Archive for ‘back to basics’

September 15, 2014

Which top colleges are most welcoming to low-income students?

by Grace

Which top colleges are most welcoming to low-income students?  The Upshot used the percentage of students receiving Pell grants along with net price of attendance for low- and middle-income families to find the most economically diverse top colleges.

Most Economically Diverse
Vassar
Grinnell
U.N.C.-Chapel Hill
Smith
Amherst
Harvard
Pomona
St. Mary’s (Ind.)
Susquehanna
Columbia

The biggest theme to emerge from our analysis is that otherwise similar colleges often have very different levels of commitment to economic diversity….

Similarly, by looking at schools on the list like Barnard and U.N.C.-Chapel Hill, it’s clear that otherwise dissimilar colleges show similar economic diversity.

How many low-income students actually graduate?

An additional data point that would be informative is the graduation rates for Pell grant recipients at these schools.  That’s a significant measure of how well a college serves its low-income students.

Low-income families can look at these lists and search out other information to help them understand how welcoming a particular college would be for their child.  Schools that partner with the Posse Foundation, a support program for that enjoys a 90% graduation rate for its participants, should be considered.

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David Leonhardt, “Top Colleges That Enroll Rich, Middle Class and Poor, New York Times, Sept. 8, 2014.

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September 9, 2014

Look at this chart before enrolling in college

by Grace

The bottom quarter of earners with a college degree don’t make more money than the average high school graduate. And this hasn’t really changed much in 40 years.

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This chart may explain why “college isn’t for everyone”, but additional considerations are important.

… First, we don’t know for sure how much money this bottom quarter of degree-holding earners would have made without their college education. Furthermore, much of this could boil down to career choice: there are many jobs that require a degree but don’t pay very well. If someone earns a degree for reasons beyond making more money, it could be that the upfront investment is worthwhile regardless.

“On ‘average’, it’s still worth going to college”, but be careful about making personal decisions on the “average” case.

Here’s some good advice:

In the meantime, students who are unsure of what they want to study or do are probably best advised to be very cost-conscious when choosing a college, and to be unafraid to wait until they are sure how they will use their degree before they start to pursue one.

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Chris Matthews, “Why college isn’t for everyone, explained in a single chart”, Fortune, September 5, 2014.

August 18, 2014

Are you eligible for a college tuition discount?

by Grace

How do you know if a particular college is likely to offer you a discount on their tuition price?  Before you even apply, you can get an estimate by running your specific profile data through a Net Price Calculator (NPC), a tool that can be found on every college’s website.

Forbes ran a Net Price Calculation for five schools using several hypothetical scenarios.  The results show discount rates (financial aid) that would be awarded given specified parameters.

… two types of students, one from a family with an annual income of $300,000 and another from a single-earner family making a mere $12,000 a year. We tested two different academic scenarios: a supersmart kid scoring 1540 on his SAT, with a 4.0 GPA and in the top 10% of his class, and a “B” student scoring 1250 on the SAT, with a GPA of 3.0 and in the top 50% of her graduating class.

20140803.COCNPCForbes1

The biggest surprise is that RPI gives more financial aid to English majors than to engineering students.

As you can see all the top institutions except well-endowed Amherst offer discounts or “merit” aid. Only Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) differentiates its aid on its calculator by the student’s intended major as well as by income and ability. RPI clearly wants more poets and is willing to pay for them. President Nixon’s alma mater, Whittier College in southern California, clearly isn’t eager to attract lower-income students. In our test it offered an additional grant of only $1,334 to the low-income overachiever. Even after its ample discount, the needy student’s family still has to come up with half the cost of attendance.

This illustration is a reminder that a Net Price Calculator can help guide your college search.

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Lucie Lapovsky, “What’s Your Tuition Discount?”, Forbes, 7/30/2014.

August 14, 2014

Furnishing the freshman dorm room

by Grace

Julie at the Family CEO has some wise words of advice for parents who are shopping for a college freshman going away to school.

1. Err on the side of less. Let them live at school for a while and figure out what they need.

2. Bed, Bath & Beyond coupons. Save them all (they accept expired coupons) and let the cashier help you figure out the best ones to use.

I wholeheartedly agree, based on my limited experience sending one child away to dorm life.

