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The Economy is in the Toilet; Is my College Education?

October 20, 2008

The Economy is in the Toilet; Is my College Education?

Financing College Costs in a Tough Economy

Virtually every family in America, regardless of its economic standing, is concerned about the current state of the U.S. economy.  In fact, the economy has displaced the war in Iraq as the single biggest issue in the current Presidential campaign.

Families with teenagers and children in their early 20’s are especially concerned about one economic issue; how to meet college costs.

Even families who began saving for college when their children were infants may come up short, particularly if their college savings are in stocks or real estate.  There seem to be two principal categories of families, those who had no college savings plan and those whose savings are worth at least 25% less than they were two months ago.

College and university endowments, because they are heavily invested in the stock market, are also down considerably.  That’s important because, for all but the very wealthiest colleges, a decline in endowment value may reduce the financial resources available for college-funded (institutional) scholarships.

These scholarships are a very important part of financial aid packages, especially at private colleges and universities, which tend to be more expensive than state colleges and universities .  In fact, currently, private colleges offer students enough institutional-based scholarships to offset approximately 35% of tuition costs.  As previously stated, the elite colleges have so much money that their ability to offer institutional aid will not be impacted seriously even if the economic downturn continues.

Other institutions will have no choice but to maintain or even increase their scholarship expenditures, even if it means deep cuts in other areas, in order to meet their enrollment goals.  Still others, however, may not be able to afford the level of institutional scholarships awarded in recent years.

It seems reasonable to guess that, until the national economy recovers, there will be changes in the way colleges recruit and select students, and in the ways in which students and families make their college choices.  Thus far, the economic downturn has brought a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty to families and colleges.

So, what should you do in the midst of so much economic uncertainty?  Here’s where you might start.

1. Do not panic.  Your ability to attend college may not be at all affected by our national economic woes. And, if you are affected, it will be a case of which college you attend, not if you can afford to go to college.

2. Meet with your high school counselor and admissions and financial aid counselors at the colleges you are considering to be sure you are aware of all of your financial aid options.  Remember, few students have to pay full tuition and fees.

3. See if your high school counseling office has a list of scholarships offered by organizations in or near your community. Remember, competition for these scholarships may be limited, which is good news for you.

4. Use Google or Yahoo to search for “college scholarships”.  You’ll find more than 60 free scholarship search sites.  Each will “match” you to appropriate scholarships.

5. Avoid at all costs any company which claims it can help you qualify for more scholarships or financial aid than you would otherwise receive.  Most such organizations, maybe all, are more interested in taking your money than in getting you money.

6. Look for educational bargains…lower priced colleges of high quality.  There more than you think, especially in the South.

7. Consider educational loans.  Remember that education is the best investment you can make in your future.  But, resist the temptation to borrow more than is absolutely necessary.

Remember the story of Chicken Little.  Although no responsible economist is minimizing the depth our current economic problems, there is no reason to believe that they will impact students’ ability to pursue higher education.  However, students and their families will be well served by careful college financial planning, increased emphasis on researching their options, and more frequent contact with high school and college counselors who have the expertise to guide them.

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Integrating Financial Aid into the College Search

September 12, 2008

Integrating Financial Aid into the College Search

Our guest blogger today is Dr. Dean Skarlis, an independent college admissions counselor and college advisor.  As such, Dr. Skarlis assists students in identifying and assisting students in gaining admission to appropriate colleges and universities.

$53,000 per year.  That’s the current cost of attendance at George Washington University and the University of Chicago.  This includes tuition, room and board, fees, books and “personal expenses,” whatever that means.  It’s fair to say that the cost of higher education has grown at a ridiculously fast pace over the past 20 years.  In fact, college costs have increased at twice the rate of inflation during that time period.  And the pace of that growth will not slow down; it will only accelerate in years to come. 

This begs the question:  Why are colleges so expensive?  There are numerous reasons, not the least of which is a highly inefficient bureaucracy.  But another underlying explanation lies with students and parents, themselves.  You might say, how can you blame students and parents for the high cost of college?  I maintain that there are two valid reasons to indicate that college-going families must shoulder some of the responsibility. 

