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College Tuition Increases Slow, Government Aid Falls

by Suada Kolovic

High school seniors heading to college in the fall, listen up: The average cost at the nation’s four-year public universities rose 2.9% this year, the smallest annual increase in more than three decades (yay!) but the slowdown in tuition increases have been offset by reductions in federal grant aid (boo!).

According to a new report from the College Board, public colleges have raised tuition prices so sharply in recent years not to gouge students but to bank on the increased state aid. And although the increase is moderate, "this does not mean that college is suddenly more affordable," says economist Sandy Baum, co-author of Trends in Higher Education reports on tuition and financial aid. "It does seem that the [upward tuition] spiral is moderating. Not turning around, not ending, but moderating." Unfortunately, students continue to suffer from the constant cycle of rising costs and serious college debt. Shrinking state aid for public colleges and universities has translated into the cost of public schools to jump $1,770 in inflation-adjusted dollars. The amount of government aid received last year fell $6,646 for every full-time student at those institutions while just five years ago, each student received $9,111 in today’s dollars. (For more on this report, click here.)

If college is in your forecast, what do you make of the report’s findings? Let us know in the comments section.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Sen. Edward Kennedy, a U.S. Congressman for more than 40 years, has left behind a long history of higher education programming, including the passage of an act last summer that expanded grant funding for low income students.

Kennedy died late Tuesday from the cancerous brain tumor he was diagnosed with in May of last year. One of his most recent efforts was working to pass the Higher Education Opportunity Act last August, which reauthorized the Higher Education Act for the first time since 1998. The act increased Pell Grant maximums, reaffirmed several scholarship programs, including the Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholarship Program, implemented loan forgiveness programs for eligible teachers and services in areas of national need, and detailed requirements that lenders provide borrowers with more information before issuing loans. The focus of the latest reauthorization was on expanding opportunities for scholarships and grant funding and streamlining the federal financial aid process in the wake of rising tuition costs and a more competitive student loan industry.

Kennedy had a long history of crafting higher education and student financial aid programs beginning with his work in 1972 on Pell Grants and Title IX, which prohibits the discrimination of women in education institution and has become known for increasing the number of women participating in college sports typically dominated by men. An article in the Chronicle for Higher Education today describes him as a "lifelong champion of equal rights and educational opportunity," attributing to him much of the work that went into the implementation of the federal direct-loan program introduced in the 1990s. The program allowed the government to lend money directly to students through their colleges.

>Kennedy, while not without his share of controversies, was able to get much of his work done through compromise and friends in the Republican base. Still, he was not without his critics. He publicly expressed his displeasure when the No Child Left Behind Act, legislation he had worked on with a number of Republican lawmakers, was passed with restrictions on grant aid to high-achieving math and science majors. In 2003, Kennedy attempted to move a bill through that would target colleges that gave preference to children of alumni, a timely topic today in the wake of the admissions controversies at several Illinois universities. His ties to his home state were obvious in much of his work in higher education, as Kennedy opposed any legislation that would impact the amount of student financial aid available to Massachusetts students

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the Senator's sister and the founder of the Special Olympics, died earlier this month. Jean Kennedy Smith is the last surviving Kennedy daughter.


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Alaska Governor Stresses Need for State-Funded Scholarship Dollars

by Alexis Mattera

Here at Scholarships.com, our goal is to make finding money for college as easy as possible. Paying the full cost of tuition out of pocket isn’t in the cards for most college-bound students and high-interest loans aren’t the most desirable options for others, meaning some students’ quests for postsecondary degrees must be funded solely by scholarships, grants and fellowships. Can it be done? Of course it can. You just need the right people on your side.

Alaska Governor Sean Parnell recently requested the funding of the incoming Alaska Performance Scholarship program, a nurse training proposal and a handful of other educational priorities from state lawmakers. While Parnell feels students have worked hard to earn state-funded performance-based scholarship dollars and would be "out to dry" without it, senators worry the program could leave rural students behind if aid is distributed unevenly across the state...not to mention create a potential legal problem given the state constitution’s promise of fair education services. Students seeking need-based grants do have the existing AlaskAdvantage program to turn to but it is significantly underfunded. It could, however, gain support through Senate Bill 43, which calls for AlaskAdvantage to receive $7 million of the proposed $21 million in state college scholarship funding on an annual basis.

Will it happen? Our Magic 8-Ball says "cannot predict now" but we hope it goes through for the sake of the many students in need. How are you currently paying for or planning to pay for school? What programs have you found most helpful in securing the funding you need?


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GOP Congressman: Pell Grants are Becoming ‘The Welfare of the 21st Century’

by Suada Kolovic

The GOP is no stranger to controversy and Friday’s interview with Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) was no exception. In a radio interview with Blog Talk Radio, Rehberg went on a rant in which he compared the Pell Grant Program – the nation’s largest financial aid program – to the likes of welfare and denounced the fact that students who receive them don’t have a graduation requirement. "You can go to school, collect your Pell Grants, get food stamps, low-income energy assistance, section 8 housing, and all of a sudden we find ourselves subsidizing people that don’t have to graduate from college.” Rehberg added under the federal program, a student could "go to school for nine years on Pell Grants and you don’t even have to get a degree."

Jason Delisle, director of the Federal Education Budget Project at the New America Foundation, took issue with Rehberg's comments. "I don't know if it's a fair characterization that someone has decided to go through the hoops of applying to college, getting enrolled and showing up every day because it's the welfare lifestyle," he said. "If the issue is people are being lazy and living off the dole, so to speak, I don't think their first step is to enroll in college."

