Archive for April, 2012

April 30, 2012

‘math skills are correlated to higher earnings’

by Grace

A study that looked at the correlation between college majors and earnings highlights the role of math skills in this relationship.

The economists examine the large differences in labor-market outcomes across college majors in several ways. In one section of their paper, they look at data on wages by college major obtained through the Census Bureau‘s 2009 American Community Survey. They find that among other things, math skills are correlated to higher earnings. “Wages tend to be high for engineers and low for elementary education majors, suggesting that perhaps much of the wage differences between majors are due to differences in mathematical ability and high school course work,” the authors write.

Apparently, innumeracy has a cost.

Average wages for some of the most lucrative college majors

I’m surprised at how well a political science major pays, even without an advanced degree.

Average wages for some of the lowest-paying college majors

Considering that the average salary for educators in Westchester County approaches six figures, it’s surprising to see such low wages for education majors.  I suspect that part-time workers included in this and other categories deflate the average wage.

American Community Survey – Questions on the form and why we ask

Related:  Two recent reports on college majors, salaries, and unemployment rates

April 27, 2012

Google search tips for students

by Grace

Students lack good Google search skills.

Sadly, though web searches have become an integral part of the academic research landscape, the art of the Google search is an increasingly lost one. A recent study at Illinois Wesleyan University found that fewer than 25% of students could perform a “reasonably well-executed search.” Wrote researchers, “The majority of students — of all levels — exhibited significant difficulties that ranged across nearly every aspect of the search process.”

If college students are so poorly prepared to conduct Google searches, K-12 students must be even less so.  With all the talk about teaching 21st century skills in our public schools, not enough time is spent on this basic element of  school work.  What’s going on?

Here’s an infographic from HackCollege that offers basic search tips.  If teachers even spent a few hours on this every year, high school graduates would be better prepared for college and for life.


I need to use these tips more regularly:

April 26, 2012

Boys report that discussing problems feels weird and is a waste of time

by Grace

Boys reported that discussing problems feels weird and is a waste of time according to recent studies involving nearly 2,000 children and adolescents.

… The researchers found that girls had positive expectations for how talking about problems would make them feel, such as expecting to feel cared for, understood and less alone. On the other hand, boys did not endorse some negative expectations more than girls, such as expecting to feel embarrassed, worried about being teased, or bad about not taking care of the problems themselves. Instead, boys reported that talking about problems would make them feel “weird” and like they were “wasting time.”

Shocking, I know.

… parents also should realize that they may be ‘barking up the wrong tree’ if they think that making boys feel safer will make them confide. Instead, helping boys see some utility in talking about problems may be more effective,” Rose said. “On the other hand, many girls are at risk for excessive problem talk, which is linked with depression and anxiety, so girls should know that talking about problems isn’t the only way to cope.”

A middle ground for all of us might be best.

The takeaway for parents: Encourage boys to realize that sometimes talking is helpful and remind girls not to dwell obsessively over their problems.

What about college application essays?
Students writing their college application essays are often encouraged to write with great feeling about a problem that they overcame.  Boys might tend to have more difficulty with this topic.  Dr. Helen wrote about this in her post titled Does the College Essay Suck the Life Out of Boys?

One thing that caught my eye was how hard and depressing it was for the son to try and write the college essay. Many of the colleges ask for an essay about the student’s “inner life”–usually a buzz word for some kind of sappy self-absorbed nonsense where the student “took a risk” of some kind and went on to become a better person or some variation of that theme.

I can relate to this story and perhaps other parents of sons can also.  Not to worry, this is where essay tutors who charge $2,500 for 5 one-hour sessions can help you out.

April 25, 2012

Federal Direct PLUS or home equity loan for college costs?

by Grace

If you will be borrowing to pay for part of your child’s college costs, is it better to take out a federal Direct PLUS parent loan or a home equity loan?

