt, Millennials want to see President Obama call for ways to address this crisis.
  • Create a fair economy that shrinks the income inequality gap by raising the minimum wage to $10, maintains federal government programs like unemployment benefits, expands the U.S. apprenticeship system, supports young entrepreneurs to create new business and reinvest in national service programs like AmeriCorps.
  • Every state needs to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), so young Americans can purchase affordable health care plans with subsidies Medicaid provides via the law.
  • Invest in green jobs while addressing the effects of climate change.
  • Enact common-sense gun legislation such as mandatory background checks.

What do you think of the top issues that Millennials want discussed? Any you would add? Let us know in the comments section.

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Tennessee Governor Proposes Free Community College

February 4, 2014

Tennessee Governor Proposes Free Community College

by Suada Kolovic

When considering the true cost of a college education, students must remember to factor in not only tuition but mandatory fees, room and board, books, supplies and living expenses. That is unless you're from Tennessee, where the governor has proposed free community college for all high school graduates. That’s right: All high school graduates in the state would have the option to attend a community or technical college for two years for free!

On Monday, Gov. William E. Haslam proposed using money from the Tennessee Education Lottery to fund an endowment that would cover all tuition and fees to two-year institutions for all graduating high school seniors. The proposal forms the centerpiece of his effort to increase the number of college graduates in Tennessee. "We are committed to making a clear statement to families that education beyond high school is a priority in the state of Tennessee," Haslam said. "Tennessee will be the only state in the country to offer our high school graduates two years of community college with no tuition or fees along with the support of dedicated mentors." In addition to the Tennessee Promise proposal, the governor laid out several other educational polices, including an expansion of a program meant to reduce the need for remedial math courses and a program to encourage high school students to take dual-enrollment courses. (For more on this story, click here.)

With the cost of a college education still on the rise, what do you think of Haslam’s proposal? Should all states that participate in the lottery consider this option? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

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Colleges Accused of Misleading Students About Financial Aid Applications

February 7, 2014

Colleges Accused of Misleading Students About Financial Aid Applications

by Suada Kolovic

Figuring out how you're going to pay for your college education can be daunting. And while no one would argue that filling out the FAFSA is an important piece of the financial aid puzzle, it seems that some colleges might be making the process more complicated...and costly.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland alleged this week that more than 100 universities – including dozens of elite and Ivy League institutions – may be violating the law by telling potential applicants that they have to spend money filling out an unnecessary form. In a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Cummings said 111 universities required a financial aid form developed by the College Board to be considered for any financial aid. Fifty-eight of the schools told applicants that they had to submit the $25 PROFILE form "in order to secure any type of financial aid, including federal student aid," Cummings wrote. The other 53 directed applicants to "submit both the FAFSA and the PROFILE to obtain federal financial aid, although they do not clarify what each form is used to assess." And while Cummings insists that these schools appear to be in violation of the Higher Education Act, some college officials have defended their use of PROFILE, stating that because it takes into account factors the FAFSA doesn't — like home equity and some business income — it allows universities to make fairer decisions on who needs aid the most. Meanwhile, Cummings has requested a meeting with Duncan to figure out what steps need to be taken to ensure that colleges are not creating unnecessary barriers to federal assistance. (For more on this story, click here.)

With all the outrageous fees students already must endure, what do you think of universities adding an additional one? Are you for filling out a form that costs you $25 if there is a chance you might get additional aid or against forking up more money than necessary? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

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How to Maximize Your Financial Aid Package

February 13, 2014

How to Maximize Your Financial Aid Package

by Suada Kolovic

Figuring out the bottom line when it comes to the cost of your college education is definitely a stressful part of the process. With everything that goes into determining your financial aid package (your parents’ income, your earnings and your family’s net assets), it’s important to understand that merit aid – aid based on a student’s attributes (academics, athletics, extracurriculars, etc.) – is available to student regardless of their “need.” New federal rules are blurring the distinction between scholarships awarded on merit and grants awarded because of a student’s financial need – for instance, a growing number of colleges now award “need-based” aid to students from families earning six figures! Who would have thunk it?! So, we’ve compiled a few helpful tips to maximize your chances for merit aid and increase your overall financial aid package.

  • Fill out the FAFSA. Federal rules have changed. College aid officials are now allowed to award need-based aid to students whose parents earned decent salaries last year but have recently been laid off, as well as make accommodations for a family’s unique circumstances, such as high medical bills.
  • Apply to schools where you’d rank at the top. While your dream school might be an Ivy League, you should apply to at least a few colleges where your GPA would put you in the top 25 percent of the student body.
  • Apply to schools that offer generous need-based aid. In the 2009-10 academic year, Louisiana College reported that 88 percent of students were receiving non-need based financial aid. Do the schools you’re considering boast the same kind of aid?
  • Do the research. If you’re interested in a college, find out what it has to offer when it comes to merit aid. You might qualify for more awards than you think!
  • Before making a final decision, compare net prices. Consider the cost of attendance in its entirety including tuition and fees, room and board, books and transportation. The school that offers the most in merit aid might not be the best choice; sometimes the college offering the largest merit scholarship might have the highest net price because its tuition is higher.
  • Don’t be afraid to negotiate. Believe it or not, you have negotiating leverage when it comes to your merit aid package. If you have received admission letters from two or more universities and your first choice has a higher net price than your second choice, contact that institution! Some schools might be willing to match the merit aid offered, which would provide you the opportunity to attend your first choice school for less money!
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