We went shopping at the crowded Bed, Bath, & Beyond store closest to my son’s campus the day before he moved into his dorm room for the first time.  Among the other shoppers, I found I could tell which families had daughters and which ones had sons even before I saw the students who were accompanying their parents.  A shopping cart overflowing with color-coordinated supplies invariably belonged to a girl, while the boys’ carts held fewer items with seemingly little color coordination.

Here’s Julie’s exchange with her son:

Reason #458 why boys are different to raise than girls:

Me: Do you want this laundry bag of Lindsey’s? We bought it for her when she went to college.

Grant: Why do I need a laundry bag?

Me: To carry your clothes back and forth when you do laundry at school.

Grant: I figured I’d just use a trash bag or something.

That sounds very similar to conversations I had with my son.  It’s not uncommon for female college roommates to coordinate the decor of their shared space well in advance of move-in day. I’ve never heard of boys doing this.  If boys agree that one of them will bring the fridge and the other will supply the rug,, neither is likely to ask about their room’s color scheme.  In fact, they’ll probably not even think about a rug unless mom suggests it.

July 14, 2014

College tuition discounts continue to climb

by Grace

The college tuition discount rate – the amount of financial aid as a percentage of tuition and fees – is “again at an all-time high”.

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College continue their “high tuition, high discount” policy.

Private colleges are continuing unabated their strategy of setting high sticker prices while giving most of their students steep discounts, according to the latest survey of private colleges by the National Association of College and University Business Officers.

The colleges, many of which are struggling to meet enrollment goals, are taking in only 54 cents for every $1 they claim to charge in tuition.

The “high tuition, high discount” business model is often confusing to students and parents, but it’s how things are done at most private colleges: the colleges charge high prices and then offer students they want huge discounts. The discount comes in the form of need-based aid for low-income students and “merit” aid for students with characteristics that make them desirable to a college. At wealthy colleges, endowments may have actual funds to replace lost tuition revenue, but most colleges are just waiving the chance of getting more.

Is steep discounting a desperate, short-term strategy?

“If you do too high a discount, then perceptions of desperation creep in,” says Rao. People start to ask: “Are they going out of business? Is this product a dud?”

Mitchell Hamilton is an assistant professor of marketing at Loyola Marymount University. He says deep discounts are a short-term strategy at best. “When you’re looking at discounts of half off or more, or buy one get one free, those are for businesses that need immediate results,” he says. “Private universities are hoping that this is just a strategy to stay afloat until the economic situation gets better.”

Most observers seem to agree that if this trend becomes a race to the bottom, the losers will be ‘”smaller-sized, ‘no-name,’ tuition-driven schools.”‘  Top ranked colleges will continue to thrive.

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Ry Rivard, “Discount Escalation”, Inside Higher Ed, July 2, 2014.

Anya Kamenetz, “How Private Colleges Are Like Cheap Sushi”, NPR Ed, July 12, 2014.

June 23, 2014

How is home equity treated for college financial aid?

by Grace

The short answer:

Your home equity will count on the CSS Profile, but not the FAFSA.

Michelle Kretzschmar of Do It Yourself College Rankings explains more.

Since each school decides if they use home equity in their methodology and how much to consider, how much home equity will affect financial aid will vary by institution. Mark Kantrowitz of  Fastweb, estimates that colleges cap the amount of equity (value of home-mortgage) considered at between two to three times annual income. Troy Onink in Forbes reports that  “home equity counts under the Institutional Methodology, but only up to 1.2 times the parent’s adjusted gross income (AGI) under the Consensus.”

When in doubt, ask the school directly.

If you want to know the actual figure, you’re best bet is to ask the college. According to Money Watch.com

If your home has appreciated a lot, ask private colleges how they factor in home equity when determining aid, advises Paula Bishop, a financial aid consultant in Bellevue, Wash. Their answers may differ dramatically. Some schools, such as Princeton University, ignore home equity. Others, such as Boston College and American University, include 100 percent of it as an asset.

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Troy Onink, “How Assets Hurt College Aid Eligibility On FAFSA And CSS Profile”, Forbes, 2/14/2014.

Michelle Kretzschmar, “Does home equity affect financial aid?”, Do It Yourself College Rankings, 11/11/2013.