First, students and parents have become consumers, and rightly so.  With college costs increasing so dramatically, a vicious cycle has been promulgated.  It goes something like this:  Sticker prices increase along with our standard of living.  As a result, families have come to expect more amenities for the big price tag.  So colleges, not wanting to disappoint, have created pristinely gorgeous campuses, elaborate classroom facilities, trendy apartment style residence halls, coffee bars, and fitness centers.  The schools have thus engaged in an arms race of sorts by building and maintaining these high end facilities because students expect it..  This obviously adds to a college’s fixed costs, which are passed along to the end consumer. 

The second reason is a bit more indirect, but equally as important.  The dirty little secret of higher education is that almost half of all college students do not graduate in 5 years.  That means that about half of all undergraduates either fail to complete their degree at the college at which they began, or never get their degree at all.  It’s easy to blame the colleges for this statistic, and most of them deserve responsibility, but the primary cause is that families have not made the right choice during the college selection process.  This is because most families do not fully engage in the college search process.  In my practice, I sometimes meet families who have not researched or visited any colleges until the middle of the senior year.  This is far too late.  What parents do not fully realize is that a college education is an investment.  With the cost of a 4-year private degree eclipsing $200,000, it is imperative that families make systematic, well informed decisions with the ultimate goal of finding a college that’s the right fit, socially, academically, and financially.  If students and parents do not search for schools that will suit them in all three of these categories, then they are much more likely to drop out, potentially wasting thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

Aside from dropping out, one of the worst case scenarios is that a child picks a school to which his parents cannot afford to send him.  I see this far too often, and it can be devastating for both student and parent.  That’s why parents should be involved in the entire college search process.  They should assess their affordability early in the process – 10th grade is not too early.  They should ask:  Will we qualify for need based aid?  What about scholarships?  And because different schools use different financial aid formulas, parents should understand how each college assesses their ability to pay.  There are strategies that many educational consultants can employ that will help reduce a family’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC).  This may help them qualify for need based aid.  At the very least, parents should work with a college financial advisor to understand how much they can afford, and where the money will come from so they find a college that’s the right fit financially, as well as socially and academically.

Back to School Reminders

August 19, 2008

In some places, students are already back in the classroom.  On other campuses, they’ll be returning soon.

So, here are a few timely reminders.

For all students; moderate your alcohol use.  According to an Associated Press article appearing on CNN.com today, “Research has found more than 40 percent of college students reported at least one symptom of alcohol abuse or dependence. One study has estimated more than 500,000 full-time students at four-year colleges suffer injuries each year related in some way to drinking, and about 1,700 die in such accidents.”  Drinking, if you must do it, must be done responsibly.

For high school seniors who plan to attend college, organize your college search.  The University of Louisiana has a “what to do next” list for students like you.  You can request it at enroll@louisiana.edu or (800) 752-6553.  You should also read a brief article listing 10 rules for selecting a college.

And, for high school seniors and college students, it is never too early, or too late, to look for a scholarship.

We hope you have a great school year!

New Online Schools Page, Troy University Joins the Hall of Shame

August 14, 2008

NEW ONLINE SCHOOLS PAGE

The College Scholarships, Colleges, and Online Degree website has a new online school page.  It has been live for just two days, and has links to about 20 accredited online high schools.  In the near future, it will be expanded to include many, many more kinds of online schools.

TROY UNIVERSITY JOINS THE HALL OF SHAME

What is the price of victory on the football field at Alabama’s Troy University?  That’s not a rhetorical question…it’s a question Troy’s President and athletic staff should be made to answer.

According to newspaper reports, Josh Jarboe will attend Troy and join its football team.  The highly sought after Jarboe was signed by the University of Oklahoma, a team that might be able to score 50 points against every school in the Sun Belt, the conference in which Troy competes.  SThus,  Jarboe would be a great signing for Troy, accept for a few details.

He was convicted of bringing a gun to a GA high school and carrying an unlicensed firearm.  A sympathetic judge reduced the charges to misdemeanors.  Non-cynics can believe it was because Jarboe had no prior convictions.  In this day of increasingly frightening campus violence, those of us who are a bit cynical (or a bit more realistic) are more likely to think Jarboe got the kind of break that seems to be reserved for talented athletes.

Jarboe was sentenced to probation and community service, and Oklahoma stuck with him.  Again, cynics and non-cynics are free to disagree about why.  But, when an online video showed Jarboe rapping about “guns and shooting people” according to an Associated Press article, OK football coach Bob Stoops and/or his superiors had second thoughts.  

