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Archive | September, 2014

September is College Savings Month – Let’s Talk College!

September is College Savings Month – Let’s Talk College!

collegesavingsWhile most people connect September with “back to school” season, not everyone may know that it’s also College Savings Month, a good reminder to parents to sit down as a family to evaluate and update their progress saving toward college goals. For some, it will be a simple check in and formal acknowledgment that everything’s on track. For others, it may be the first time that they’ve ever sat down and truly mapped out a plan. Regardless, families that prioritize and set goals together are accomplishing the most important part of the college savings process: communication.

In a time of rising college costs, one would hope that families are over-communicating to ensure that they’re able to cover all of the expenses at hand. But some high school students that we recently caught up with said otherwise, saying things like they “haven’t really talked about” saving for college with their parents. What’s more, Fidelity’s 8th annual College Savings Indicator Study[i] found that parents expect their children to pay an average of 35 percent of total college costs. With parents on track to save just 28 percent of their college savings goals, it’s no surprise that they’re turning to their children for help.

Having the college savings ‘talk’ is important.  Among parents with children 15 years or older, when having good conversations about school selection, choice of major, job prospects, earning potential and the meaning of student loans, more than two-thirds (69 percent) stated that they made adjustments to their plans.

So how can families get on the same page? The good news is that 64 percent of families have already started saving, but there’s always room to focus savings efforts and improve readiness. Here are five best practices that can take saving for college to the next level

(1) Make an actionable plan that can be followed

Fifty-nine percent of parents have a plan in place to help them reach their college goals. While they still have work to do, those with a plan are more likely to feel on track to reach their goal (52 percent) than those without (16 percent).

(2) Use a dedicated college savings account

Ninety-three percent of parents saving in a dedicated college account—like a 529 plan—say it helps them save and stay on track, while also separating college savings from other short-term goals. Families using 529 accounts feel more confident about how best to save, save more each month and are more likely to have talked to their children, creating a family plan to pay for college.  Making savings automatic can also help.  Setting up options such as direct deposit or automatic transfers from a checking account can make it easy.  Early and regular contributions are critical factors in building your savings.

(3) Identify new ways to save

You may recognize the need to save, but with so many other savings priorities, like day-to-day expenses, emergency funds and saving for retirement, don’t know how to find that extra dollar to save for college as well. Instead of thinking of ways to cut saving elsewhere, think of ways to take advantage of current spending. One option is a rewards credit card that can help earn money toward college savings. Another solution is asking friends and family. Many would likely welcome the opportunity to support college savings as a gift, especially grandparents. Fidelity’s Grandparents and College Savings Study found that 90 percent of grandparents said if asked, they would be likely to make a gift to college savings in lieu of traditional gifts for birthdays, holidays or other special occasions.

(4) Do the due diligence

The college saving process is often confusing, so study up on the essentials. Approximately half of parents reported they need additional education when it comes to how best to save for college, saying they either don’t know, or need more information about: what accounts are best to save (49 percent), how to invest savings (50 percent) or where to go for advice about college savings (48 percent).

(5) Look to the experts

You shouldn’t feel the need to go the college saving process alone. Six out of 10 parents report feeling overwhelmed by saving for college, but financial professionals, school counselors and college planning pros are available to help. Seven out of 10 families working with a professional feel confident that they have a good understanding of how best to save for college.

It’s never too early to get started on a college savings plan. In fact, those families who have discussions when their children are young are in a much better position to reach their savings goals. The earlier you broach the subject, the more time you have to learn about the college savings process, save, and adjust your plan accordingly.

Do you have a college savings plan in place?  Take advantage of College Savings Month to get your families college savings on the right track.

About the Author

Today’s guest article comes from Keith Bernhardt. He is vice president of college planning at Fidelity Investments.

