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Concerned About Student Debt? Choose Your School Wisely

by Alexis Mattera

Cost plays a huge role in many students’ college choices. Depending on their financial situation, some students dismiss the schools with high tuition in favor of lower-cost in-state schools because they think it will save them money. In actuality, they could be doing themselves an economic disservice in the long run.

Using data from U.S. News and World Report’s most recent student debt survey of 25 top-ranking public and private schools, Reuters revealed that, on average, 53 percent of students surveyed received financial aid and at least half of students at most of the institutions graduated debt-free...but it depends on what school they attended: Princeton graduates, for example, owed only $5,000 at commencement while University of Michigan graduates owed more than $27,000 despite Michigan’s in-state costs being less than half of Princeton’s. How is this possible? Numerous schools including Princeton, Caltech, Davidson College and the University of Washington have eliminated student loans from their financial aid packages and others like Harvard, Stanford and UC Berkeley have capped contributions for students from low- and middle-income families. (Check out the entire article here, including this handy infographic.)

While it is difficult for many students to attend college without taking out some kind of loan – especially those attending state-run institutions which don’t have the fiscal means to eliminate debt – it is possible to avoid debt if you choose the right school. Thoughts?


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Want More Financial Aid Info? Help is On the Way!

Ten Schools Commit to More Financial Aid Disclosure

June 6, 2012

Want More Financial Aid Info? Help is On the Way!

by Alexis Mattera

With student loan debt now totaling more than $1 trillion, current and would-be college students need access to financial aid information more than ever before. The good news is that universities across the country are doing their best to make the facts as clear and available as possible in the near future.

Ten schools – Arizona State, Miami Dade College, North Carolina A&T State University, Syracuse, UNC Chapel Hill, Vassar and the state university systems in Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Texas – have committed to providing key funding information to all incoming students as part of their financial aid packages starting in the 2013-14 school year. The details will include the cost of one year of college, financial aid options such as grants and scholarships, estimated monthly payments after graduation on federal student loans and comparative data about graduation and loan repayment rates. According to the White House, this disclosure will play a vital role in making college more affordable for all students: "Too often, students and families face confusion when comparing financial aid packages, some of which do not clearly differentiate loans from grants, nor distinguish private vs. federal loans, making it difficult to compare aid offers side-by-side. Clarity and accessibility of information is necessary so that students and families can make informed decisions about where to attend college, so they can choose a school that is best suited to their financial and educational goals."

What do you think of this plan? Do you think it will help students better understand financial aid or is the effort too little and too late?


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How Will You Fund Your College Education?

by Jessica Seals

Throughout my undergraduate career, I was lucky enough to be the recipient of scholarships and grants that helped cover my tuition and other fees. Thousands of other college students across the country also rely on this free money to pay for their education and we should all be taking note of the fact that many financial aid options that we have to help pay for college are being eliminated or being heavily restricted. For example, two years ago I was able to take summer classes and receive a Pell Grant because the government allowed students to receive it during the fall, spring and summer semesters. Now, students are only eligible to receive the grant two semesters out of the year which means that a student cannot put the funds toward summer classes if they’ve already applied them to the fall and spring semesters for that academic year.

Many people already decide not to enroll in college because they do not feel like they can afford it. Cutting down on the usage of the Pell Grant can force many students to skip summer classes and send them down a slippery slope, as more students will be forced to stay in school longer and accrue more debt from student loans. Classrooms will become emptier during summer sessions and colleges hard-pressed for funds could raise tuition to compensate. The problem will continue to spiral out of control and lead to more reasons why people opt out of attending college.

We all should become more aware of the decreases that are being made towards higher education spending. The changes affect all of us and if we can all become aware of them, we’ll be able to take (and guide others along) the necessary route to make sure that paying for school is a lot less stressful.

Jessica Seals is recent graduate of the University of Memphis, where she majored in political science and minored in English. She was the secretary of the Pre-Law Society, the philanthropy chair of the Phi Kappa Phi Student Council and a member of Professional Assertive United Sisters of Excellence (PAUSE), Golden Key Honor Society, Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society, Sigma Alpha Lambda Honor Society and Black Scholars Unlimited. Jessica will be back at Memphis this fall to begin working toward her master’s degree in political science this fall; she ultimately hopes to attend law school.


