May 5, 2015

Why college students should consider summer classes

by Grace

The Value of Summer Classes

A lecture hall is likely near the bottom of your list of preferred summer destinations. After a long year in school, many students prefer to use their breaks to recharge, not re-enroll. In addition, the summer months offer a great opportunity to work a full-time job and earn money to pay for the upcoming year.

However, enrolling in summer classes can actually be a smart way to decrease college costs. For one, the classes themselves can be cheaper, especially if you opt to attend a less expensive community college. You’ll just need to make sure any credits transfer.

Additional costs could be less expensive too. For instance, since fewer people enroll in the summer, you’ll likely have an easier time finding affordable, used textbooks.

The biggest potential savings come from accelerating your graduation date. By taking summer credits throughout college, you could shave a term or even an entire year off your education. That not only equals savings in the form of tuition payments, but it also cuts down on room, board, and other living expenses, not to mention getting you into the workforce and earning a salary faster.

Considering that almost half of all full-time college students take five or more years to graduate, that last benefit listed may make a difference in helping you graduate within four years.

For tips on how to manage your financial aid for summer classes, check out Understand Financial Aid, Payment Options for Summer Classes.

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Ryan Lane, “Understand Financial Aid, Payment Options for Summer Classes” U.S. News & World Report, April 8, 2015.

May 4, 2015

Pending version of NCLB bill removes pressure on states to use Common Core Standards

by Grace

The pending successor to No Child Left Behind that is the latest version of the reauthrized Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) will take federal pressure off states to use Common Core Standards.

The latest bill, known as the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA), was unanimously approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee and appears to have a good chance of approval by both houses.  It does not incentivize states into adopting CCS.  Committee chairman Senator Lamar Alexander (R) described it this way.

… our proposal would end federal test-based accountability and restore state and local responsibility for creating systems holding schools and teachers accountable. State accountability systems must meet limited federal guidelines, including challenging academic standards for all students, but the federal government is prohibited from determining or approving state standards or even incentivizing states into adopting specific standards. In other words, whether a state adopts Common Core is entirely that state’s decision. This transfer of responsibility is why we believe our proposal will result in fewer and more appropriate tests.

Our proposal allows, but does not require, states to develop and implement teacher evaluation systems that link student achievement to teacher performance. States will be allowed to use federal funds to implement evaluations the way they see fit.

Without knowing more details, it’s difficult to know if there will be much pressure for states to establish and maintain high academic standards.  How individual states react may be at least partly determined by how much pressure they feel from teacher unions and parents, many of whom have opposed CCS implementation.

Jennifer Rubin sees a compromise that partially placates several groups..

… The president will get NCLB reauthorized, conservatives will make sure the feds’ role is properly restricted, conservative activists can chalk up a win and backers of high standards can disentangle that issue from NCLB.

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Jennifer Rubin, “A big legislative win on education”, Washington Post,  April 24, 2015.

April 29, 2015

Estimating income tax information for early FAFSA filing

by Grace

It’s best to file your FAFSA early because colleges may run out of financial aid funds for later applicants.  But filing early often means that income tax information must be estimated and then later corrected.

Estimating your income may be a simple matter of using the previous year’s number and adjusting slightly.  Or, if your financial circumstances have changed considerably it may require more work.  FAFSA has an income estimator on their site that may be helpful.

After income taxes are filed, you must submit corrected information to FAFSA.  In most cases, you can use their IRS Data Retrieval Tool for a relatively painless process.  Otherwise, the process is more time-consuming because you will need to request that a copy of your tax return be sent to your school.

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 Alexandra Rice, “Taxes and the FAFSA: What You Need to Know”, U.S. News & World Report, March 30, 2015.

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April 28, 2015

New Arizona State University program lowers freshman year cost to $6,000

by Grace

A noteworthy initiative by a major university has the potential to cut costs dramatically for a student’s freshman year of college.

