Before College: Check Out Free Tuition Programs When Considering Colleges

One of the best ways to make college more affordable is to reduce tuition and fees.
IMG_5226The latest available data show that, in 2017-18, the average tuition and fees charged to full-time undergraduates were:

  • $3,570 at community colleges;
  • $9,970 at in-state, public, 4-year colleges;
  • $25,620 at out-of-state, public, 4-year colleges; and
  • $34,740 at private, 4-year colleges.

But elected officials, candidates for public office and many colleges are pushing a new trend in American higher education — free tuition. Check for this as you consider applying to various postsecondary schools.

Some free tuition programs have been well-covered by the media. For example, New York’s Excelsior Grant, which offers in-state undergraduates tuition-free attendance at any school in the State University of New York and City University of New York systems. Another well-publicized state initiative is Tennessee’s Tuition Promise and Reconnect Programs. They cover full tuition at all of that state’s community colleges and technical institutes.

Rice University has an institutional plan that recently gained national attention. Rice’s tuition exceeds $40,000 a year, so it’s long offered generous scholarships. But beginning next academic year, it’s enlarging its Rice Investment Program to cover full tuition for students from even upper middle-class households.

Likewise, The University of Texas at Austin* has expanded funding for its Texas Advance Commitment to fully cover tuition for low-income undergraduates and partially cover it for the upper middle-class.

IMG_5228Across the country, other colleges are offering free tuition programs at least somewhat similar to those offered by Rice and in Austin. Be sure to look for such programs at any school you’re considering.

Most of these programs won’t actually eliminate tuition. Instead, they guarantee grants and scholarships (gift aid) sufficient to cover 100% of the tuition, and sometimes required fees, billed to students. These are usually “last dollar” awards — that is, they fill gaps remaining after federal and private gift aid is subtracted from tuition bills.

Certain other characteristics are common to these programs. Some, but not all, require students to:

  • Work while attending classes, fulfill post-graduate service requirements, or sign income-share agreements under which they pledge part of their post-graduate earnings to their institutions;
  • Have family incomes below certain thresholds, or have financial need, so the FAFSA is typically required;
  • Be residents of the states in which their colleges are located;
  • Be U.S. citizens or permanent residents;
  • Enroll full-time; and/or
  • Attend summer school or other specified academic terms.

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To find a map of the United States through which you can link to information on dozens of free tuition programs, go to the College Promise website. College Promise is an initiative of Civic Nation, to which this website is attributable.

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A word of warning . . . don’t let free tuition be the only thing you consider about colleges. It’s also essential to achieve student-institutional fit because, ultimately, the most important thing is to succeed in college!

* Note: The author is an alumnus and prior employee of The University of Texas at Austin, but College Affordability Solutions does not necessarily endorse or recommend it or any other institution cited in this article.

Contact College Affordability Solutions if you’re looking for strategies to help keep postsecondary learning affordable.

Before, During, After College: Vote as if Your Student Aid and Loan Repayment Depend on It . . . They Do!

Do you think your family will one day need financial aid for college? Are you or your student now relying on state or federal aid? Are you struggling to pay off your college debt?

If any of these circumstances apply to you, you have until November 6 to take IMG_5103personal actions to make government programs work for you. How? Vote! You’re not registered to vote? Get registered right away!

There are 6,070 state legislative seats, 435 U.S. House seats, 36 governorships, and 33 U.S. Senate seats up for election on November 6, and you can vote for and against candidates at least in part based on what they’ll do about college affordability.

Make sure you educate yourself about candidate records and positions on grants, loans, scholarships, and work-study. To do this:

  • Review their campaign websites for statements about college affordability and student aid;
  • Write and ask what they plan to do about college costs and student aid; andIMG_5105
  • Confront them at campaign events with direct, specific questions — and don’t let them off the hook until they give real answers.

For example, did you know that, over the last decade:

  • Congress increased funding to provide up to $1,160 (37%) more in Federal Pell Grants. But the average cost of one year at a public college or university increased $7,924 (146%), so the nation’s largest college grant program now covers $6,314 less of those costs.
  • State legislatures allocated only 33% more for grants and scholarships even though there’s been a 12% increase in college students who are paying almost 150% more to attend college.

Did you know the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce recently passed HR 4508 on a party-line vote. If this bill becomes law it would:

  • Eliminate Federal Direct Subsidized Loans, the least expensive form of college IMG_5106debt, which, even if interest rates don’t climb, will raise the typical undergraduate’s cost of borrowing by at least $2,710 (8%).
  • Kill Public Service Loan Forgiveness, leaving tens of thousands of first responders, teachers and others who provide low-paying but essential community services without a way get some of their college debt cancelled in exchange for 10 years of full-time government or nonprofit employment.
  • End the Federal Supplemental Opportunity Grant program that currently provides $840 million a year to our neediest college students.

