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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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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

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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by Scholarships.com Staff

Barack Obama became known for his web presence during his Presidential campaign.  He and his transition team have kept up this reputation through YouTube addresses and websites such as Change.gov, the official transitional website.  Now the Obama transition team is asking for public comments--or at least blog comments--on issues related to paying for school.  A post on the Change.gov blog is currently soliciting feedback about college affordability.  While there's no guarantee that the President-elect himself will read your post, if you would like to weigh in on educational policy at least in a small way, you can view and comment on the January 5 Change.gov blog post "Keeping College Affordable." 

The blog post, along with many other recent discussions of college costs, makes a nod to former Rhode Island senator Clairborne Pell, who passed away on January 1.  Pell was instrumental in shaping the current federal student financial aid system by helping create the Federal Pell Grant, which was named after him.  Pell Grants continue to make up an important part of the financial aid packages of many students, covering up to the full cost of tuition at some state and community colleges

However, as tuition costs rise, Pell Grants and other sources of federal aid are not enough to make college affordable for an increasingly large number of students.  During his campaign, Obama proposed a few substantial changes to the way college financial aid is structured, and hopefully his administration will do more to seek out and act upon feedback from those who are struggling with the costs associated with higher education.  However, if you're skeptical, or just looking for more immediate ways to make college affordable, there are resources available.  Start with a free college scholarship search on Scholarships.com.  Many scholarship application deadlines are approaching in the coming months, but there is still abundant scholarship money for those who take the time to apply.


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by Emily

The House of Representatives just passed the compromise version of the economic stimulus package.  Now there are just two stop left for it before it becomes law: the Senate and President Obama's desk.  The Senate plans to vote later this evening, putting it on track to be signed on Monday.

As the dust settles, more detailed accounts of what's actually in the bill are emerging.  While the final totals have not yet been made public, Inside Higher Ed has an updated version of their stimulus chart online today, featuring many of the stimulus provisions related to higher education.  The $787 billion stimulus package will include: 

     
  • $17.1 billion to increasing the maximum Pell Grant award by $500 and eliminate a shortfall in funding
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  • $200 million to college work-study programs focused on community service
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  • A $2,500 education tax credit available for four years of college.  The credit is 40 percent refundable, so people who don't make enough to pay taxes can still receive $1000.
  •  
  • A provision to allow computer purchases to count as qualified educational expenses for 529 plans
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  • $39.5 billion to offset state budget cuts to education, including money to modernize facilities
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  • $8.8 billion for states to award to high-priority needs, including education
  •  
 While several items related to federal student financial aid were cut from earlier versions of the stimulus, the final verison will hopefully minimize tuition hikes by giving states more money for education, help the neediest students deal with tuition increases through an increase in grants and work-study, and help all college students a little with the tax option included.  The stimulus package also includes tax rebates, increased funding to several social welfare programs, and changes to unemployment benefits, which could further aid struggling students and families.


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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

As Congress moves forward with a federal budget plan for 2010, rhetoric is ramping up on both sides of what is proving to be one of the most contentious budget debates so far:  whether or not to eliminate the Federal Family Education Loan Program.  President Obama initially proposed this move in his budget outline, saying that a move to Direct Loans would result in a savings of $48 billion, money that could be put towards expanding the Federal Pell Grant program.

After the Congressional Budget Office revised the estimated savings to $94 billion over 10 years, many members of Congress and several higher education professional organizations have been offering up tentative support for the plan.  Democrats on the joint budget committee have even begun paving the way for this portion of the budget to be eligible for reconciliation, a filibuster-proof process that will allow portions of the budget to pass with a simple majority vote in the Senate.

However, lenders and other groups have begun suggesting and campaigning for alternatives that would allow the bank-based student loan program to continue to exist while still cutting costs to some extent.  Concerns have been raised that Direct Loans will not be as efficient or as kind to borrowers in the long run, though the credit crisis has made the program especially appealing as FFELP has required repeated government interventions to avoid grinding completely to a halt.  With many schools voluntarily making the switch to direct lending based on the program's current stability, concerns have also been raised about a rapid expansion in Direct Loans overwhelming the program as it currently stands.  Others worry that eliminating FFELP may speed lenders' exodus from private loans, ultimately leaving many students in a worse place financially than they find themselves in now.