Arizona State University, one of the nation’s largest universities, is joining with edX, a nonprofit online venture founded by M.I.T. and Harvard, to offer an online freshman year that will be available worldwide with no admissions process and full university credit.

In the new Global Freshman Academy, each credit will cost $200, but students will not have to pay until they pass the courses, which will be offered on the edX platform as MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses.

“Leave your G.P.A., your SATs, your recommendations at home,” said Anant Agarwal, the chief executive of edX. “If you have the will to learn, just bring your Internet connection and yourself, and you can get a year of college credit.”

Students can complete their freshman year for “less than $6,000″.

The new program will offer 12 courses — eight make up a freshman year — created by Arizona State professors. It will take an unlimited number of students. Neither Mr. Agarwal nor Mr. Crow would predict how many might enroll this year.

The only upfront cost will be $45 a course for an identity-verified certificate. Altogether, eight courses and a year of credit will cost less than $6,000.

Two common questions about online courses are addressed by this new venture.

Wednesday’s announcement, Agarwal said, is edX’s response to the two major points of criticism that have dogged MOOCs: that the completion rates are too low, and that the courses mostly benefit learners who have already earned advanced degrees.

The expectation is that motivation for credit will spur completion rates, and freshman courses will not attract college graduates.

How much human involvement will be required?

… Freshman composition will probably be one of the last to launch. Right now, he said, the university is planning on having “actual people” grade however many thousands of student essays such a MOOC would produce.

Other issues remain, including the problem that Freshman Academy does not qualify for federal financial aid.  The outcome for this new venture remains to be seen.  If it is successful, it could serve as a model for many other universities.

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Tamar Lewin, “Promising Full College Credit, Arizona State University Offers Online Freshman Program”, New York Times, April 22, 2015.

Carl Straumsheim, “MOOCs for (a Year’s) Credit”, Inside Higher Ed, April 23, 2015.

April 27, 2015

The search for affordable out-of-state colleges

by Grace

It’s been a few years since I wrote about low-cost out-of-state schools, so it’s a good time to revisit this topic.

What type of students are typically interested in affordable out-of-state public schools?

  • Residents of states that lack good options for affordable public colleges.
  • Students who want to experience living in another part of the country during their college years.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy recommends avoiding most “name brand” * state flagships, which usually expect out-of-state students to pay full price.  Instead, look at other less well-known options.

The New York state universities (SUNY’s) , for instance, represent some excellent values. Unlike many states, New York state has continued to support its public universities at levels other state legislatures have long abandoned.

Another potential great buy is the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, which is a bargain compared to Michigan. I once asked a teenager why he thought that the University of Michigan is so much more popular than the U. of Minnesota, which is located in the Twin Cities. “Minnesota is cold,” he replied. I mentioned that Michigan is hardly a temperate climate. My theory is that Michigan has enjoyed a long and storied tradition of success in the Big 10 athletic conference and the Minnesota Gophers have not.

The University of New Mexico has impressive scholarships even for students with a 3.0 GPA and it’s located in a city (Albuquerque.) I am hoping that a daughter of a family friend, who is a gifted dancer, ends up at the University of Utah’s modern dance program, which is considered as good, if not better, than Julliard’s.The scholarships for nonresidents can be more generous and prices much lower to begin with at schools that have to work harder to attract nonresidents. University of Arkansas, for instance, has tons of scholarships for nonresidents. A huge plus at Arkansas is the tremendous amount of internships for students because of Walmart’s proximity. Walmart requires major corporations to maintain an office in Arkansas so there are hundreds of corporate outposts in the state.

Kiplinger’s most recent Rankings of Top Public College Values shows 54 schools with total annual costs under $35,000.  A California resident facing annual costs ranging from about $23,000 to $35,000 for in-state schools may look to an option like Arizona State University where OOS costs are about $36,000 per year.  Add in the challenges of admission and course availability that persist in some schools in the California system, and the idea of tacking on an extra $35,000 or so in costs over four years by going out of state may seem like a fair deal.

U.S. News offers a list of low-cost schools that may come out to be a better value than in-state choices.