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Employment Rates for Law School Graduates Lowest Since 1994

by Suada Kolovic

The notion that those who are well-educated are safeguarded from bleak employment rates doesn’t seem to hold true anymore: According to the National Association for Law Placement, recent law graduates face employment rates that have fallen to the lowest level since 1994.

Only 85.6 percent of 2011 law school graduates (whose employment status was known) had jobs nine months after leaving school – two percentage points lower than the employment levels of the 2010 graduates. Now that may not be reason to sound the alarm, but only 65.4 percent of 2011 graduates had jobs that required passing the bar exam. Ding! Ding!

"For members of the Class of 2011, caught as they were in the worst of the recession...the entry-level job market can only be described as brutal," the association's executive director James G. Leipold said in a written statement. "When this class took their LSATs and applied for law school, there were no signs that the legal economic boom was showing any signs of slowing and yet by the time they graduated, they faced what was arguably the worst entry-level legal-employment market in more than 30 years."

Future law students in the audience, what do you think of the news? With a law degree no longer translating into instant financial security, are you reconsidering your educational path?


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Recent Grads, Pack Your Bags!

Towns Lure Young Professionals with Debt Repayment, Tax Waivers

June 14, 2012

Recent Grads, Pack Your Bags!

by Alexis Mattera

Armed with degrees in their fields of choice, newly-minted college grads have the world at their fingertips...and, often, student loan payments lurking right around the corner. The job market isn’t what it used to be so what’s a recent grad to do to keep collectors at bay? A change of address may be in order.

Communities across the country are attempting to attract young professionals by offering incentives like paying down college loans and income tax waivers if they become full-time residents of specific cities or counties. Niagara Falls is putting an initial $200,000 behind the idea to, according to director of community development Seth Piccirillo, bring back the talent and brain power the city has lost over the last 50 years. (Here, graduates who have earned a two- or four-year degree or a graduate degree in the past two years can apply for up to $3,500 a year for two years towards repayment of their student loans.) Farther west in Kansas, 50 counties have established Rural Opportunity Zones (ROZs) authorized to offer the following financial incentives to new full-time residents: income tax waivers for up to five years and/or student loan repayments up to $15,000. To date, program manager Chris Harris has received 338 applications – 75 percent of which have qualified for one or both incentives.

Read more about the current incentive plans here - would you relocate to one of these areas in exchange for the incentives listed?


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Is Not Struggling a Struggle?

by Kara Coleman

Recently, 22-year-old Taylor Cotter published an article on The Huffington Post about her success since she graduated from college in May. The odd thing about Cotter’s piece is that she doesn’t take the angle of a success story in a struggling economy – she feels that she should be struggling more!

Cotter talks about how many of her friends are working part-time jobs, living at home with their parents and/or having diets consisting mostly of Ramen; she feels that she is missing out on the post-college twentysomething life by having a ‘real job’ and a 401(k). Some readers – including myself – are appalled by Cotter’s tone. It seems to me that it would be the dream of every college student to find a full-time job directly after graduation but Cotter almost seems remorseful that she made herself marketable to companies who would hire her.

I have been living at home with my parents and working part-time jobs ranging from lifeguarding to tutoring to retail over the past few years to supplement educational costs. Now that I am preparing to move into an apartment with my friends next month, I know full well that I’ll be eating my fair share of peanut butter sandwiches and cereal; while I’m excited to begin this next phase of my life, I’m more so look forward to the day when I have a full-time job – the same situation Cotter is essentially complaining about.

Isn’t that what college is for? Teaching us how to go from being dependent children to self-supporting adults? Or I could be wrong: Maybe it’s a time to either live with your parents or eat Ramen noodles. What do YOU think?

Kara Coleman graduated from Gadsden State Community College with an Associate of Arts degree and she is currently studying communications with concentration in print journalism at Jacksonville State University. Kara's writing has been featured in Teen Ink magazine and she is a children's author through Big Dif Books; she is also the editor-in-chief of JSU's student newspaper, The Chanticleer.


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UChicago’s New Financial Aid Initiative Targets Local Students

by Suada Kolovic

The University of Chicago has recently announced the launch of UChicago Promise, an initiative aimed at helping high school students in the city of Chicago gain admission, pay for and succeed in college. The cornerstone of the program is the commitment from the university to eliminate loans from financial aid packages of students from Chicago who are admitted.