And did you also know that more candidates than ever are pledging to work for free college tuition if they get elected or reelected?

So there’s no shortage of financial aid issues on which you need to pin down the candidates, then use what you learn in voting decisions. Get busy. November 6 is just 35 days away!

Use College Affordability Solutions’ Topical Index or contact College Affordability Solutions to learn about strategies that’ll help you control your postsecondary education costs before, during, and after college.

Before and During College: Everything You Need to Know to Do Your FAFSA on October 1!

 

IMG_5009The 2019-20 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) becomes available in less than 5 days — at 12:00 midnight on October 1. If you’ll need college money for an academic term beginning July 2019 through June 2020, complete your FAFSA right on October 1 . . . or as soon thereafter as possible.

Why? Some postsecondary schools quietly use your FAFSA completion date to determine where you fall in line for getting awards. Also, you’ll need extra time to prove the accuracy of your FAFSA data if it’s selected for verification. And some schools and states set early FAFSA completion deadlines.

FAFSAs are required for federal and state aid, many institutional awards, and some private scholarships, so rapid FAFSA completion gives you a better shot at aid from programs with limited funds.

Here are links to everything you need to know for your 2019-20 FAFSA:

Whose data go on the FAFSA? The student’s? Always. The student’s spouse? Yes, if still married to the student. The student’s parents? Yes, if the student’s a dependent student. Which parent if they’re divorced or separated? The U.S. Education Department (ED) has a checklist to help you figure that out.

What do you need to get a FAFSA? Any student or parent whose data goes on the FAFSA needs a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID, which you can create right now on ED’s FSA ID web site.

How do you access your FAFSA? Use FAFSA on the Web to complete it IMG_5011from your smart phone, tablet or desktop computer. This is the easiest way to do it, because the online FAFSA skips questions you don’t need to answer. You can print out and mail in a paper FAFSA, but that’ll slow down your FAFSA’s completion.

What’s needed to complete your FAFSA? ED has guidance about the personal information you need to put on your FAFSA, plus a list of documents that’ll supply the financial data it needs. Finally, you can list 1 – 10 postsecondary schools to receive your FAFSA information so they can consider you for financial aid. Go to ED’s school listings to do this.

How do you get help understanding FAFSA questions? Online FAFSAs have blue and white question marks linked to tips for every question. Paper FAFSAs have 4 pages of notes with all these tips.

IMG_5086How can you avoid making mistakes? Read ED’s blog on 11 common FAFSA mistakes, then double check to make sure you’ve avoided these errors.

What’s next? To find out, read ED’s description of what happens after you submit your completed FAFSA.

So be accurate, be complete, and get your FAFSA going on October 1!

Contact College Affordability Solutions if you need help completing your FAFSA, or for other no-charge consultations on ways to make college more affordable.

Before College: Five Ways Help High Schoolers Become Stronger Scholarship Candidates

Scholarships reduce the college expenses students and families must cover out of their own pockets or with loans.

They’re given for different reasons. Some for academic performance; others for IMG_4868athletic ability. But these aren’t the only criteria that decide who gets scholarships.

Besides doing their best in class and on the field, high school students can do other things to help themselves win scholarships.

One is to DEVELOP STRONG SCHOLARSHIP RESUMES which generally include information about:

  • Community and Extracurricular Involvement: Don’t simply join everything. IMG_4870In fact, that’s often frowned upon. Instead, many scholarship committees look for active, ongoing participation in clubs, groups, and sports.
  • Leadership: Yes, this includes becoming captains, chairs and officers with official organizations and teams. But it’s also about running informal, maybe even temporary projects that address important needs — for example, “organized fundraiser to buy school supplies for poor children.”
  • Part-Time Employment: Some scholarship providers value working during high school, especially in jobs students hold over long periods of time and show workplace accomplishments related to high performance levels — worker of the month awards, merit pay raises, promotions, etc.

Many scholarships are for certain majors that prepare students for particular occupations. These tend to go to young people who are pretty zeroed in on what they want to do with their lives, so it’s good to BEGIN IDENTIFYING CAREER DIRECTIONS EARLY.

Scholarship selectors often lean toward applicants who are memorable due to unique ambitions, circumstances and passions. This is where application essays and personal statements come into play.

