Archive for ‘cutting college costs — ideas for students’

December 9, 2015

Prepare for upcoming FAFSA changes

by Grace

Lynn O’Shaughnessy reports on a change that will make filing FAFSA easier.

Currently, the earliest that families can file FAFSA each year is January 1, and college deadlines for this information can be as early as February.  At the same time, prior year tax return information must be included in the submission, making it difficult for parents who have not filed their taxes as of February.

The parental scramble to file the FAFSA and get their taxes completed will soon no longer be an issue. Beginning with the 2017-2018 school year, students will be using prior-prior tax returns when completing the FAFSA.

Parents of students who will be in college in the fall of 2017, for example, will use their 2015 federal tax return to complete the FAFSA. Under the traditional system, these parents would have relied on their 2016 tax returns. So you can see that scrambling to complete their tax returns will no longer be an issue because of the reliance on an older tax return.

One of the most critical points families must consider in light of these change is that their 2015 financial situation will be used twice in determining eligibility for financial aid.  This can penalize families who has an unusually prosperous 2015.

Taxes for 2015 will be doubly important.

As the system transitions to using prior-prior returns, many families will have to use their 2015 tax return twice. Parents will use the 2015 return if they are applying for aid for the 2016-2017 school year and the following year too.

Relying on the 2015 tax return twice won’t be an issue for parents whose incomes have remained stable during those two years. But it can be a terrible development for families who experienced a tremendous financial year in 2015 but not in 2016.

What should these families do?

If your financial situation has changed since you filed your 2015 tax return, you can ask for a professional judgment from a school. College financial aid administrators have the power to adjust your aid amount based on information that isn’t reflected in the aid application.

Check out this link for more details on upcoming FAFSA changes:

Lynn O’Shaughnessy, “No More Financial Aid Rush”, The College Solution, September 24, 2015.

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July 24, 2015

College student retention services ‘is a hot business’

by Grace

Copley Retention Services is one of several companies that offers offers technology-based systems intended to keep students on track to graduate on time from college.  It uses “a combination of over 20 data points to flag students who may be at risk of dropping out”.

One in three college freshmen don’t return for their sophomore year. It’s a sombering statistic not just for students, but also for universities that miss out on tuition dollars.

Student retention services appears to be a growing field.

Forecasting student success is a hot business, and the industry has seen major consolidations this year. In February, Starfish Retention Solutions and GradesFirst have been acquired, respectively, by Hobsons and Education Advisory Board, two companies trying to move the needle on college completion rates. Earlier this week, Uversity was bought by TargetX, both of which provide data analytics to help colleges boost student recruitment and retention. Learning management systems like Desire2Learn also boast their own student success tools.

This need is also increasingly felt at the K-12 level, with startups like LearnSprout building early warning systems that tap into student information systems for signs that can help elementary and high school students stay on track.

Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, has partnered with other parties to invest $1.5 million in Copley.  He explains how colleges benefit from retention services.

Copley makes higher education more efficient. It is expensive to lose students or have them drag on their education over an extended period. Copley is the leader in helping schools address the needs of at-risk students. That is money in the bank for the school.

Of course, students benefit also.

If we can get more at-risk kids to graduate in four years or less, all while not over-taxing the support services of the school, tuition may have a slight chance of staying flat or going down.

But for many “at-risk kids”, all the tracking and remedial efforts may not be enough if they lack family support as well as the fundamental competencies that should have been taught in K-12.  It remains to be seen if these retention services are able to make a dent in the college drop-out problem.  However, if these services are funded by taxpayer dollars I don’t put much faith in how carefully their efficacy will be assessed.

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Tony Wan, “Copley Retention Systems Raises $1.5M From Mark Cuban, USA Funds to Boost Student Success”, edSurge, Jul 10, 2015.

Tony Wan, “5 Questions With Mark Cuban on Higher Education and His Newest Edtech Investment”, edSurge, Jul 17, 2015.

July 15, 2015

Duke is one of only two top-ten universities to offer merit aid

by Grace

Duke is one of only two top-ten universities to offer merit scholarships.

… Though some critics of merit aid programs say the scholarships can take resources away from students who need financial help most, University administrators say this is not the case for Duke. The University maintains eight merit scholarship programs while also growing the amount that is given to students with financial need, according to Melissa Maouf, director of the Office of Undergraduate Scholars & Fellows.

“Our merit communities are a mixed bag, economically all over the place,” Malouf, wrote in an email Wednesday. “All students to apply to Duke may be considered for a merit scholarship—rich or poor or in between.

Only three Duke scholarships are solely merit-based.

Three of the eight scholarship programs Duke offers—the Angier B. Duke Scholarship, the Benjamin N. Duke Scholarship and the Robertson Scholarship—solely take merit into account. The remaining five scholarship programs consider a mixture of merit and need.

Nearly 4% of Duke students receive merit aid.

In 2013, Duke provided merit scholarships averaging about $56,000 per year to 314 students, nearly 4 percent of the undergraduate body, according to the 2013-14 CDS survey.

Only one other top-ten school, the University of Chicago, also offers merit awards.  All the other schools only give need-based financial aid.

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Jenna Zhang, “Duke stands alone among peers in merit-based scholarship priorities”, The Chronicle, January 20, 2015.

 

May 29, 2015

Is a gap year right for your child?

by Grace

Gap years have become more populare in the U.S.

… Prominent in Europe since the 1960s, the intentional and structured break from formal education before college is becoming increasingly popular in the U.S.

Formally described as a time for “increasing self-awareness, learning about different cultural perspectives, and experimenting with future possible careers”, in many cases a gap year’s most important benefit is simply to help a young person mature and be able to make better decisions about college plans.

While some gap programs cost about as much as a year of college, many other options are more affordable.  Sometimes a gap year is a time to earn extra money for college.  Simply living at home while working is a basic option, perhaps with classes or travel included for personal growth and preparation for college.  Other low-cost options include domestic or international travel along with internships.

Proper planning maximizes opportunities.

Before you design your gap year plan, sit down and really think about what interests you want to explore or what countries spark your interest. Combining an interest (such as learning Spanish) with a low-cost opportunity (such as Au Pairing in Spain) ensures your gap year will be meaningful to you as well as cost-effective.

WWOOF and Help Ex are two resources for matching students with farms, homestays, ranches, lodges, B&Bs, backpackers hostels and other options where volunteers receive room and board in exchange for work.  Dynamy’s program of mentored internships has been personally recommended in one situation I know.

Families are becoming more receptive to gap years, and many believe that it is a good way to lower the chances of college students wasting time and money in college while they try to figure things out.

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Naila Francis, “Gap years gain popularity as students seek purpose, passion”, The Intelligencer, July 13, 2014.

Julia Rogers, “An Affordable Gap Year”, My College Planning Team, November 6, 2014.

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May 11, 2015

Pinterest is also for college scholarships!

by Grace

20150506.COCPinerest1Suzanne Shaffer give us “10 Scholarship Boards to Follow on Pinterest”.

Check it out!

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.

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 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.

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