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.
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The 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 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.

College Affordability Solutions Topical Index

This index links to almost 90 articles. Each describes an wat to make college more affordable. Use them to learn how to do this before, during, or after college

And don’t forget! On August 15, 2018, new articles will be posted here every Wednesday.

Before College

College Finance Plan

Cost Reduction Strategies

College Costs

College Search and Selection

Credit Cards

Deadlines

Dependent and Independent Students

FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)

Financial Aid Application Processes

Financial Aid Offers

Grants

Money Management

Parent Borrowing

Private Student Loans

Saving and Investing for College

Scams and Rip-Offs

Scholarships

Seeking Financial Assistance

Student Loans

Tuition and Fees

Value of Postsecondary Education

Verification

During College

College Finance Plan

Cost Reduction Strategies

Credit Cards

FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)

Financial Aid Offers

Grants

Money Management

Off-Campus Housing

Parent Borrowing

Private Student Loans

Scams and Rip-Offs

Scholarships

Seeking Financial Assistance

Student Loans

Tax Benefits for Higher Education

Working While in College

After College

College Finance Plan

Consolidation and Refinancing

Debt Forgiveness and Cancellation

Grace Period

Missed Payment

Repayment of College Loans

Repayment Assistance

Repayment Problems

Tax Benefits for College Loan Repayment

During College: Strategies for Your College Finance Plan

Your College Finance Plan (CFP) needs strategies for you and you student toIMG_9592 implement before, during, and after college. Let’s look at the “During College” phase.

Research at a major university indicates that, looking back, almost 4 out of every 10 seniors conclude part or all of their student loans weren’t essential for their educations. Therefore, some of these strategies focus on personal money management so students can spend and borrow less of the interest-bearing educational debt that, over time, increases college costs. These include:

IMG_9555Also, the faster your student gets her degree, the less cost and debt she’ll incur. Still, the latest national data show that only 39.8% of undergraduates earn their bachelor’s degrees within 4 years. Here are some strategies that’ll help your student graduate on-time, if not before:

 

Look here for why you need a CFP. You can find summaries of strategies for your plan’s “Before College” phase here. And next Wednesday there’ll be samples of “After College” strategies for your CFP here.
Beginning October 16, check this website every Wednesday for a more detailed account of a strategy you may want to use in your CFP’s before, during, or after college phase.

Before College: Strategies for Your College Finance Plan

It’s best to begin your College Finance Plan’s (CFP’s) “Before College” phase when your child is born, if not before. But don’t give up if you didn’t. Instead, get going as soon as you can.

Consider initiating these strategies as your student gets closer and closer to college:

Birth through Junior High:

  • Invest and Save. Let time multiply your money, even if you can only put away a little. For example, a $50 month deposit into a 1% savings account beginning at birth will yield $14,820 through college commencement.
  • Prepare Your Child to Pursue Scholarships. Some scholarships are awarded IMG_9375based on grades and test scores, some stress essay and interview responses, and others go to students with strong resumes. So help your student do well academically, develop verbal and written communication skills, and persist in extracurricular and leadership activities she enjoys.
  • Identify a General Career Direction. He needn’t decide on cardiovascular surgery by age 15, but helping him develop in broad subject areas about which he’s passionate can save your student from being among the 80% who change majors — some two or three times — generating extra costs for extra courses.

High School through Junior Year

High School Senior Year:

  • Apply for Aid. Filing the FAFSA is a necessity. If your student’s seeking institutional or state aid, too, other application forms may be required.
  • Analyze Affordability When Selecting a College. Public data can help project what you’ll pay for a degree from each school to which your student is accepted.
  • Select a Good Fit. Fit helps reduce the chances of your student transferring, which amplifies tuition costs for repeating courses not accepted by his new school.

Why implement a College Finance Plan? Go to “Before, During, and After College: You Need a Plan!” for answers. A review of “During College” strategies will be posted on this website October 2, and “After College” strategies will be outlined here October 9. More in-depth discussions of individual strategies can be found here through the end of academic year 2017-18.

Contact College Affordability Solutions at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com for free help if you have questions about your CFP.