May 27, 2014

What is the maximum 529 plan contribution limit?

by Grace

So you want to contribute the maximum amount to your child’s 529 plan?  Maybe you received a generous inheritance, and want to set aside enough funds to assure your child will be able to attend any college he chooses.

Here’s what the IRS says:

Q. Are there contribution limits?

A. Yes. Contributions can not exceed the amount necessary to provide for the qualified education expenses of the beneficiary. If you contribute to a 529 plan, however, be aware that there may be gift tax consequences if your contributions, plus any other gifts, to a particular beneficiary exceed $14,000 during the year. For information on a special rule that applies to contributions to 529 plans, see the instructions for Form 709, United States Gift (and Generation-Skipping Transfer) Tax Return.

In practice, “the amount necessary” varies and is determined by each state-sponsored plan, with amounts ranging from about $335,000 to $400,000.  Check out Savingforcollege.com for a complete list of state maximum amounts.

Here is how the New York 529 Advisor-Guided College Savings Plan explains the maximum contribution.

How much can I contribute to my account?

You can contribute on behalf of a beneficiary until the total balance of all Program accounts held for the same beneficiary reaches an aggregate maximum balance, currently $375,000. If there’s more than one account owner contributing for the beneficiary, this is the total for all accounts. Once this limit is reached, you can no longer make additional contributions, but you can continue to accumulate earnings.

Gift and estate tax implications

Since a 529 contribution is treated as a gift to the beneficiary for tax purposes, another consideration for donors is to understand how amounts greater than $14,000 could trigger tax liabilities.

… your contribution qualifies for the $14,000 annual gift tax exclusion and so most people can make fairly large contributions without incurring the gift tax.

For contributions greater than $14,000, 529 plans offer a unique gift-tax exclusion feature.

… Specifically, you can make a lump-sum contribution to a 529 plan of up to $70,000, elect to spread the gift evenly over five years, and completely avoid federal gift tax, provided no other gifts are made to the same beneficiary during the five-year period. A married couple can gift up to $140,000.

A good explanation of the details on how this works can be found at the Ameriprise website.

Related:  “Most families are not taking advantage of 529 plans for college savings” (Cost of College)

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May 7, 2014

College financial aid advice for mothers going through a divorce

by Grace

Forbes contributor Jeff Landers answers a few of the most common questions that women going through a divorce have about college financial aid. First, he explains which parent should file the FAFSA.  (The answer is the custodial parent.)  Then he explains why this matters.

Why does it matter who completes the form?

The FAFSA contains many detailed questions about a student’s family’s income and assets. The responses are entered into a formula that determines the Expected Family Contribution – in short, how much money you will be expected to come up with toward your child’s college expenses.

If you are the custodial parent, it’s your income and assets that go on the form. So if, for example, your ex-husband makes $500,000 a year in his business, and you make a tenth that much working part time from home, your child would likely be eligible for more financial aid if the eligibility is determined based on your income alone.

If the custodial parent remarries, the new spouse’s income and assets have to be listed on the FAFSA. Unfortunately, while it may not seem fair, that can lower your child’s eligibility for financial aid.

In his next answer, Landers goes on to shed light on the sometimes confusing details of non-federal financial aid.  Click on the link at the top of this post to see all the questions and answers.

Related:  Divorced or absent fathers are let off the hook in paying for their kids’ college (Cost of College) 

April 30, 2014

Student loans ‘Voxplained’

by Grace

Vox Cards explain student loans.  Here’s the first card.

What is a student loan?

A student loan is money that banks or the federal government lend to students or parents to pay for higher education. Student loans can be used to pay tuition, fees and room and board, and they can also be used for living expenses and books. Student debt refers to the total amount of outstanding student loans from students, graduates, and dropouts.

The majority of students — more than 70 percent of all bachelor’s degree recipients — now borrow money to pay for college, a higher proportion than ever. Those students owe $29,400 on average at graduation. Student debt drew public attention and concern as the recession hit and graduates fell behind on their loans. There’s now agrowing consensus among economists that student debt is a drag on the economy, too, because indebted graduates and dropouts have less money to spend on other things.

