Posts Tagged ‘scholarships’

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.

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!

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.