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Archive | June, 2011

The College Ranking That Nobody Wants To Be On

The College Ranking That Nobody Wants To Be On

Holding true to the Higher Education Opportunity Act legislation, the Department of Education has started it’s own ranking system for colleges and universities. It is called the College Affordability and Transparency List (or CATL for short).

The government has always asked colleges and universities to report statistical data (including costs) every year through the IPEDS survey (Integrated Post-secondary Education Data System) but this is the first year that the financial data will be made widely available for families to sort through, compare, and contrast based upon specific criteria.

The purpose of this list is aimed at highlighting the schools that have the highest prices AND the highest rate of price increases. Schools at the top of this list for the three year period preceding the release of this list will be required to submit additional reports to the Secretary of Education. From what I understand, over 500 colleges will be required to execute the additional reporting piece this year.

The statistics of the data being presented are a little shocking (maybe even mind-numbing) but numbers don’t lie and usually speak for themselves.  Should you use this data to help you in your college search process? Maybe, but I would probably advise against it. These numbers are already a couple years old and since they provide a statistical average, your individual financial outlook at one of these colleges may actually be better or worse than the average.

Below are a few different categories that I pulled from the CATL report. If you would like to play around with the data and run your own reports or check out your favorite college or university to see where it stands amongst the others, click here to give it a whirl.

4-year Private Schools With The Highest Percentage Increase In Tuition From 2008-2010

Institution State 2007-08 2009-10 % Increase
Wells College NY $17,810 $29,680 67
Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture AZ $18,585 $30,100 62
Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science CA $7,100 $11,300 59
Sage College of Albany† NY $18,440 $27,790 51
John Dewey College-University Division PR $3,560 $5,000 40
International Baptist College AZ $6,930 $9,660 39
Jamestown College ND $11,535 $16,006 39
Trinity Lutheran College WA $14,170 $19,425 37
Bluefield College VA $13,180 $18,020 37

4-year Public Schools With The Highest Percentage Increase In Tuition From 2008-2010

Institution State 2007-08 2009-10 % Increase
Northern New Mexico College NM $1,668 $2,522 51
Florida State College at Jacksonville FL $1,714 $2,553 49
San Diego State University-Imperial Valley Campus CA $2,906 $4,260 47
Georgia State University GA $5,147 $7,498 46
California State University-East Bay CA $3,345 $4,872 46
California State University-Stanislaus CA $3,330 $4,840 45
California State University-Chico CA $3,690 $5,336 45
Alabama State University AL $4,508 $6,468 43
California State University-Northridge CA $3,350 $4,801 43

4-year Private Schools With The Highest Net Tuition Price (after financial aid)

Institution State Net Price(1)
Art Center College of Design CA $39,672
The New School NY $39,004
School of the Art Institute of Chicago IL $38,965
The Boston Conservatory MA $37,798
California Institute of the Arts CA $36,997
Manhattan School of Music NY $36,208
Rhode Island School of Design RI $35,991
Pratt Institute-Main NY $35,506
Santa Clara University CA $35,245
Northwestern Health Sciences University MN $35,062

4-year Public Schools With The Highest Net Tuition Price (after financial aid)

Institution State Net Price(1)(2)
The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio TX $24,192
University of Guam GU $23,902
St. Mary’s College of Maryland MD $21,468
Rowan University NJ $19,344
Miami University-Oxford OH $19,305
Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus PA $19,056
Pennsylvania State University-Penn State Altoona PA $18,878
Pennsylvania State University-Penn State Erie-Behrend College PA $18,857
University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh Campus PA $18,786
Pennsylvania State University-Penn State Berks PA $18,048

4-year Private Schools With The Lowest Net Tuition Price (after financial aid)

Institution State Net Price(1)
Universidad Teologica del Caribe PR $82
Talmudical Academy-New Jersey NJ $469
Colegio Pentecostal Mizpa PR $1,776
Baptist Missionary Association Theological Seminary TX $1,876
John Dewey College-University Division PR $1,956
Turtle Mountain Community College ND $2,031
Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico-Ponce PR $2,208
Southeastern Baptist College MS $2,699
Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem of America NY $2,839
Our Lady of Holy Cross College LA $2,874

4-year Public Schools With The Lowest Net Tuition Price (after financial aid)

Institution State Net Price(1)(2)
Sitting Bull College ND $938
Escuela de Artes Plasticas de Puerto Rico PR $995
South Texas College TX $1,317
University of Puerto Rico-Aguadilla PR $1,591
The University of Texas-Pan American TX $1,646
Indian River State College FL $2,138
University of Puerto Rico-Bayamon PR $2,345
California State University-Dominguez Hills CA $2,451
California State University-Los Angeles CA $3,263
Elizabeth City State University NC $3,335

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College LIFE Act – The Silver Bullet for Financial Literacy?