Up stepped Troy, which is apparently welcoming Jarboe’s presence. 

If there were a student I cared about at Troy, I’d be contacting the University today to question their decision. 

If I were an administrator at Troy, I would be tring to pull up the welcome mat and let somebody else have the pleasure of Mr. Jarboe’s company. 

If I were a student at Troy, I’d be organizing a protest.  

Let’s see what happens.

Protecting College Students Against Identity Theft

August 2, 2008

 

As millions of students get ready to head to college and establish their independence, identity thieves are ready for them.  Already huge targets, college-age students were in the largest category (34%) of all identity theft victims last year. College students are prime candidates for identity theft problems due to the lack of preventative measures taken, the large number of individuals with access to personal information and a credit industry bombarding them with free offers and easy-to-obtain credit cards.  

 

Todd Davis is the CEO of LifeLock, the nation’s first identity theft prevention service for consumers and also a Certified Identity Theft Risk Management Specialist.  He has these tips for parents and college-bound students to help protect them from becoming victims of identity theft.

 

1.  Back to school shopping — Back to school shopping usually means new clothes as well as school supplies, including notebooks, laptops, highlighters, pens and pencils. This year though, make sure to add a paper shredder to the shopping list. Report cards, financial aid forms, housing information, class schedules are among the tons of paperwork created each school year that include students personal information that needs to be protected. It doesn’t take much for someone to play the role of you – shred it and forget it!
 

2.  College Housing – No matter what year in school you happen to be starting, chances are you have a roommate. We all want to trust those around us, but living in an apartment, dorm, fraternity or sorority house often forces you to be around many people you don’t know all that well. Keep close tabs of what information is out in the open, on your computer or in your mail. Sometimes the people that can do the most harm are those closest to us.     
 

3.  Parents … Check the credit reports — Let’s be realistic … college students won’t order or check credit reports. Parents should do this for them. Before school begins, parents should have their children order their free credit reports and have them sent home. Parents can then check them to make sure all is in order. The major credit bureaus are required to give you one free credit report a year. If you see something that doesn’t look right, check it out.  Checking your credit report won’t prevent bad guys from opening new accounts in your name.
 

4.  What if your school can’t protect you? — Since January 2005, more than 200 universities, colleges, school districts and financial institutions for student loans have lost personal information for more than 8 million students and faculty. While these institutions have been quick to spend money to beef-up security systems, breaches with name, date of birth and social security numbers continue to be lost or stolen at a steady pace. Take steps to make sure you have protected your identity entirely, in the event someone your information should become vulnerable to thieves.
 

5.  Reduce the junk mail — It’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t have a mailbox full of direct mail offers for credit cards, offers for instant credit and other merchandise. Opt out of junk mail and pre-approved credit card offers. Companies love sending these to college students because they know they will be spending money during the upcoming semesters. Identity thieves can pull these offers from your mailbox or trash, and in minutes fill out those applications, change the address to their own address and start spending money using your good name.
 
 

6.  Set your FREE fraud alerts — Before attending your first class, have fraud alerts placed on personal information. Offered by the three major credit bureaus, fraud alerts mean creditors are to contact you directly and get your approval every time someone tries to open a new credit account in your name or change an address.  This way, even if the wrong person does get your information, you can stop them from opening new accounts.  You can place those fraud alerts yourself but they must be renewed every 90 days and can fail when creditors don’t make the call. Paying someone like LifeLock a small monthly fee to take care of the fraud alerts for you is one less thing to worry about and provides a $1 million guarantee. For children under 16, this will ensure no credit activity has taken place.

REMINDER:  Many traditional colleges and universities are still accepting applications for fall enrollment, and some are still offering scholarships.  Similarly, it is not too late to enroll in an online college or online university or to apply for financial aid.

College Accreditation and Disclosure

July 18, 2008

Roland Martin is a pretty frequent CNN contributor.  In his latest CCN column online, he states that John McCain’s stance on school vouchers is correct and that Barack Obama’s position is misguided.  McCain, as you are probably aware, like most Republicans, favors vouchers, while Obama, like most in his party, is not enthusiastic about them.