Before and During College: Beginning October 1, File Your 2018-19 FAFSA ASAP!

IMG_8872If you’ll have a student in college between July 2018 and June 2019, apply for financial aid on October 1 or as soon thereafter as possible. That’s when the 2018-19 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) first becomes available to you on the government’s secure FAFSA website.

Why hurry? Regardless of institutional FAFSA deadlines, some schools quietly use FAFSA submission dates to determine the order in which they award institutional grants and scholarships, so those submitting FAFSAs early may have a better shot at these limited funds. Also, if your FAFSA data are selected for verification, early submission gives you more time to gather and supply documents you need.

No worries if your student doesn’t yet know where she’ll attend college next year. She can direct her FAFSA to 10 different institutions, and more later if needed.

The 2018-19 FAFSA needs 2016 federal 1040 data. The easiest, most accurate way to get this is to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT). For 2018-19, there’ll be an opportunity to do this in the FAFSA’s student and parent Financial Information sections.

If you previously submitted a FAFSA but your student qualified for nothing but federal loans, why submit again? Two reasons. First, even small changes in your family and financial situations can impact eligibility for need-based grants, scholarships, and part-time work study jobs. Second, your student won’t re-qualify for past loan awards without a new FAFSA.

There are online answers to various FAFSA questions you may have including, but not limited to:

All colleges require the FAFSA, but some may require other forms to apply for state or institutional aid. Check on this with the financial aid office wherever your student may attend.

Two final notes:IMG_8873

  • If you don’t yet have an FSA ID, you’ll need it to do the FAFSA. Establish it at FAFSA.ed.gov.
  • Be sure to do your FAFSA at FAFSA.ed.gov. Otherwise, you may get scammed into paying a fee to submit this free form.

Hard to believe it’s already time to apply for next year’s financial aid, isn’t it? But remember, the early bird gets the worm . . . and better yet, the financial aid!

College Affordability Solutions brings 40 years experience to advising families on issues related to financial aid. Got questions? Call (512) 366-5354 or email collegeafford@gmail.com for a no-fee consultation.

Special Bulletin: Help’s Available for Current and Ex-College Students Affected by Hurricane Harvey

 

A little-known fact is that the U.S. Department of Education (ED) has policies in place to help currently-enrolled college students hurt by federally-declared natural disasters such as Hurricane Harvey. These policies also provide relief to disaster-affected ex-students and parents struggling to repay their federal loans.

A description of these policies, and what should be done to use them, is available on the Federal Student Aid (FSA) Programs’ Hurricane Harvey web page. Texas counties that have been declared federal disaster areas are listed on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Hurricane Harvey web page.

Here are some examples these policies:

  • Aid Eligibility: Harvey will no doubt undermine the ability of many families to come up with the money they planned to provide their students for the 2017-18 academic year. Students from such families should file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to request aid. If they’ve already filed their FAFSAs, students should contact their campus financial aid offices to learn what documentation is needed for them to request “professional judgment” reviews that can determine if they qualify for additional financial aid.
  • Damaged or Lost Documents: Sometimes students are required provide certain documents before getting their aid to verify the accuracy of their FAFSA data. If these documents have been damaged or lost due to Harvey, students should notify their financial aid offices. ED has given those offices the authority to not require those documents in such situations.
  • Dropping Out: Some student who’ve already received their fall financial aid may need to drop out to go home and help their families recover from Harvey. Such students should contact their financial aid offices and let them know why they are dropping out. In these circumstances, ED allows schools to waive a regulatory requirement that usually compels drop-outs to pay back federal grants received for the fall.
  • Temporary Postponement of Loan Payments: Many ex-student and parent borrowers are likely to find their ability to make federal educational loan payments disrupted because Harvey adversely affected them. Such borrowers should contact the “loan servicers” (contractors Washington hired to collect their federal debts) and request “administrative forbearances.” These forbearance allow affected borrowers to postpone their federal education loan payments for up to three months. Ex-students can get contact information for their loan servicers through the government’s National Student Loan Data System.

In the wake of all the problems stemming from Hurricane Harvey, current and ex-student borrowers who need help should review and use these policies!

Contact College Affordability Solutions at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com.