Students who’ve developed zeal for distinct subjects or activities, or who’ve coped with and, hopefully, overcome genuine adversity, should use their essays and statements to tell their stories to selection committees. Never exaggerate, but don’t be shy, either.

Some selectors also want to evaluate written communication skills — grammar and ability to clearly and succinctly express oneself — as they read essays and personal statements. Others like to conduct interviews to test the capacity of students to verbalize, think on their feet and remain poised under pressure.

So it’s important for students to ENGAGE IN CLASSES AND ACTIVITIES THAT IMG_4873IMPROVE READING, SPEAKING, AND WRITING ABILITIES (INCLUDING PROOF READING). Stronger communication skills often make stronger scholarship candidates.

Scholarships often require recommendations. Hence, students should BUILD RELATIONSHIPS WITH ADULTS OUTSIDE THEIR FAMILIES WHO WILL ACCURATELY AND POSITIVELY WRITE ABOUT THEIR CHARACTER, SKILLS AND EXPLOITS.

Finally, follow-up letters THANKING SELECTORS are a simple courtesy that can also help applicants more memorable.

Doing what’s needed to become better scholarship candidates also helps high-schoolers become better students and, eventually, better citizens, parents, and workers. So urge and help your student to use the advice given above . . . early . . . and often!

Contact College Affordability Solutions for a free consultation if you’re seeking other strategies to use before, during, and after college to keep its costs within your financial means.

Before College: Use Grades K-8 to Identify General Career Directions

Cheryl and Mike have two young children — Lucas, a 9-year old third-grader, and Olivia, a 5-year old kindergartener. They want both to go to college.

They’ve already started 529 plans, but what else can they do to make postsecondary learning more affordable for their son and daughter?

One thing is to help Lucas and Olivia each begin to determine a general career IMG_4769direction.

At first this might not appear to have anything to do with college affordability. But it does.

Early identification of general career directions — broad sets of vocations in which they’ll  do things they enjoy, are passionate about, and are good at — will eventually make college less costly for Lucas and Olivia by:

  • Cutting the chances of them joining the 80% of college students who change majors, some two or three times; and
  • Making them less likely to be among the 30% of students who transfer from one institution to another.

Changing majors and transferring generates extra costs for extra courses and academic terms. They also result in students’ forfeiting scholarships that are major and institution-specific.

So how to approach this? Here are some, but not necessarily all, of the steps Cheryl and Mike can take during grades K-8:

  • Consult with Lucas and Olivia’s teachers every year. Do their grades reflect IMG_4773their actual strengths and weaknesses? What traits emerge as they interact others? As they work alone? What do their teachers consider possible career paths for them based on what they’ve observed, and why?
  • Watch Lucas and Olivia while they’re out of school, and talk with them about what they observe. For example, “Lucas, you seem to enjoy reading about cars and how they work. Would you like to look under our car’s hood?” or “Olivia, I notice you made a very creative list for the scavenger hunt! Was that fun?”
  • While young, Lucas and Olivia probably know only about occupations to whichIMG_4771 they’re routinely exposed — e.g. dentists, doctors, teachers, and whatever Cheryl and Mike do. So begin exposing them to children’s books about other vocations, and have friends and neighbors tell them about what they do. Note what does and doesn’t interest them.
  • Spend time with Lucas and Olivia on USA.gov’s Research Career Fields page, an official U.S. government portal with videos and links to descriptions of different occupations.
  • Avoid steering Lucas and Olivia toward occupations to fulfill their own hopes and ambitions. Postsecondary education is full of unhappy, unmotivated, and underperforming students whose parents pressured them into certain majors.

Deciding on careers is a multi-step process. Grades K-8 are the time to build career awareness and explore options. Later on, in high school, comes the time for narrowing down to specific occupations and college majors.

Looking for ways to help keep the cost of high-quality postsecondary education reasonable? Contact College Affordability Solutions for free help!

Before and During College: Fast Food Jobs Can Generate Thousands for College

Labor Day week seems like a good time to talk about where you might want to work as a student . . .

About 40% of high school students and 60% of college students hold jobs. Those who work 15 or less hours per week average better grades and higher graduation rates than non-working students — all while building their resumes, becoming better time managers, and reducing their need for college loans.

There are many part-time jobs out there, but often those in fast food restaurants are IMG_4649particularly well-suited for students.

True, flipping burgers isn’t glamorous, and fast food’s median hourly wage of $8.29 is low. Nevertheless, its frontline jobs require little or no experience. They often have flexible work schedules, too.

And now, in an effort to recruit and retain good employees, some fast food companies are offering student workers benefit plans that provide big bucks for college.