The UNIQUE College Investing Plan, U.Fund College Investing Plan, Delaware College Investment Plan, and Fidelity Arizona College Savings Plan, are offered by the State of New Hampshire, MEFA, the State of Delaware, and the Arizona Commission for Postsecondary Education, respectively, and managed by Fidelity Investments.  If you or the designated beneficiary is not a New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Delaware, or Arizona resident, you may want to consider, before investing, whether your state or the designated beneficiary’s home state offers its residents a plan with alternate state tax advantages or other benefits. Units of the Portfolios are municipal securities and may be subject to market volatility and fluctuation.  Please carefully consider the Plan’s investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses before investing.  For this and other information on any 529 College Savings Plan managed by Fidelity, contact Fidelity for a free Fact Kit, or view online.  Read it carefully before you invest or send money. Keep in mind that investing involves risk. The value of your investment will fluctuate over time and you may gain or lose money. Fidelity Brokerage Services LLC, Member NYSE, SIPC, 900 Salem Street, Smithfield, RI 02917 699317.1.0 ©2014 FMR LLC.  All rights reserved.

[i] Fidelity Investments, 2014 College Savings Indicator Study, August 2014

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Online Learning Offers Creative Paths to Success

Online Learning Offers Creative Paths to Success

OnlineEducationAs the busyness bubble continues to expand, finding ways to achieve the dream of a college education often requires creative uses of time, energy, and resources. No longer can colleges and universities expect future students to pursue the one-size-fits-all path to an education.  More innovative delivery systems, especially online learning programs designed around one’s life and work, are now providing considerable access to degree completion.

According to the IPEDS Data Center as reported in Inside Higher Education, 5.5 million students took at least one online course in fall 2012, and of those “2.6 million were enrolled fully online programs,” a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the higher education community.

National University, a recognized leader among online universities, for example, is quickly “becoming the second-largest private, nonprofit institution of higher education in California and 12th largest in the United States.” Part of its growth stems from its commitment to providing broad-based offerings at convenient locations using creative delivery systems, including a One-Course-Per-Month approach. As per the school itself, using “a unique one-course-per-month format” gives students “unprecedented focus and flexibility.”

Joshua Kim, director of Digital Learning Initiatives at the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning, takes it a step further, noting that the “best thing about working on online and low-residency programs is the students.” In his words, “online learning creates opportunity. The online and low-residency programs that I worked on allowed students to work towards their degree while continuing to work. Or while living at home in the summer. They were able to move through courses without having to move. Online learning extends educational opportunities because online learning transcends challenges of distance, schedules and time.”

Whether a student’s goal is to finish a degree, begin from scratch or expand an area of professional expertise, higher education now finds itself continually re-imagining how to deliver an educational experience that meets and exceeds the expectations of students of all ages and backgrounds.

“Anyone who has ever worked in an online program understands how deeply the research on learning has come to define the methods for online course design,” Kim continued. “Online courses contain frequent opportunities to improve learning through low-stakes testing and rapid feedback. Students in online courses are encouraged to reflect on the material in journals and discussion boards.  Active and collaborative learning is always the goal.”

Pursuing an online program also has advantages financially for both students and the college or university. According to the Randy Best, chairman and CEO of Academic Partnerships, “the growing wave of digital students creates a meaningful financial opportunity for institutions, especially when online programs are priced at fair e-tuition rates that drive scale. Online learning allows institutions to expand into new markets, extend their brand and prestige beyond regional borders, while at the same time allowing them to tap into legions of new students, building their global alumni base and seeding future fund-raising efforts.”

 

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How to Conquer the Most Common Debt Problems

How to Conquer the Most Common Debt Problems

A whopping 35 percent of Americans have a nonmortgage bill that is 180 days or more overdue and is in collections, according to the report “Delinquent Debt in America” released by the Urban Institute in July. The average total amount in collections is $5,178 per person. Debt in collections can remain on your credit report for up to seven years, and if you don’t check your report regularly, you may not even realize you have an unpaid bill in there.

If you’re facing a debt situation, get proactive. Learn how to bring it under control and fix your finances as fast as possible. Here’s some help with the most common types of debt:

Student Loans

Chain&BallThe average graduate’s student loan debt has risen to $29,400, according to the latest Project on Student Debt report from The Institute for College Access & Success. While student loans have advantages over other types of debt, such as lower interest rates, longer deferment periods and more flexible repayment policies, they can be tough to pay off while you’re making the transition to the work force, buying a house and building a family.