I’ve read Martin’s columns before, so I was not surprised that he takes such a strong stance on the issue of vouchers or that he pretty much adheres to the traditional conservative mantra on the subject.
In an attempt to learn more about Mr. Martin, I visited his website, where his activities, past and present, were listed.  Certainly Mr. Martin is a prolific journalistic.  He has received numerous awards.  And, after reading a bit more about his background and his writings it becomes obvious he has an unflinching point of view about the world.  Martin is clearly a man to whom faith and religion are important.  And, he is married to a clergywoman who is herself a published author.

That’s why it’s surprising that Mr. Martin,  a man whose work appears on CNN.com, a man who is seen on TV and heard on radio, a multiple journalism award winner, and a man with strong opinions about education, and a man who has certainly been successful, claims a masters degree from an apparently unaccredited online “university”.  The institution in question is Louisiana Baptist University, which describes itself as “a pioneer in distance education” and lists 1973 as the year it was founded.

Louisiana Baptist does not claim accreditation.  And, it is not listed in the U.S. Department of Education data base of accredited institutions.  The University website does say that it is, “semi-annually examined by an independent review committee comprised of ministers and educators” and lists a few memberships and/or affiliations.

The President’s message states, “We do not strive to pattern our institution after the humanistic, shifting systems of secular education”.  Similar statements have appeared on the websites of other religiously-based unaccredited colleges and universities which frequently claim that, because of the nature of their missions, accreditation is not important to them and/or might require them to make unacceptable religious compromises.  That premise may seem reasonable to some people.

But, I have a very big problem with it, especially if such institutions do not clearly state that students who spend significant time and money to earn a degree at their institutions will have fewer options than graduates of accredited colleges and universities.  I have worked in graduate school admissions and met with folks who have earned B.A. or B.S. degrees from unaccredited colleges.  These very decent people were often shocked to learn that the institution for which I worked, and similar graduate institutions, could not even consider them for admission.

Louisiana Baptist offers both undergraduate and doctoral degrees in education.  If the University warns prospective students that these programs will not enable them to be licensed to teach in public schools, I couldn’t find the warning anywhere on their website.  I bet you won’t find it either.

As for the we-don’t need-to-be-accredited or we-won’t-compromise-our-beliefs arguments that some unaccredited institutions make, my response is simple.  Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, two of the most fundamentalist clergymen of the last 50 years founded universities that have become fully accredited.  Even Bob Jones University is accredited.

In fact, there is a long list of accredited Christian colleges and universities which ascribe to pretty fundamentalist religious doctrines.  And, many more accredited colleges are affiliated with religious denominations.

It is time…well past time, actually… that we compel unaccredited colleges and universities to make full disclosure to prospective students.

And, in my humble opinion, it’s time for Mr. Martin to either remove the reference to his graduate degree from his website or to be up- front about the fact that it comes from an unaccredited institution.

Note:  Learn more about the importance of college accreditation.

Don”t Let the Scholarship Scam Artists Get You

July 12, 2008

Used cars salesmen get much more bad press, but they’re a lot higher on the food chain than the scholarship scam artists who victimize tens of thousands of families a year.

Some in the higher education community believe these scammers put more than $100 million in their pockets every year.

Because the media bombard us with stories about escalating college costs, and because most of us know little about the availability of scholarships and financial aid, we’re often easy victims.

The con starts with a letter from a company named to sound like a benign organization whose mission is to assist students and their families.

The letter doesn’t look like the other junk mail you are deluged with every day. The company logo often looks like it might belong to Yale or Harvard, and the letterhead and paper look like they might come from the White House or a Fortune 500 company. Like the scammers themselves, the promotional materials they use look credible.

In nearly all the letters they send, the con men begin by reinforcing families’ fears about their ability to meet college costs. Not exactly a task requiring the intellect of a rocket scientist.

But, the letter says, we can help you. We can teach you how to get the financial aid you need. Your worries are over. In some instances the letters will mention “secrets colleges don’t want you to know”. Sometimes the letters will talk about millions of dollars in “unused” scholarships and financial aid; money just waiting to be found by and given to students who know the ropes (you!).

The letters are not always the same, but one element never varies. They invite you to come to a hotel function room or other reasonably large venue to learn more about financial aid and scholarships, at no cost. Sounds like a no-brainer, right?

The meetings are run by well- practiced pitchmen who tell families that their organization has the special knowledge and experience required to shake the most money off of the financial aid and scholarship trees. Their job, and they do it all too well, is to sell you help which is readily available elsewhere (and at no cost).