College LIFE Act – The Silver Bullet for Financial Literacy?

Trying to incorporate financial literacy programs into a campus setting has been the goal of many colleges and universities in the past year (and probably will be for the upcoming academic year as well). Some schools have been very successful in weaving a financial literacy component into their campus framework and others are still trying to get something up and running. Regardless of where these schools find themselves in the process, I am glad to see financial literacy starting to garner some attention. It truly is a win-win for the college and the student.

While most colleges and universities have been implementing these financial literacy programs voluntarily, it appears that new legislation is being proposed that will make the campus based programs mandatory.

Senator Daniel Akaka, representing the great state of Hawaii, recently proposed the College LIFE Act (College Literacy and Finance and Economics Act of 2011) to help introduce financial literacy among young adults attending college.

What The Bill Mandates For Colleges and Universities (excerpt from bill)

Each eligible institution shall provide financial literacy counseling to student borrowers in accordance with the requirements of this subsection, through—financial aid offices; an employee or group of employees designated; or a partnership with a nonprofit organization that has substantial experience developing or administering financial literacy and economic education curricula.

Financial literacy counseling, as required under this subsection, shall be provided to student borrowers on the following 2 occasions: (i) ENTRANCE COUNSELING.— not later than 45 days after the first disbursement of a borrower’s first loan; (ii) EXIT COUNSELING.— prior to the completion of the course of study.

MINIMUM COUNSELING REQUIREMENTS.—Such financial literacy counseling shall include a total of not less than 4 hours of Entrance Counseling and an additional period of not less than 4 hours of Exit Counseling. A total of not more than 2 hours of counseling for each shall be provided electronically.

What The Bill Hopes To Accomplish

  • Financial literacy counseling under the College LIFE Act would teach the Financial Education Core Competencies – earning, spending, saving, borrowing, and protection
  • This financial literacy counseling would complement existing loan counseling activities
  • Provide sound financial footing (independence) for students entering and leaving college
  • Help to reduce Cohort Default Rate on repayment of student loans

My Personal Impression Of The College LIFE Bill (my two cents)

It is hard to argue with a bill that is promoting financial literacy for our young adults. My belief is that the more we teach financial literacy the better our society will be in the long-run. It is important that everyone (young and old) regardless of socioeconomic background be afforded the opportunity to learn the basics of financial literacy.

All that being said, I think Senator Daniel Akaka may be missing the boat on this legislation and here are my reasons why:

  1. Have you ever tried to get a college student (or anyone for that matter) to sit down with you for 4 hours to go over anything? Senator Akaka is proposing that college students do a 4 hour session once when they go to college and another when they leave. Granted, his bill allows for 2 hours of each session to be done electronically but the other 2 hours require direct face-to-face time.
  2. Has anyone read the news lately about the state budget cuts and all the financial hits that colleges and universities have had to absorb across the nation? Mandating another unfunded requirement such as this is surely going to bring many schools to their knees.
  3. I think the bill deserves recognition but if you really want to help all the people, shouldn’t we come up with something a little more comprehensive that helps everyone and not just those going to college? If a person is going to college, I am thinking that they are already taking a little initiative to better themselves along with their financial aptitude. Let’s branch out a little..

I don’t have the ultimate solution (or alternative) to the College LIFE Act but if college age students are our intended target, I think we should implement programs that work best with their time schedules and within their technical expectations. Which is why I think Online Financial Literacy Resources are critical to reaching young adults. Throwing in a smattering of in-the-classroom interactive presentations probably wouldn’t hurt either.

At the end of the day, we all want people (old and young) to have a better understanding of the basics of financial literacy. The delivery of the information should be tailored for each population and each setting that we are trying to reach and should not be disseminated by a blanket mandate across the board. I believe that the College LIFE Act is a good attempt, it just needs some tweaking (and maybe some input by college age students as well as school administrators) to help it gain more footing and relevancy in the college arena.

Click here if you would like to see a copy of the proposed bill. If you have thoughts on the College LIFE Act, feel free to leave a comment below.

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Summer Job For Students (video)

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CheapScholar Ranked In Top 100 Financial Blogs

CheapScholar Ranked In Top 100 Financial Blogs

The good people over at have an ongoing ranking that references hundreds of the many thousands of financial blogs available out on the web. The ranking looks at a number of categories (Social Media Presence, Search Engine Optimization, Alexa Rankings, Site Traffic, etc…), and puts them through an algorithm that provides a final score – known as a Wise Score. This score applies the final ranking to the various sites and then lists them in numerical order.