Some regional colleges and universities are so cheap, even for out-of-staters, that they give Home State University a run for its money….

Most of these public institutions are regional colleges and universities in Midwestern or Western states​ that may not entice many 18-year-olds the way, say, New York or California do.

But a Pennsylvanian student eyeing the in-state price tags of Pennsylvania State University or the University of Pittsburgh, both topping $17,000 a year, might start to find them more appealing.

Careful research can uncover affordable options that are perfect for your child.  Here’s a College Confidential thread that can be a resource:

VERY LOW COST OOS COA universities……less than $25k COA for everything!

* UPDATED for clarity

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Lynn O’Shaughnessy, “Would You Pay $47,000 for the University of Oregon?”, The College Solution, April 20, 2015.

Susannah Snider, “Public Colleges With the Cheapest Out-of-State Tuition and Fees”, U.S. News & World Report, September 30, 2014.

April 24, 2015

For effective writing instruction, start with sentence composition

by Grace

College writing instructor John Maguire was feeling frustrated in trying “to turn poor writers into good ones”, but then he realized he needed to start with the basics.

These kids don’t know what a good sentence is. They attempt to write papers with bizarre strings of words that are not sentences, and they don’t know what the problem is. Their high school teachers let them write fragments, and now they think of a fragment as a kind of sentence. They have been trained to accept fragments, and I can’t get them untrained. Papers cannot be made from terrible sentences.

He started with having students focus on using active verbs, which just by itself improved their writing.  Eventually he structured his course to so that the first eight week of instruction concentrated on “these five rules of readable writing”:

  • Be concrete rather than abstract
  • Use active verbs
  • Put human beings in rather than writing impersonally
  • Use shorter sentences
  • Use simpler and more compact words

After that, the second part of the course “contained the skeleton of a “normal” comp course including argument, narration, thesis sentences, and arrangement of parts”.

Other effective approaches to writing instruction such as the “Kerrigan method of ‘Writing to the Point” and’ the “Hochman Method” take a similar approach.

The sentence is the basic unit in writing, and author Ta-Nehisa Coates believes “teaching kids how to write compelling sentences is a lost art”.

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John Maguire, “Teaching College Students to Write”, John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, May 07, 2013.

April 23, 2015

Success Academy is not for everyone

by Grace

After a New York Times critical piece on the “Polarizing Tactics” of Success Academy charter schools, its founder and supporters come to its defense.

SA teachers “who do well can expect quick promotions” while those who struggle may be demoted if coaching is ineffective.  With tough workloads and high pressure, it would not be surprising to find high teacher turnover, although exact figure for both SA and traditional NYC schools are in dispute.

SA’s policy of publicly posting grades is harsh punishment for some students, but apparently others thrive under that system.

SA is certainly not typical of most public schools today.

Rules are explicit and expectations precise. Students must sit with hands clasped and eyes following the speaker; reading passages must be neatly annotated with a main idea.

Yet waiting lists of thousands of students indicate many families want an atypical public school, as noted by school founder Eva Moskowitz.

Your article acknowledges Success’s 9-to-1 application ratio but fails to draw the obvious conclusion: that parents of the more than 22,000 applicants — as well as those of our current 9,000 students — plainly disagree with your dreary portrait of our schools.

Parents should have school choice, writes Education Week blogger Walt Gardner.

In the final analysis, Success Academy Charter Schools underscore the need for parental choice. For some families, the network is a virtual godsend, while for other families, it is truly anathema. But the same thing can be said about military, Catholic and Montessori schools, as well as for traditional public schools.

Parents know their children’s needs and interests better than anyone else. That’s why efforts to provide them with greater opportunities are more important today than at any other time in the history of education in this country.

Charter schools like Success Academy give poor minority families an alternative to the dismal options among failing traditional schools in New York City.  Not all families find SA to their liking, as demonstrated by some of the follow-up “Stories From Current and Former Success Academy Parents”.  But many students thrive at SA, and feel thankful for having school choice.