What's emerging is a war of words between banks and the President.  In a speech on Friday, Obama characterized lenders as, "gearing up for battle," to which he responded, "So am I. . . And for those who care about America's future, this is a battle we can't afford to lose."  Considering the President's popularity and lenders' tarnished reputations from crisis after scandal after crisis over the last two years, we may see big changes happening soon in student loans.


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by Emily

A little over a week after announcing his plans to gear up for battle with student lenders over the future of the Federal Family Education Loan Program, President Obama has begun calling in the troops.  An e-mail message sent to young Obama supporters by the Democratic National Committee is urging students to speak up in favor of the President's proposal to switch all federal lending to the Direct Loans program and to use the savings to expand Federal Pell Grants.

Students have been asked to call, write, or e-mail their Representatives and Senators to let them know what they think of the proposal to eliminate FFELP for Stafford Loans and PLUS Loans.  The text of the e-mail, as reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education, urges students to stand against "special interests" and to help "fix a broken system."  Rhetoric on the other side has focused primarily on preserving jobs and preserving choice (technically, the choice is primarily left to schools, not students, as students aren't able to choose freely between DL and FFELP until they graduate and consider consolidation loans).

Regardless of whether you favor or oppose this plan, now is a good time to let your people in Congress know how you feel, since changes in federal student financial aid are likely to affect you directly.  So, what do you think?  What changes, if any, should Congress make to student loans? Do you plan on writing to Congress about this issue?


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by Emily

Yesterday, Congress held a hearing to begin the process of determining the fate of the Federal Family Education Loan Program, the bank-based federal student loan program that President Obama has proposed eliminating in the 2010 federal budget. Voices from both sides of the debate chimed in, with one clear theme emerging: in 2010, student loans are definitely going to change. The questions at this point are to what extent federal student lending will change and whether the banks currently involved in FFEL will still have a place in the new system.

The Obama administration proposes switching all federal Stafford and PLUS loans to the federal Direct Loans program, then using the savings from eliminating lender subsidies to increase Federal Pell Grants and make funding mandatory, while also greatly expanding the federal Perkins Loan program and spending more on college completion. Opponents of this plan, primarily consisting of FFEL lenders and representatives of schools that participate in FFEL, have suggested alternatives that would restructure student lending, but still leave a place for lenders to service the loans. Not one witness at the hearing advocated keeping the system as it is, though, and it seems that a shakeup in student lending is inevitable. Hopefully, this will result in more available financial aid for students.  Inside Higher Ed has more information on the hearing.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

Yesterday, President Obama announced a new focus on community colleges in a speech delivered at Macomb Community College in Michigan. Obama pledged $12 billion to improve facilities, increase enrollment, and boost graduation rates at the nation's community colleges, a shift in education policy from the traditional focus on K-12 education and public universities. In addition to the proposed federal funding increase, Obama's speech also called for community colleges to graduate five million more students by the year 2020.

Community colleges have already seen increased enrollments and publicity in recent years.  According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, community colleges saw the greatest enrollment boom since the 1960s during the first half of this decade. The current economic downturn has prompted even more first-time college students and unemployed adults to enroll at community colleges this academic year. Community college officials and the Obama administration hope that the increased attention paid to community colleges will prompt more students to consider enrolling, either as a path to a career training degree or certificate, or in order to transfer to four-year colleges.

Beyond Presidential endorsement, there are many other incentives to pursue a degree at a community college. Tuition is typically much lower at two-year schools than at private colleges or state colleges, and courses are often offered with the scheduling needs of working adult students in mind. Additionally, numerous scholarship opportunities exist specifically for students pursuing two-year degree programs. Community college students can do a free college scholarship search to learn more about funding opportunities available.


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