Special Bulletin: Congress Considering Cuts to Student Aid Programs

On Monday the White House released its budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2019, which begins this coming October. The prospective budget is similar to HR 4508, the “Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform” IMG_0890(PROSPER) Act. This is a bill designed to revamp federal higher education programs. It will soon to be debated in the House.

If your student is now or likely will be a federal financial aid recipient, contact your  U.S. Representatives and Senators to let them know your thoughts on the proposed budget and HB 4508. Why? If Congress passes either as written, several federal student aid programs would be reduced or eliminated.

Subsidized Federal Direct Loans: Currently, no interest is charged on these loans until six months after their undergraduate borrowers leave college. But they would end for those first borrowing on or after July 1, 2019. Even at current interest rates, which are expected to rise, this would increase the cost of borrowing the $27,000 maximum allowed over 4 academic years by at least $2,800.

Income-Driven Repayment: Four repayment options would be replaced by one repayment plan requiring ex-students to pay 12.5%, instead of the current 10%, of their discretionary income toward their federal college debts. The repayment period would last 15 years instead of 20 to 30 years for undergraduates, and 30 years for graduate students. Discretionary income is the amount a borrower’s income exceeds 150% of poverty-level.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF): Any student first borrowing a federal loan on/after July 1, 2019 would be ineligible for PSLF.

Federal College Work-Study (FCWS): The budget would reduce FCWS funding by 49.5%. FCWS currently helps over 630 thousand students earn more than $1 billion a IMG_0891year to pay college costs. Graduate students would become ineligible for FCWS.

Federal Pell Grants: College costs keep rising, but the budget proposes to limit Pell Grants to the same amount as in FY 2019 as this year.

Pell Grant eligibility would be extended to students in short-term programs providing certificates, licenses, or other credentials for “in-demand fields”. For-profit vocational schools usually offer such programs, but their certificate earners average 1.5% higher unemployment rates, 11% lower earnings, and $5,000 more in student debt than students earning similar certificates at community colleges.

Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (FSEOGs): The FSEOG program, which provides extra grant dollars to approximately one million of the nation’s neediest Pell Grant recipients, would be eliminated.

Contact College Affordability Solutions at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com for a no-cost consultation you have questions about how to pay for college.


Special Bulletin: Tell Your Congressperson to Increase Federal Student Aid Appropriations

The U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Appropriations recently voted to send HR 3358 to the full House for debate and a vote. This bill appropriates funds forIMG_7979 federal student aid programs for federal Fiscal Year (FY) 2018.

Here’s a summary of HR 3358’s key financial aid provisions as currently written. But they’re not final yet, and you should tell your congressperson what you think about them. Visit during their August recess, or call or write them. For their contact information, go here and enter your zip code.

Federal Pell Grant

This program provides grants of $600 to $5,920 to the nation’s neediest students. It has a $4.3 billion surplus that could be used to increase the size of these grants or provide grants to additional needy students.

HR 3358 would reduce this surplus by $3.3 billion and keep Pell Grant amounts the same as they were in FY 2017. With inflation, this would reduce the Pell Grant’s “purchasing power” — the portion of college-related expenses covered by Pell. Furthermore, it would not provide Pell Grants to any more students.

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)

FSEOG goes to the poorest Pell Grant recipients — mostly those with family incomes below $30,000 per year.

HR 3358 would put the same amount into FSEOG for FY 2018 as that program received for FY 2017. FSEOG would be unable to help any additional students and its purchasing power would diminish

IMG_7978Note: As Pell Grant and FSEOG purchasing power decline, it’ll be necessary for colleges and states to divert more of their grant and scholarship dollars to help Pell and FSEOG-eligible students. This would reduce the numbers of college and state awards available to students who are not needy enough to receive Pell and FSEOG, but who still need plenty of financial assistance to go to or remain in college.

Federal Work-Study (FWS)

Hundreds of thousands of needy college student get part-time jobs through FWS. Most of these jobs are on-campus and many are related to students’ majors.

The administration proposed to cut FWS appropriations by 50%. But HR 3358 rejects this proposal and keeps FY 2018 FWS funding the same as it was for FY 2017. Still, there would be little or no opportunity for additional numbers of students to secure FWS jobs unless the program receives more funding.

Time to Act!

HR 3358 could affect your student’s financial aid even if he doesn’t receive Pell Grant, FSEOG, or FWS. So don’t sit on the sidelines! Make your voice heard!

Before College: College “Sticker Prices” Aren’t Necessarily Their Final Prices

This summer is the time for rising high school seniors to begin researching colleges they may want to attend. There’s much check out, including each school’s costs.

To get an idea of what it’ll cost to attend different colleges and universities, go to their websites and search for “Cost of Attendance 2018-19.” You might also want to use College Navigator from the National Center for Education Statistics, opening its IMG_6849“Tuition, Fees, and Estimated Student Expenses” page to track cost increases over the last four years.

Here’s an important point — 2018-19 college prices you see on websites and College Navigator are “sticker prices” and not necessarily final. Schools generally engage in “discounting” their tuition and fees and, sometimes, other student expenses.