Based upon all of the above, was recently ranked number 85 in the Top 100 Financial Blogs.  Below is a snapshot of our standing. As you can imagine, I am very humbled and honored to be ranked with more seasoned veteran bloggers like Bargaineering and SquawkFox.

Since the rankings are fluid and subject to change, it is possible that may go up or down on future updates. However, I will gladly accept our current ranking and take it as a sign that we are successfully doing good things for others by “Helping to Make College Affordable”.

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Connor Quinn – The New King of Outside Scholarships

Connor Quinn – The New King of Outside Scholarships

Outside scholarships play a key role in helping college bound students pay for their educational expenses. Billions upon billions of scholarship dollars are given away by organizations, companies, and foundations every year. So, how do you make sure that you are the recipient of some of those extra college funding awards? Connor Quinn takes a fairly simple approach to receiving outside scholarships. He recently revealed in an article that “The money is out there, so you might as well try and get it”.

Connor is a graduating senior from Sacramento, California and he plans on attending the University of Texas-Austin this coming fall semester. And, thanks to his unwavering commitment to landing outside scholarships, he will be bringing an additional $22,700 with him to help cover his education expenses. Connor has applied to over 80 scholarship programs and has secured at least 22 of them.

Connor provided the following useful tips for securing outside scholarships:

  • Organization Is Key: Connor set up an excel spreadsheet tracking all the deadlines, dollar amounts, and (hopefully) winnings
  • Don’t Overlook The Small Ones: Connor went after any and all scholarships and didn’t let the dollar amount sway him from applying.
  • Local Scholarships Score: Out of the 22 scholarship awards received by Connor, 13 of them were from local groups and organizations.
  • Repeat and Reuse Essays: If the writing topic is applicable to multiple scholarship programs, then you should definitely not hesitate to submit the same essay.

Kudos to Connor Quinn for showing us that with a little perseverance and a whole lot of research, it is possible to land some outstanding results when it come to outside scholarships.

If Connor’s story has inspired you to start your outside scholarship search process, I encourage you to check out CheapScholar’s Scholarship Resource Center for some great tips and information to help you along the way.

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Help a Reader: FAFSA Questions and Answers (Part 2)

Help a Reader: FAFSA Questions and Answers (Part 2)

I get a number of questions/emails from readers and I respond to every one of them. The following represent a sampling of FAFSA questions received over the past couple of months. Hope this helps…

Continued from Part 1

Question 7: My husband is 40% owner in a small family farming business which is actively participating in the growing, harvesting, packing & shipping of onions.  Their business is incorporated.  Our 2010 income, between the W2 & K form, looks as if it was quite high since we had to show 40% of the total income of the company as our own income.  However, we did not pocket all of that money.  My husband & his partner take a set salary each month.  The amount above and beyond his normal salary remains in the company.  Because of the incorporation, it looks as if my husband earned 40% of a rather large amount of money in 2010.  But the reality is, the majority of it never entered our hands.  How do we fill out the income portion of the FAFSA?  Is the amount beyond our actual W2 income amount considered a deductible amount since it actually isn’t part of our personal gross income? And how would we figure out what our adjusted family gross income would be?

Answer 7: Unfortunately, you will have to report the income from the farm when you are filling out your FAFSA.There really is no way around it. However, you can always follow up (appeal) with each of the financial aid offices and, utilizing a process called “professional judgment”, they may make some sort of concession and adjust your FAFSA results (EFC) on the back end.  Unfortunately though, 90% of the situations like yours usually don’t get an adjustment.. But it never hurts to ask right?

Question 8:
My wife and I divorced in 2008 – she makes more money and is now remarried.  Household income could be $250,000.00.  I make $85,000.00 and do have my girls more than she.

Do I simply put in my income, and that amount will be split? (it was $20,000.00 for the 2010/2011 academic year and I paid $10,000.00).  Shouldn’t she have to pay more?  We used my income for the EFC this year.  Does the govt. look at both incomes?  Both household incomes?  I am unlikely to remarry, thus am a single income dad, but feel this is not fair to me.

Answer 8: The FAFSA would only require your income if you are the parent that provides more support for the girls. Your ex-wife would not be required to complete the FAFSA. And since her household income is greater, that is probably a good thing when calculating the EFC.

As far as each of you paying your fair share of the tuition expense… the government doesn’t care much about that and doesn’t dictate that through the FAFSA process or through the college. The only entity that can enforce that is the court system and usually it is done at the time of the divorce and drafted in the paperwork who is responsible for what. So.. your only recourse is to go back to the judge and see about a different dollar amount being allocated based upon household income. Your other option is to withhold a portion or all of your payment but that puts a lot of undue stress on your student and it also puts you into contempt of court if your are supposed to being paying half per the divorce decree.