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Kate Taylor, “At Success Academy Charter Schools, High Scores and Polarizing Tactics”, New York Times, April 6, 2015.

April 22, 2015

Too many unqualified students are helping drive up college costs

by Grace

Law professor Paul F. Campos editorialized about “The Real Reason College Tuition Costs So Much”.

Funding for higher education “has increased at a much faster rate than government spending in general”, but not enough to keep up with the “sharp rise in the percentage of Americans who go to college”.  Administration costs have climbed at a faster rate than teaching costs, and a comment offers an explanation.

… When you expand the college rosters, you inevitably have to taken lower quality students, which then necessitates more support services to make sure these students have a reasonable chance of graduating. That costs money both in the service itself, and in the management of the service….

Admitting students unprepared for college-level work not only drives up costs, but also leads to lower standards and wasteful credential inflation.  Ultimately, remedial students who experience high drop-out rates “pay a heavy price, in both financial and opportunity costs”.

While it’s controversial and probably politically unfeasible, limiting college enrollment to qualified students would be one way to help rein in soaring college costs.

April 21, 2015

Evaluating college financial aid award letters

by Grace

Among its “tips for deciphering financial-aid letters”, the Wall Street Journal includes information that can be useful in evaluating student loan offers.

Difference between subsidized and unsubsidized federal student loans

The federal government pays interest charges on federally subsidized loans while a student is in school, for example, which can help borrowers substantially. Such loans are generally given to students who demonstrate some kind of financial need, but students don’t need to come from low-income families to qualify.

Just over 34% of undergraduates with family income of at least $100,000 received subsidized Stafford loans at colleges where total annual costs, including tuition and room and board, were at least $30,000 in 2011-12, according to an analysis by Edvisors of the most recent federal data available. Just 12% of such students received the loans when attending less-expensive colleges.

Unsubsidized federal loans can be less desirable because interest accrues while the student is in school, which—if unpaid—could result in a significantly larger balance by the time the student graduates. Some colleges don’t include unsubsidized loans in financial-aid offers.

Colleges and universities also may offer their own loans, which may or not be preferable. Compare and contrast the terms on offer, including the interest rate and when interest charges begin to boost the outstanding balance.

Check out this link for the full article:

Annamaria Andriotis, “How to Play the College Financial-Aid Game”, Wall Street Journal, April 17, 2015.

April 20, 2015

Pros and cons of 529 plans

by Grace

While a 529 plan is commonly considered the “best college savings vehicle”, this option does have some downsides.


Reasons to use a 529 plan:

Investments in 529 plans grow tax-deferred and withdrawals are tax-free when used for qualified college expenses.  Also, most states offer income tax deductions on contributions.  Even if funds are not needed for the intended beneficiary, there are other options that let the owner escape tax penalties.


Reasons against using a 529 plan:

•  The earnings portion of withdrawals not used for qualified expenses is subject to ordinary income taxes and a 10% penalty.

•  It’s not  for the short term.

… one instance where the benefits of a 529 college-savings plan may not have time to accrue is for those that are looking at very short investment horizons—such as one year—before beginning to take withdrawals. The benefit of tax-free growth is very limited over such a short period of time in low-return, no-risk investments, and could be offset by investment expenses or plan fees in the short run.

•  Requires extra research.

Plans will vary from state to state, which is a little more challenging for families. Therefore, you need to do your due diligence on the sales charges, fees, and investment choices by the plan administrator.

•  Limited investment options and higher fees.

•  Restrictions in moving funds between accounts.

 

Some families may simply prefer to maintain more flexibility and control over their college savings, and therefore are willing to forego the tax benefits that 529 plans offer.  There are no absolute right or wrong choices since investing is a highly personalized undertaking.  Here’s a good resource for learning more about 529 plans:

Understanding 529 Plans

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“The Experts: Are 529 Plans the Right Choice for All Families Saving to Send Their Kids to College?”, Wall Street Journal,  June 5, 2013.

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