The best way to manage student loan debt is to keep it from piling up in the first place, using strategies such as savings funds, grants, scholarships and internships. If you’ve already got obligations to pay off, the Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid site provides a guide to various repayment options, including consolidation, deferment, forbearance and forgiveness.

Credit Cards

The average American owes $4,501 in credit card debt with a revolving utilization debt-to-limit ratio of 30 percent and a 0.43 incidence of late payments, according to Experian’s latest State of Credit report, published in November 2013. The higher your debt-to-limit ratio goes, the more negatively it impacts your credit score, and FICO experts advise keeping your balance between 10 to 20 percent of your limit for an optimal rating while taking care to avoid late payments.

When you find your balance has gotten too high, designate a portion of your monthly budget toward reducing your debt. If you receive regular payments from a structured settlement or annuity, consider selling your future payments to a company like J.G. Wentworth for a lump sum of cash now. You could then use this money to help pay down your credit cards.

Mortgages

The average mortgage debt stands at $37,952 around the country, according to the Urban Institute’s report, with regional variations from $24,605 in some parts of the South to $54,573 on the Pacific Coast. The best way to prevent mortgage debt is to first carefully consider how much house you can afford. If necessary, you can find a country-specific mortgage calculator to help you get the info you need in the correct currency since some people do buy houses in other countries. Figure out how your projected mortgage payments stack up against your monthly gross income and your debt-to-income ratio. The Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation provides an online guide to help you navigate these numbers, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development offers additional information on financing options.

If you’ve already got a mortgage and you’re having trouble keeping up with payments, the FTC outlines various repayment strategies you can pursue, including applying for a loan modification under the Making Home Affordable Modification Program, as well as other alternatives to default and foreclosure, such as reinstatement and repayment plans.

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Classroom Tech Integration – Improve Learning Outcomes and Save Students Money

Classroom Tech Integration – Improve Learning Outcomes and Save Students Money

ClassroomTech

A majority of teachers don’t use social media in the classroom, despite most of them using it in their daily lives. The reasons for this are fairly self-explanatory; teachers either don’t see how social media and technology can be adopted for the purpose of education, or they do see the benefits but are scared off by the potential risks. Though there may be some validity to both of these trains of thought, ultimately, the benefits of adopting social media and technology in the classroom far outweigh the negatives.

If you haven’t yet adopted social media in your classroom, now is the right time to reevaluate your position – it could (read: will) benefit you and your students.

Why Social Media is the Future of Student Outreach

Social media is no longer a simple distraction. Individuals, particularly young men and women and teens, are increasingly turning to social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to communicate with friends, stay abreast of family members’ whereabouts, digest up-to-date news on local and international events, and go about their day-to-day. What this means for educators is simple: there now exists another medium through w

hich you can communicate and interact with your students. Teacher-student communication no longer has to end when the bell rings at the end of the day.

If you don’t yet appreciate the difference such a connection can make, consider this example. If a student misses class due to an illness, there aren’t very many avenues available to you, the educator, to inform this student of the day’s studies and homework assignments. True, you can try to contact the phone number you have on record, but how often does that work? With social media, you can place your entire syllabus online, for all to see, at all times. And you can be confident that the missing student will see this information. Social media allows you to leverage a platform that puts you in touch with your students more often, in more places.

How to Use Social Media and Technology to Your Advantage

Ultimately, social media is a communication platform. Whether you’re using Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or some other website, you are using a tool that allows you to share information with a large group of people, in real time – and in turn, those individuals can respond and engage. Social media platforms enable conversations to take place. Think about how you can leverage that ability. You can host a post-class debate on a topic that has recently been covered in the coursework. You can conduct a Q&A. You can counsel a student online, in private. Or you can host a Live Tweet event for a significant occurrence – say, the President’s State of the Union Address.

Your tools shouldn’t be limited to the Internet, though. Consider bringing hardware into the classroom to facilitate a more engaging learning environment. Tablet uses are many, and this truth seems to have caught on in the educational realm. The tablet has slowly started to infiltrate its way into classrooms across the country, and for good reason: they can be tremendous learning tools. If social platforms enable conversation anywhere, at any time, tablets enable the traditional blackboard (nay, whiteboard) to be re-imagined, shrunken down, and placed into a book bag. With tablet uses as varied as they are, how you use the device in your classroom is really up to you. As the cliché goes, “the sky’s the limit.”

