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New Financial Aid Tools Available Online

December 17, 2008

New Financial Aid Tools Available Online

Below is a message I received today about the new financial aid tools now available to students, parents, and counselors.

Dear friends in education
 
As you help students prepare to fill out the 2009-10 FAFSA on the Web, you might find these tools useful:
 
The FAFSA on the Web Worksheet is now online in PDF at www.FederalStudentAid.ed.gov/worksheet – students may use it to jot down their answers before going online (on Jan. 1 or later) to fill in the online application.
 
The FAFSA on the Web demo site is also ready. The site helps you increase your own understanding of FAFSA on the Web and show it to students and parents before they apply.  At the site, you can complete a sample FAFSA, make corrections, or check the status of the application.  However, when you choose “submit,” the information is not actually submitted. The site is purely a learning tool.  To access the demo site, go to http://fafsademo.test.ed.gov.  The user name is eddemo, and the password is fafsatest.  The site displays both the English and Spanish versions of FAFSA on the Web.
 
Also, the final PDF of the 2009-10 Counselors and Mentors Handbook has been posted to our counselors web site at www.fsa4counselors.ed.gov (the link to the handbook is on the home page, under the heading “Counselor Resources”).
 
 
Hope these items will be helpful to you!
 
Cindy
Cindy Forbes Cameron
Awareness & Outreach
Federal Student Aid
U.S. Dept of Education

for counselors and mentors: www.fsa4counselors.ed.gov
for students: www.FederalStudentAid.ed.gov
for everyone: 1-800-4-FED-AID

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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.

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.