“Chicago, from our pre-schools to our world-renowned universities, is committed to ensuring that every child has access to a high-quality education,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “The step taken today by the University of Chicago is a creative step that will help many of Chicago’s own achieve their goals and graduate without a financial burden.”

In addition to replacing loans with grants and other nonrepayable student aid, UChicago Promise includes an automatic waiver of the University’s application fee and offers a wide array of support and mentoring programs for aspiring college students. The initiative will take effect for those applying this year and will not be available to students with existing loans or who have already matriculated.


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Affording College While Avoiding Debt

Schools Eliminate Loans, Educate Students To Be Fiscally Responsible

November 14, 2012

Affording College While Avoiding Debt

by Alexis Mattera

A college education is far from cheap but some students are able to graduate with far less debt than others. How? Scholarships and grants play a huge role in keeping expenses low but some institutions are lending a helping hand by revising their financial aid packages and educating their students on the importance of fiscal responsibility.

Davidson College, for example, instituted a “no loans” financial aid policy in 2007 and now addresses need through grants and student employment. Others, like St. John's College, Elizabeth City State University and the SUNY schools, are doing their part by providing tailored support services to students through graduation - the latter, in fact, have launched a system-wide effort to prevent student borrowers from defaulting on their loans by offering net price calculators and communicating early and often with borrowers.

You can read more about what’s being done to combat student debt here but we want to know if your college (or intended school) has similar initiatives in place. If not, what kind of services and information should they be providing regarding student debt?


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Rick Perry Pushes $10,000 College Degree

Texas Governor’s Initiative Just One Way to Keep College Costs in Check

November 27, 2012

Rick Perry Pushes $10,000 College Degree

by Suada Kolovic

Under a plan unveiled in 2011, Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry challenged institutions in his state to develop options for low-cost undergraduate degrees. Limiting the cost of a bachelor’s degree to no more than $10,000, 10 Texas colleges – which educate more than 50,000 students, or roughly 10-percent of the undergraduates at public universities in the state – have answered the call so far. "A $10,000 degree provides an opportunity for students to earn a low-cost, high-quality degree that will get them where they want to go in their careers and their lives," Perry said in a statement.

Most of the proposed inexpensive degree programs take advantage of community college and dual-enrollment high school credit options and are not available to student in most disciplines. When Perry issued his challenge last year, he wanted the state's universities to "leverage Web-based instruction, innovative teaching techniques and aggressive efficiency measures" to drive down the cost of a degree.

Although not affiliated with Perry’s initiative, Scholarships.com also gives students the opportunity to lower the cost of a college educaiton by obtaining scholarships and grants. As a leading scholarship search service and financial aid information resource, Scholarships.com plays a primary role in helping students make the decisions that shape their lives. On Scholarships.com, students are connected with tools to aid in researching and finding financial aid for college, as well as choosing a campus that's right for them. Our regularly updated proprietary database allows students to search 2.7 million college scholarships and grants worth over $19 billion and quickly arrive at a list of awards for which they qualify. And it's all free. If you are interested in learning more about Rick Perry’s initiative or other scholarship opportunities, conduct a free scholarship search today.


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Florida Considers Reducing Tuition for Select Majors

by Suada Kolovic

With the economy in what seems like an endless slump, many have come to question the validity of a college education in disciplines that don’t guarantee definite career paths for students once they’ve graduated. Majors on the chopping block include those in the humanities and social sciences and universities across the country aren’t turning a deaf ear to the issue: Officials in Florida are considering reducing tuition in order to steer students towards majors that are in demand in the job market.

Governor Rick Scott and Republican lawmakers are urging Florida’s 12 state universities to nudge students toward job-friendly degrees and suggesting that universities freeze tuition rates for three years for majors in “strategic areas.” In theory, an undergraduate student would pay less for a degree in engineering or biotechnology – whose classes are among the most expensive – than for a degree in history or psychology. Financing from the state would be expected to make up for the tuition gap. Now while the initiative is popular among state officials, liberal arts devotees at the University of Florida have organized a protest petition which has gained signatures from across the state. They argue that the move would inevitably reduce the number of students who take humanities classes, further diminishing financing for those departments.

What do you think of Florida’s attempt to encourage students into certain majors with financial initiatives? Do you think steering students into fields that they have little interest or aptitude in just to save money could lead to discontent in their futures? Let us know what you think in the comments section.


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