Of course, there’s no single right answer for everyone because each option offers some advantages.  You should only consider a home equity loan if you have plenty of equity in your home.  Also remember that the window for taking out a PLUS student loan closes when your child finishes college but there is no similar time constraint on a home equity loan.  Here are a few points to keep in mind when deciding which is better for you.

Direct PLUS student loan

Home equity loan or line of credit (HELOC)

  • Lower interest rate, but HELOCs typically have high rate caps
  • Interest may be tax deductible, with some limitations and exceptions (deduction not allowed when using AMT method)
  • May be discharged in bankruptcy
  • Ties up home equity, making it unavailable for other borrowing needs
  • Risk of creating negative equity in home, limiting options to move and causing other problems.
  • Default puts home at risk for foreclosure

More information at these links:
The Federal PLUS Loan vs. Home Equity Loans
Federal Plus Loan vs. Home Equity Loan

April 24, 2012

Stricter Pell Grant rules raise standards for ‘satisfactory academic progress’

by Grace

Under the new rules, students lose their eligibility for aid such as Pell Grants if they’re on academic probation for more than one semester and do not file a successful appeal. The previous limit was two semesters. This is on top of the existing SAP requirements: a cumulative GPA of at least 2.0, successful completion of a certain percent (usually 67 percent) of classes attempted, and completion of no more than 150 of the number of hours required for a credential.

This seems fair.   (Until it’s my child who’s failing . . .)

These standards also apply to other types of federal financial aid.

New Pell rules cut off failing students

Federal Student Aid:  Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP)

April 23, 2012

Political battle looms over doubling of student loan interest rate to 6.8%

by Grace

President Obama begins an all-out push on Friday to get Congress to extend the low interest rate on federal student loans, White House officials said, an effort that is likely to become a heated battle along party lines. If Congress fails to act, the interest rate on the loans, which are taken out by nearly eight million students each year, will double on July 1, to 6.8 percent….

With student debt at a record high of $1 trillion, the effects of this change would be widespread.  The debate becomes about who should pay, the borrowers or the taxpayers?

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that a one-year freeze on the interest rate for subsidized Stafford loans would cost $6 billion.

The history

The low interest rate stemmed from the 2007 College Cost Reduction and Access Act, which reduced interest rates on subsidized Stafford loans over the following four academic years — from 6.8 percent to the current 3.4 percent — with the proviso that the rates would revert to 6.8 percent this July…

A political trap for Republicans and a win-win situation for President Obama

The pre-planned doubling forces GOP politicians to either approve a Democratic measure that extends the low interest rates, or else face protest from millions of students and their middle-class parents.

Many GOP legislators dislike the subsidized interest rate because it inflates education costs while delivering a disguised subsidy to the Democrats’ political allies in the education industry.

The trap “kinda makes sense,” said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of, a financial aid website.

“It’s a ‘Heads I win, tails you lose,’ scenario, where if President Obama succeeds in getting it extended a for a year he gets a victory for a key segment of the voters [and] if it gets blocked, he can blame his opponents for blocking it.”

“Either way he wins,“ Kantrowitz said.

Mr. Courtney said he was hopeful that some Republican support would be forthcoming as the political stakes became more apparent.

If higher loan subsidies are approved, the poorest students could come out losing.

Outside Congress, even some of the strongest student-aid advocates debate the question. While nearly everyone is in favor of the broad goal of college affordability, some experts point out that even 6.8 percent is lower than the rate on most private student loans. And they question whether it is worth risking cutbacks in the Pell program for low-income students, one possible consequence of using more federal money to keep interest rates low on the Stafford loans, which are in wide use by middle-income students.

April 20, 2012

Beware of schools pitching lots of after-school help

by Grace

Our local public school touts the teachers’ availability for after-school help sessions as a wonderful benefit.  But I’ve grown cynical.

If a school’s pitch to parents is: We have tons of Extra Help, that is a very bad sign.

It sounds like the school is saying: Your child will have lots of personal attention with his teacher, one on one.

But what is really being said is: your child will have trouble learning what the teacher is teaching.