Here are some examples of these plans:

• Chick-fil-A: Offers 2 scholarships. One, based on financial need, awards $25,000. The other, for $2,500, is tied to community service. Both require strong GPAs, management recommendations, and that employee applicants be undergraduates or planning to begin undergraduate studies within a year.

• Chipolte: Reimburses employees $5,250 per year for courses completed at any accredited postsecondary school, including vocational-technical schools. Eligibility begins after one year of hourly employment.

• Kentucky Fried Chicken: REACH Education Grants pay $2,000 – $3,000 in tuition at IMG_46502 and 4-year colleges. Eligibility begins after 6 months with KFC.

• McDonald’s: Qualified crew members can get $2,500 a year in tuition assistance under McDonald’s Archways to Opportunity program. Eligibility starts after 90 days as a crew member working shifts of at least 15 hours per week.

• Pizza Hut: After working 60 days, hourly employees — and their families — qualify for the Unboxed EDU program’s tuition discounts of up to 51% for undergraduate and graduate studies in Excelsior College’s online classes.

• Starbucks: Provides a 100% tuition discount in Arizona State University’s online bachelor’s degree program. Eligibility begins immediately upon employment.

• Taco Bell: Offers 5% – 20% tuition discounts for online bachelor’s or master’s classes offered by a small network of universities. U.S. resident employees aged 16 to 25 may also apply for Live Mas Scholarships provided they’re currently enrolled in accredited postsecondary schools.

Not all fast food chains offer such generous educational benefits. And some don’t IMG_4651offer these benefits at all. For example, the Arby’s, Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, Subway, and Wendy’s recruiting websites mention no such programs.

But postsecondary benefit programs can really help make your education more affordable. So when you seek employment, consider fast food jobs, and always ask any potential employer for details on its employees education benefits.

Looking for other strategies to reduce the cost of a quality postsecondary degree or certificate? Contact College Affordability Solutions for free help!

Before and During College: The Key Difference Between Subsidized and Unsubsidized Student Loans

Federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans. If you’re an undergraduate IMG_4578borrowing for college, you’ve probably borrowed both. What’s the difference? And what’s this mean for how you should handle them?

The most important ways Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans vary are:

•   Interest charges: No interest is charged on Subsidized loans while you’re enrolled at least half-time, during the six-month grace period you get when you stop being
IMG_4579enrolled half-time, and whenever your loan payments are postponed under federally-approved deferments.

Unsubsidized loan interest starts being charged the day those funds get disbursed — i.e. used to pay your tuition, given to you, or sent to your bank account, whatever comes first. This interest keeps getting charged until these loans are 100% repaid.

•   Interest Capitalization: You may pay Unsubsidized interest while you’re enrolled and during your grace period, but you’re not required to pay it until your grace period ends. At that point, interest you’ve not paid gets capitalized. This means it’s added to your loan’s principal. Then you’ll pay interest on your new, larger principal amount.

Suppose you borrow $1,000 in Subsidized and $1,000 in Unsubsidized loans at the beginning of this fall semester. Your loans’ interest rates are 5.5% (the rate for these loans in academic year 2018-19). But suppose you can’t afford to make any loan payments while enrolled, nor can you afford to pay anything during your grace period.

When your grace period ends, you’ll still owe $1,000 on your Subsidized loan. But what you owe on your Unsubsidized Loan will have grown by 23.5%, to $1,235. This is your original principal amount of $1,000 plus $235 in unpaid interest that gets added to your Unsubsidized principal. By the time it’s paid in full, it’ll cost at least $2,600 to repay your fall Unsubsidized loan of $1,000.

But you may be able to minimize your Unsubsidized loan debt. Here are three ways:

•   Reduce Borrowing: You’re not required to borrow all, or any, of the loans you’re IMG_4582offered so, if you don’t need all your Unsubsidized loan, tell the financial aid office to downsize or cancel it before it’s disbursed.

•   Pay During School: Return Unsubsidized loan funds within 120 days of the day they’re disbursed. This’ll reduce your principal amount, and the government will cancel any interest and fees charged on the returned amount. Your aid office can usually help you do this.

•   Pay During Grace: Anything you pay during your grace period will reduce interest you owe. Contact your loan servicer about this.

So because Unsubsidized loan interest always gets charged, and because it’ll inflate the amount you repay, minimize Unsubsidized borrowing whenever you can, and prepay Unsubsidized interest whenever you can.

Contact College Affordability Solutions if you’re looking for strategies that’ll reduce your costs of borrowing for college.