Colleges offer discounts differently than auto dealers, although the end result is the same. Rather than reducing a student’s tuition and fees, they give him grants and especially scholarships to pay these charges. For recruiting purposes, prestigious institutional scholarship offers often impress families and help bring in students.

Public and private colleges both discount. A new study by the National Association of College and University Business Officers found that private non-profit colleges and universities provided institutional grants and scholarships to 87.9% of new freshmen and 78.5% of all undergraduates in 2016-17. Collectively, these awards discounted tuition and fees by 49.1% for freshmen and 44.2% for all undergraduates.

Why discount? One reason is increased price sensitivity by families still recovering from the recession. It’s also related to decreased numbers of traditional college-age students and increased competition from other institutions for, like all businesses, colleges must bring in customers to survive.

IMG_6850Not every student should expect grants and scholarships equal to the discounting percentages noted above. Financial need plays a role. So do the characteristics of students an institution seeks to enroll; some want higher SAT scores, or certain types of musicians, or students likely to succeed in various academic programs. Your student won’t know his actual discount rates until winter or early spring, when he receives official financial aid offers from the colleges to which he’s applied.

The important thing is this — don’t let a institution’s “sticker price” discourage your student from putting it on the list of colleges to which he’ll apply. If that price gets discounted, it may be much more affordable than he thinks.


Special Bulletin: Proposed Federal Budget Would Reportedly Makes Big Cuts in Programs for College Students and Graduates

The Washington Post reports it has received what a U.S. Education Department staff member described as “near final” documents showing the administration will IMG_6510recommend a 13.6% reduction in federal education spending next week. The budget proposal would reportedly affect federal financial assistance for college students as follows:

  • Child Care for Enrolled Parents: End a $15 million program helping to make child care affordable for low-income parents attending college.
  • Federal Direct Subsidized Loans: Make as yet unannounced cuts that could end this program, which currently serves financially needy students. If this happens, all federal loans for such students would be unsubsidized and begin compiling interest the day they are made — significantly increasing student borrowing costs.
  • Federal Pell Grants: Hold Pell Grants for the nation’s neediest undergraduates at their current levels ($606 to $5,920 for fall and spring combined). Due to inflation, this would decrease Pell’s future “purchasing power.” Some good news is that the budget would fund an extension of 2017’s summer Pell Grants in future years.
  • Federal Work-Study (FWS): Cut FWS funding by $490 million (almost half), significantly reducing federally subsidized on and off-campus jobs that financially needy students use to pay for college.
  • Income-Driven Repayment: Close down all current income-driven repayment plans available to federal college loan borrowers. These plans offer loan forgiveness for balances remaining after borrowers pay 10% to 20% of their incomes over 20 to 25 year periods. They would be replaced with a new income-driven option requiring payments equal to 12.5% of income and limiting loan forgiveness to balances still outstanding after 30 years of such payments.
  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF): Eliminate PSLF, which offers tax-free debt cancellation on federal student loan balances owed by ex-students in public service jobs after 10 years of on-time payment. Over 550,000 federal, state, local, and nonprofit employees are already registered for PSLF. It’s not yet clear whether they or public servants not yet registered would be cut off from It.IMG_6511

Presidents propose federal budgets, but Congress ultimately decides them. So if you support or oppose any of these proposed cuts, call or write your U.S. representative and senators to tell them how you feel.

College Affordability Solutions will post more bulletins on this website as additional information becomes available.


During College: Pell Grants Can Help Pay for Summer School 2017

Got an undergraduate who could benefit from summer school? Did she receive a Federal Pell Grant in the fall/spring? If so, here’s good news — Pell Grants will be available this summer!

Undergraduates who earn bachelor’s degrees in 4 years or less borrow 35% less in student loans, so this presents an opportunity for your student to speed her time to degree and reduce her college debt.

A new law funding the government through September includes an exception toIMG_6269 rules prohibiting Pell Grants for most summer students. So summer Pell recipients may get up to the same amount they received for a single semester or quarter earlier this academic year.

Summer Pell Grants rules are due by July 1, so we’ll have to wait for the actual terms and conditions of these grants. Also, Pell funds may not be available until early July, so your student should contact the financial aid office to explore short-term options (emergency loans, payment plans, etc.) for covering summer expenses until then.

Other things to remember about Pell and summer school . . .

Enrollment Status: To receive federal student aid for which she’s eligible, including Pell, your student must be a regular student in an eligible program of study. So she probably needs to take summer classes at the institution where she’s pursuing her degree, not at a community college as a “transient” student.

Grant Amount: Pell amounts are based on enrollment status — i.e. undergraduates enrolled full-time (generally 12 or more hours) get 100% of what they qualify for; students enrolled three-quarter time get 75%; half-timers get 50%; and those enrolled less-than-half-time get 25%.