After the group presentation, families are invited to meet individually with staff members sometimes called counselors. In the world of sales, these folks are called “one call closers”…folks trained to close the sale immediately. Their job is very well defined: to get families to sign a contract and write a check for up to $2,000 before returning to the scam-free zones that are their homes.

Don’t be the victim of financial aid con men (and women). There are lots of good websites offering free scholarship searches and financial aid advice. And, high school counselors and college financial aid counselors will gladly give you advice and answer your questions. There is no need to turn elsewhere.

Guest Blog: The All-Important Summer Before 12th Grade

July 2, 2008

The summer before 12th grade is a high school student’s “last” opportunity to do something to impress college admission officers before those college applications are due.

Why is this important? The student’s own high school resume can speak volumes louder than his/her college application. And when the summer before applying to college is a total wash-out in terms of college application points …

For example, it’s hard to convince a college admission officer that you’re passionate about being a social worker when you’ve spent the entire previous summer in Paris studying French or working at Starbucks – without doing any social work.

I understand you want to spend a summer in Paris or earning money for your car payments. And, yes, there is a way to demonstrate you are committed to your passion and still not give up your summer plans. As I talk about often at my education and careers website, what is required is some brainstorming and planning to create opportunities for yourself.

Here are examples to get you thinking about what you might do, even this summer if you’re about to enter 12th grade:

If you are spending the summer studying French in Paris

Your summer school course is eight weeks and you plan to stay in Paris another two weeks before coming home right before the school year starts. Instead, you realize Paris will always be there, and you change your plane ticket to come home immediately after summer school ends.

And you come home to an intensive two-week volunteer social work project that you have created by email and cell phone from Paris. This change in plans clearly demonstrates a passion for doing social work.

If you are spending the summer working at Starbucks

This is an easier situation because you will have some blocks of time during each week this summer to commit to social work activities. You will still have to create these opportunities for yourself in order to accommodate your work schedule. Be prepared when contacting potential volunteer places to emphasize that this is an unpaid opportunity for which you are looking.
Doing a good job

When you have obtained such an opportunity, make sure to do a good job because you will want to ask for a letter of recommendation BEFORE your social work volunteering is over. Once you have returned to school, it is easy for someone to forget about the good work you did. You want to have a person write a letter of recommendation when your good work is right in front of him/her.

If you plan accordingly, you can have your cake and eat it too in the summer before 12th grade.

Phyllis Zimbler Miller writes on college applications, internships, jobs and careers for teens and young people. Her website <http://www.flippingburgersandbeyond.com> offers valuable free information, including how to fill out a W-4, and a work sheet for developing a college application resume.

Big News on Legal Education

June 20, 2008

Northwestern University has become the third law school in the United States (after Southwestern and the University of Dayton) to offer a two-year law school degree. Although there was a fair amount of buzz, much of it critical, when Southwestern and Dayton adopted the two-year option, Northwestern’s high profile…it is generally considered a top ten law school…is generating seemingly unprecedented discussion about the future of legal education.

The first question in everyone’s mind; if one of the nation’s most prestigious law schools legitimizes a two- year law degree, can numerous other law schools be far behind?

But, there are many other questions as well.

Will the ABA weigh in on the validity of the new degree anytime soon? How will law firms, especially the high end firms which traditionally hire top Northwestern grads, respond to Northwestern’s new degree option? Will top students be willing to take the risk that the two-year degree option may limit their professional options?

Will students who elect a two year degree program be less likely to pass the bar exam?

There is wide disagreement on virtually all of these issues.

For years, students have described law school as follows:

First year; scare you to death, second year; work you to death, third year; bore you to death.

Have some legal educators come to agree with them?

Note: Remember, we offer you lots of information on colleges, online degree programs, scholarships, and related issues on our five websites.

HBCU to Abandon Open Admissions

May 13, 2008

Texas Southern University, an HBCU that has struggled with deferred maintenance issues, extremely high student attrition, and a former President who apparently misused funds, has a new President and appears to be heading in a somewhat new direction.  TSU, long an open admissions institution, will now institute standards which will make it a (minimally) selective institution.

According to Diverse, “TSU leaves the ranks of a handful of historically Black colleges and universities that continue to operate under open admissions policies, including Wiley College, Bluefield State College, Southern Arkansas Baptist College, University of the District of Columbia and Edward Waters College.”