I’m not saying that a young student seeking out personalized extra help from his teacher isn’t wonderful.  I just think that blithely telling a struggling youngster to go for after-school help is often not the most helpful advice.  It makes me think something is missing in the classroom, and it’s not being addressed.

I’d like to see the top five canned comments that are used in our school district’s report cards.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this one showed up on that list.

Should attend extra help sessions more often

April 19, 2012

What exactly is a Likely Letter?

by Grace

A good explanation of a Likely Letter comes from the University of Virginia Admission Blog:

What is a Likely Letter?
Around this time of year [early March], many colleges and universities send letters to some very strong students telling them that their applications are impressive. These letters are commonly referred to as likely letters, but you might also seen them called love letters or early writes.

Why do you send Likely Letters?
In this day and age, it’s hard to feel confident about admission. These letters let some of our strongest candidates know we were impressed by their applications. These letters are not specific to UVa. Selective schools around the country send them. Doing a search for “Likely Letter” or “Love Letter” on College Confidential will yield signs of them being sent by plenty of other schools.

It must be exciting to receive a Likely Letter from your dream school, but remember that it is not a guarantee of admission.

A quick recap:

  • Likely Letters are sent by many selective schools to some top applicants
  • The vast majority of applicants will not get a Likely Letter
  • Decisions are not finalized yet
  • Getting a Likely Letter does not equate to an offer into one of the scholars programs
  • Likely Letters are sent via standard mail

Do not read into the absence of a letter.

Apparently Likely Letters have been more likely this year.

April 18, 2012

Why you want to choose the right college in the first place

by Grace

The pressure is on for high school seniors to choose a college by May 1.  They need to think carefully about their choices because transferring schools during your college years will likely cost you in time and money.

Nearly one in three undergraduates who begin studying at a two- or four-year college will move on to at least one other institution in pursuit of a degree. That means, for one reason or another, a large share of students end up navigating the admissions process twice (if not several times), reorienting themselves to new campuses and negotiating the transfer and acceptance of their old credits.

It can be costly

The research on these trends, while extensive, ultimately boils down to this: those who attend only one institution graduate in less time than those who attend several (and, in graduating quicker, pay tuition for fewer semesters).

Lionel Anderson gives advice to high school seniors on selecting the right college, focusing on these five factors.

  1. Affordability
  2. Size
  3. Academic Support
  4. Student Life
  5. Diversity
April 17, 2012

Still paying down student loans when you’re middle aged or older

by Grace

Still paying on student loans when you’re middle aged or older can certainly dim the outlook for a financially secure retirement.

Student loan debt amassed by parents is growing faster than loans taken out by the student.

Parents’ loan debt has more than doubled over the last decade — exceeding $100 billion dollars or 10 percent of all outstanding student loan debt, according to the independent research firm

“Parents of every income level are increasingly borrowing for their children’s college education. It doesn’t matter whether the parents are low income, middle income or upper income. There’s been dramatic growth in the percentages of parents who’ve been borrowing,” says founder and publisher Mark Kantrowitz.

Many parents who co-signed loans or borrowed money on their own for their children’s education now face the loss of their retirement nest eggs, homes and other assets….

Parents have an average of about $34,000 in student loans and that figure rises to $50,000, including interest, over a standard 10-year loan repayment period.

Aging Americans 60 and older owe about $36 billion in student loans.

Some of these older Americans are still grappling with their first wave of student loans, while others took on new debt when they returned to school later in life in hopes of becoming more competitive in the labor force. Many have co-signed for loans with their children or grandchildren to help them afford ballooning tuition.

It’s probably best to avoid the twenty-year plan for paying student loans.
I recently read where a 40-something mom explained that since she and her husband were still paying down their student loans, saving for retirement and for her children’s college education had taken a back seat.

11.8 million borrowers aged 40 and older owe $278 billion in student loans, averaging almost $24,000 per debtor.


It’s relatively easy for a parent to qualify for a student loan:  Qualifying for a parent Direct PLUS loan

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