IMG_6270Summer Costs and Other Summer Aid: Make sure your student avoids the trap of enrolling in summer courses but lacking sufficient funds to finish them despite her Pell Grant. The aid office’s website displays summer costs. Check out whether your student can get federal loans or other aid for summer — many Pell recipients use up their annual loan eligibility during fall/spring and some schools award all their work-study and state/institutional aid during fall/spring. Have your student call the aid office to see what’s available for summer.

This Summer Only: Summer Pell is currently available for 2017 only. Whether it’s there for future summers depends on what Congress does.

Affordable summer enrollment where she’s getting her degree may benefit your student more than summer employment or community college summer school. Check it out!

For strategies on getting the most out of the financial resources available to your student, contact College Affordability Solutions at collegeafford@gmail.com or (512) 366-5354.


Before College: Beware of “Bait and Switch”

Bait and switch is a sleazy practice in which some, though not all, supposedly reputable colleges and universities engage. These institutions include some but, again, not all, schools requiring mid-February enrollment deposits from students offered “early admission.”

Here’s how bait and switch works: (1) Unsuspecting freshmen are lured to a school with generous grant and scholarship (gift aid) offers that seem to significantly discount their 4-year cost of attendance. (2) The school manipulates its awards so all thor most of their recipients lose them after a year or two. The cancelled funds are then switched to bait future recruits. (3) Families suffering gift aid reductions must then borrow more or use more of their financial resources to keep their students at the school.

Not surprisingly, colleges don’t publicize bait and switch. You have to look for it before paying your student’s enrollment deposit. Here are some common practices and ways to spot them.

Renewable Non-Renewable Gift Aid

A big grant or scholarship is renewable for 4 years. But its renewal criteria — e.g. GPA, credit hours completed — are so grueling that few students meet them.

The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators’ Code of Conduct img_5441requires institutions to disclose grant and scholarship renewal criteria, but the criteria may be obscurely placed or written in a complicated way.

So carefully read the “fine print” on your student’s financial aid award letter or the school’s website, and honestly assess your student’s ability to meet gift aid renewal standards.

The Incredible Shrinking Gift Aid

The overall amount of gift aid awarded drops each year, even if the student’s ability to pay college costs holds steady or decreases.

img_5440To identify this practice, you generally have to pose direct questions to the financial aid staff about whether the school engages in it. Make sure you get clear, comprehensive answers.

Gift Aid Displacement

Gift aid originally awarded decreases as the student brings in other scholarships. They may be outside scholarships, but the financial aid office may also reduce gift aid it awarded due to scholarships from the school’s academic departments. The student typically looses a dollar for every other dollar received.

Federal and state rules sometimes force displacement because they prohibit the receipt of financial aid in excess of cost of attendance. But sometimes displacement is an institutional choice.

Ask the financial aid staff for the order in which it makes reductions if additional scholarships come in. Hopefully it’s unmet financial need first, loans second, and gift aid third. If it’s gift aid first, the school clearly employs displacement.

Need help scrutinizing the financial aid offers you’ve received from colleges and universities? Reach out to College Affordability Solutions at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com. 


Before College: Shop Comparatively Using the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet

Many colleges have begun sending newly admitted undergraduates “award letters” showing the types and amounts of financial aid they can expect if they enroll in those schools. If your high school senior hasn’t already received such letters, they’ll probably start arriving in the next few weeks.

So dust off your calculator because, just as with any major purchase, the key to college affordability is comparative shopping.

Unfortunately, no two award letters are alike. Each uses its own unique layout and terminology. Few offer consumer information you need to know about institutions. This makes it difficult to compare schools based on affordability.

img_5222That’s why the U.S. Department of Education created the “financial aid shopping sheet.” Thousands of colleges send it with their award letters, making it easier to compare key numbers about them.

The shopping sheet’s left side shows each school’s cost of attendance — the college’s “sticker price” for the upcoming academic year.

Next comes the grants and scholarships your student is set to receive at that college for that academic year. These discount sticker price to determine the college’s “net price.”

Then comes other types of financial aid — work-study, loans — being offered to help your student pay the school’s net price.

The shopping sheet’s right side also has useful data. These include 6-year graduation rates at universities and 3-year graduation rates at community colleges. Such rates show how schools compare to similar institutions in getting undergraduates across the finish line.

The sheet also discloses the percentage of the school’s alumni repaying their federal student loans three years after beginning to do so — indicating how well the school prepares students for gainful employment.

Finally, you’ll see the median amount the college’s students borrow in federal loans, and their median monthly payments. This can give a rough sense of how much debt your student might be burdened with to attend that school.

Schools use shopping sheets on a voluntary basis, but beware of colleges that don’t provide them. Why are they trying to make it more difficult for you to compare them with other institutions? What don’t they want you to know about their aid offers or graduation and borrowing data?

You should select a college based on many factors, but the shopping sheet gives you useful, easy-to-compare affordability information for this all-important decision.

College Affordability Solutions conducts affordability analyses on institutions students are considering, whether or not those institutions provide shopping sheets. Call (512) 366-5354 or email collegeafford@gmail.com for more information.