For the 2012 fiscal year, the Pell Grant program is set to exceed $40 billion. Some lawmakers have been exploring ways to reduce the cost of the programs by lowering the maximum grant size – which is currently $5,550 – or restricting eligibility. In Montana, Rehberg recently voted for the House GOP budget resolution, which would reduce the maximum Pell Grant to $4,705 and narrow the eligibility of applicants. If you’re eligible for Pell Grants, what do you think? Are Rehberg’s assumptions out of line?


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The Politics of Student Government and Greek Council

by Thomas Lee

In my last article, I mentioned some of my experiences with college political parties and gave a little advice on how to choose one. While the two main choices are College Democrats or College Republicans, there are other ways one can get politically motivated on campus.

One way is joining Student Government Association or SGA as it is called at many schools. SGA is a student-led body that usually has a president and senators who help make operational or financial decisions that affect student life. I was an SGA senator my sophomore and junior years and helped plan the budget on the financial committee. SGA was allotted a certain amount of money from the main budget every three-month grant period and the finance committee would then receive proposals from all the organizations and departments on campus requesting money for specific functions. SGA then usually granted money to campus functions and student events that would promote campus life. It wasn’t a perfect process, but when has politics ever been?

Although it might not seem political at first glance, campus Greek life also plays a large role in making decisions that impact non-Greek students. At Methodist University, we instituted a Greek Council my junior year, as there ended up being a total of two fraternities and two sororities by the time I graduated. Greek Council was a governing body made of members from all four groups. They helped promote SGA events and raised money for community causes, such as helping soldiers. Ultimately, Greek Council influenced the university board of directors to approve the construction of a four-house Greek village. Academic Greek clubs such as Alpha Chi also may help in campus and community service.

So just because you don’t identify as a donkey or an elephant doesn’t mean you still can’t rock the vote on your campus!

Thomas Lee recently graduated from Methodist University in Fayetteville, North Carolina with a BA in political science and journalism. His father is an ordained Church of God minister and his mother is a private school teacher; he also has two younger sisters. Thomas’ interests include politics, law, debate, global issues and writing fiction and he believes in a personal relationship to Jesus Christ and a strong commitment to biblical morality and ethics. He currently resides in Washington, North Carolina and will be attending law school in the near future.


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Debt-Ceiling Deal Spares Pell Grant Program

by Suada Kolovic

Unless you’ve taken residence under a rock for the past few weeks, you’ve heard about the debt ceiling crisis. Thankfully, the White House and Congress have reached a deal to raise the nation’s borrowing limit and shrink the federal deficit which avoids many of higher education’s worst-case scenarios, namely cuts to Pell Grants, the end of subsidized student loans or a government default that would leave student financial aid and other funding for colleges in limbo.

Here’s the breakdown: The agreement would cut $1 trillion right away and create a committee to reduce the deficit by another $1.5 trillion by November. If approved in Congress, it will avert default on the nation’s debts and ensure that the government has enough money for federal benefits, including student aid. In layman’s terms, the bill would provide $17 billion for the Pell Grant program but the measure would only be temporary. Because House conservatives oppose tax increases, it is likely that the committee charged with reducing the deficit will favor spending cuts over revenues increase, putting Pell Grants and other student aid programs at risk for cuts in the near future.

Do you think slashing funds for higher education is problematic? Let us know what you think.


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Federal Mandate Will Standardize High School Graduation Rates

by Alexis Mattera

High school graduation rates have been on the rise across the nation but are the numbers of mortarboard-tossing students truly accurate? Experts say a new approach to data calculation will reveal the truth.

A new federal mandate scheduled to take effect next year will standardize graduation rates by calculating the number of students who graduate high school in four years divided by the number of students who entered the school four years prior. This means states will no longer be able to count students who complete special education programs, night school, the GED and virtual high school programs along with those who earn a traditional high school diploma; when these students are removed from the equation, Chris West of Johns Hopkins University's Everyone Graduates Center estimates official national graduation rates will likely decrease between 5 percent and 10 percent.

Parents may be alarmed when they see the numbers fall but the standardization will do far more good than harm: West says it will level the playing field for high schools vying for federal money through the Race to the Top program – funds that will allow these schools to better prepare their students and further increase graduation rates. Do you think the graduation rate standardization will have a positive or negative impact? Is this a change that should have happened a long time ago or was the old way of reporting just fine?


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Pell Maximum Maintained, Eligibility Tightened

by Alexis Mattera

The Federal Pell Grant program as we know it has been in jeopardy in recent years but an agreement reached last night will keep its funding intact. While college students will still receive the maximum award amount per year, the number of eligible recipients is a quite different (and unfortunate) story.

The Chronicle reported congressional leaders agreed on a spending bill for the remainder of the current fiscal year that would increase funds for the National Institutes of Health by 1 percent, thereby maintaining the maximum Pell Grant amount of $5,550. To make this $300 million increase possible, however, eligibility for the award has been restricted. Under the bill, Pell Grant funding will only be available to each student for six years instead of nine, high school diplomas or GEDs will be required (no more ability-to-benefit tests) and the income cap for receiving an "automatic zero" expected family contribution will be lowered from $30,000 to $23,000. The interest subsidy on undergraduate student loans during the six-month grace period after a student graduates would also temporarily end.

Yes, the changes are significant but they are far less severe than an earlier bill which would have lowered the income cap to $15,000 and reduced the amount of income working students could exclude when applying for financial aid – changes that would have negatively impacted thousands of college students, especially those attending community colleges. We want to know what you think about the news. Is there a way to maintain federal funding without decreasing eligibility or do you think this bill is the best option?


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