Social Media and Tech Integration Improve Learning Outcomes and Save Students Money

Yes, that’s correct, technology gives students a huge advantage because of all the educational apps and programs that are available. For instance, if a student needs tutoring in a subject, instead of hiring a person at a steep hourly rate, he or she can select form a myriad of apps and programs that can help in all the same ways a real person can. The student is also able to do it on his or her own time. Students can also access a ton of different social media platforms and conversations to get help with subjects, studying, projects, etc. Learning becomes all-encompassing and tailored to each student, which is helping raise learning outcomes. This means less flunking and less repeating of course, which saves money as well!

Special Considerations: Remember Internet Etiquette

It’s important that you take certain precautions when branching out into the social realm. You cannot engage with students in the same manner, or on the same level, as you do your peers, friends and family. You must maintain a professional and authoritative discourse at all times. To ensure you don’t accidentally overstep your bounds or find yourself in trouble, follow these simple steps:

  • Don’t use your personal account to engage with students
  • Don’t peruse, interact with, or “like” your students’ pages
  • Exercise prudence when posting photos onto your professional accounts
  • Avoid potentially controversial topics, such as politics and religion

In plain terms, stick to the basics, such as that day’s homework assignment or the next day’s coursework. Being mindful of these considerations will allow you to effectively – and safely – teach from home. That is the power of social media. So what are you waiting for?

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Tech Tools: What You Need to Succeed in College

Tech Tools: What You Need to Succeed in College

Male University Student Using Digital Tablet In LectureCollege is expensive. The tuition is bad enough—you haven’t even considered all of your tech related expenses. You go to class, and everybody there has an iPad, tablet or laptop and you have seventeen boxes of number two pencils because that’s all you can afford. While that last part might not be true, tech-outfitted classrooms aren’t rare. Here are three gadgets that will help you keep up.

Virtual & Portable Keyboard

You can’t get a laptop, tablet or iPad because they’re too expensive, and you don’t want to take on a third job. So who needs one? Just use your phone. With the Celluon Epic* you can turn your favorite device into a laptop. Just flip the switch, pair it with your phone (or any of your devices) via Bluetooth, and you’re good to go.

The Epic* is a small device (seven ounces, two inches tall) that you can sit on any flat surface, and it will laser-project a virtual full-sized keyboard onto that surface. It has a mouse feature that tracks your finger’s movements; with certain gestures you can right-click, zoom in and out, and go forward or backward.

Take Notes

Toss your notebooks and binders, and simplify your note taking with some help from your smartphone. The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (equipped with a 5.7-inch HD screen) is perfect for students because it features an innovative note taking platform. Use a stylus or S Pen to take notes, during lecture or use Action Memo to write down your to-do list. This tool can even convert what you write into an email or text with the “link to action” feature.

This tool will be crucial during your first few weeks at college. Between meeting new people, learning about clubs and organizations, or rushing a fraternity or sorority, this tool can help you keep connected and take notes on the fly.

Charge up with Solar

College students don’t just go to class and back to their dorm room—they go everywhere. The library for study sessions, the student union to grab a bite to eat and then it’s off to that job. And you can’t bet on the assumption that these places are going to have charging stations or power supply available. In today’s technology driven world, where lectures are hosted online, e-books are read, and course communication is accessed on the Web—when you go to campus you have lug around all of your tech stuff and that backpack can get heavy, fast. Ditch your chargers and cut some of the weight of your backpack by investing in a wearable portable solar charger, like a backpack.

The SolarGoPack is not just a backpack, it’s also a charger for all your devices. It has a detachable solar panel on the outside surface so that you can charge your devices using the sun as your power source. In direct sunlight it takes three hours to charge the lithium ion battery. When it’s fully charged, it can charge your phone in less than a half an hour. It comes with an eight piece charging kit so that you can charge multiple devices too.

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