The federal government has by far the largest share of the student loan market. Until 2010, the federal government lent money to students by guaranteeing and subsidizing loans from banks like Sallie Mae. In 2010, the Education Department cut out the middleman and became the sole student lender.

Here is their explanation on how student loans are treated in bankruptcy.

Why can’t student loans be discharged in bankruptcy?

Student loans are almost never dischargeable in bankruptcy, unlike credit card debt, mortgages, car loans, and most other forms of consumer debt. As lending to students has grown, so has the difficulty of discharging federal loans through bankruptcy. Getting rid of student loans now entails suing the lender (often, the federal government) and proving to a judge that circumstances are so dire there’s no way the loans will ever be repaid. Fewer than 1,000 people, out of more than 32 million student loan borrowers, try this each year.

There are a couple of reasons for this: some people are concerned that college graduates could decide it’s better to declare bankruptcy while they’re young and take the hit to their credit for several years, rather than repay tens of thousands of dollars of student debt. Federal student loans also offer consumer protections and repayment flexibilitythat credit card bills and auto loans generally do not.

Until 1998, federal student loans could be discharged or restructured in bankruptcy after a waiting period of several years. Private student loans were dischargeable in bankruptcy until 2005. Some people think these restrictions should be relaxed: Senate Democrats have proposed legislation that would make private loans dischargeable in bankruptcy again, and the Center for American Progress has called for a two-tier student loan system that would make some loans dischargeable.

In case you’re not yet familiar with Vox Media’s recently introduced Vox Cards, Margaret Hartmann at New York Magazine offers an explanation.

“Vox Cards,” which explain complex topics in a format that’s a mix between Q & A and a slideshow. The editors say:

They’re inspired by the highlighters and index cards that some of us used in school to remember important information. You’ll find them attached to articles, where they add crucial context; behind highlighted words, where they allow us to offer deeper explanations of key concepts; and in their stacks, where they combine into detailed — and continuously updated — guides to ongoing news stories. We’re incredibly excited about them.

Basically, it’s like a more attractive Wikipedia page written by one well-informed nerd on the internet rather than many nerds on the internet.

Too much spoon-fed information?

I’m not completely sold on the Vox Cards format, but they do seem to offer some utility.  Will this spoon-feeding of information in the media become more widespread?  It seems to have become more common in our schools, where prefabricated study notes are frequently distributed to students in advance of exams.

The entire student debt card stack can be accessed on the Vox Media site:  Everything you need to know about student debt,  By Libby Nelson, April 21 2014

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April 16, 2014

How to talk to your kids about paying for college

by Grace

When should parents have the “talk” with their children?

Of course, I mean the talk about how their college education will be financed.  According to comments in a recent College Confidential thread, fourteen is too early and 12th grade is too late.  And just like sex education, kids should not be hit with everything all at once.

It’s like the sex talk … Tell them a little at a time in chunks they can understand.

“Parents of High School Juniors: Talk Finances NOW” is the title of the thread, and the original poster wants families to avoid the disappointment that sometimes occurs this time of year for high school seniors.

If you are the parent of a high school junior who will be applying to colleges next year, now is the time to take a close look at what you will be willing and able to pay toward your kid’s college education–and to make sure your kid understands it. You may never have told your kid about your family’s finances–now, you must do so, even if you’d rather not. Don’t be the subject of a thread next year when your kid says, “My parents told me I could apply to any college I wanted and they’d make it work, but now they’re saying I have to go to the relatively undesirable college that’s giving me a scholarship.”

So, look at some price calculators on college websites, get financial advice, think about whether your kid will have to have scholarships, what you feel comfortable borrowing (if anything), what you will expect your kid to contribute, whether you will expect your kid to pay back any of the money you spend on education, etc. And share the result with your kid. There should be no unpleasant surprises when acceptances come in next year–at least, there should be no surprising changes in your position.

In US News, Ryan Lane outlines a series of steps in planning for the talk.  It’s important to set clear expectations, and he even suggests putting it in writing to instill a better understanding.  Whatever else they do, parents should avoid the mistake of making a vague and uninformed promise that “we’ll find a way to pay” for college.

One way to begin the process is to run a few Net Price Calculators for some prospective colleges, including both private and public institutions.  It can serve as a reality check in laying the groundwork for the big talk.

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