Question 9: Just sitting here being curious about an expected 2011 FAFSA response to my situation. For next school year I will have one in college, rather than two. I lost my $69,000/yr job last July and have been on unemployment only since October (after my severance ran out). All the jobs I have looked at and interviewed for pay about $20,000 less than I was making (and there is no other income to include from a parent).  I already was able to fill out special circumstance forms for the two schools for the Spring semester and both kids are eligible for a little more grant or loan money.  If I can file the FAFSA very early, is there a chance I will have a response so the schools can estimate a bill for next fall to help with Plus or Student Loan applications(or to even adjust the remaining 2010-11 yr payment more if I am not yet employed and am still on unemployment only in January or February?)

Answer 9: Yes.. The earlier you file your FAFSA the sooner the schools will have an estimated financial aid package put together for you. However, most schools will not be setting costs for next year until February and March (early spring) so you will not be able to get a full picture of your net expense until that time.

You probably won’t experience any further adjustment for the 2010-2011 academic year. But, if your situation persists, you may be able to file special circumstance paperwork along with your 2011-2012 FAFSA to help paint a more accurate picture of your financial situation for the coming academic year. It still may be worth dropping a line to each of the Financial Aid Offices to see if they can provide any more help. Each school is different and you may be surprised (in a positive way) of their response.

Question 10: I am 43 and returning to school to complete my undergraduate degree now being faced with divorce.  I have a son in college OOS on a full academic scholarship (not related to FAFSA).  I completed a FAFSA for the Spring session and qualified for a total of $3,300.00 of aid based on the information provided.  I understand that only half of this can be used in the Spring.  It is enough for community college, but not a university tuition.  This was based on filing married and using my spouse’s income.  I do not work.  We can file for divorce at any time and will need to before he leaves the country in January.  Will this increase my chances of obtaining financial aid?  I don’t know if my high school age daughter and I will be forced to move in with my mom, but other than the items in the house that we can sell, he will not be providing any support for either of us.  I need to finish my education, but obviously will not have the means to do so without assistance at this point.  Do you advise filing before January 1st?  If so, how much do you think this will help with my financial aid?

Answer 10: If you are planning on a divorce, you will want to legally have your divorce finalized prior to filing for your FAFSA. You can file the divorce at anytime but you just need to make sure that you don’t file your FAFSA until after the divorce is finalized. When you complete the FAFSA it reflects all your information as of the day that you file the FAFSA. So, you can finalize your divorce on a Monday and file your FAFSA on Tuesday with a single status.

Without delving into a number of questions, I am uncertain to how much ($$$) your single status will help your financial aid situation. However, I can tell you that it should impact it in a positive manner.

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Help a Reader: FAFSA Questions and Answers (Part 1)

Help a Reader: FAFSA Questions and Answers (Part 1)

I get a number of questions/emails from readers and I respond to every one of them. The following represents a sampling of FAFSA questions received over the past couple of months. Hope this helps…

Question 1: We are filling out the FAFSA application with my son. My father (the student’s grandfather) owns a rental business in which I (student’s father) am 1/6th owner. I’ve been issued non-voting common stock in the company, along with my siblings, but we receive no income. However, my stocks have an estimated value of $500,000. Is there a way to list this on the application but also explain that this provides us with no income? Not sure if this makes sense, but listing $500,000 in stock makes us sound a lot more well off than we really are! Thanks for any guidance you can provide.

Answer 1: Unfortunately, the stock will have to be listed on your FAFSA in the asset column. The only thing you can do is reach out to the Financial Aid Office at the college and explain your situation to them to see if they can utilize professional judgment to adjust your EFC and corresponding financial aid package.. They may not be able to do anything but it never hurts to ask…

Question 2: Hello, my question is about a divorced student.  All of the answers I see are for students with divorced parents.  My divorce was final last week, and I really want to continue my education.  With my ex-husband’s income on our most recent tax paperwork, our income shows over $120,000.  Without his income, it will fall to under $40,000.  Is it possible to show this shift in income while filling out the FAFSA??  Are there other considerations I should be aware of as a new divorcee seeing financial aid?

Answer 2: As long as your divorce is final before you complete the FAFSA, you are not required to include your ex-husband’s asset and income information on the FAFSA. You will only be required to reference your information.

Follow-up Question 3: I guess my confusion is how to pull the information from the tax returns.  We filed jointly, and our “adjusted gross income” is combined.  How do I pull just MY adjusted gross income out of that?  Very confusing!  A step-by-step manual for new divorcees would be a blessing! 😀

Follow-up Answer 3: Not a problem… You will just need to reference your individual W-2’s and probably do a mock-up of your taxes for last year (as if you were filing individually). Any additional income or deductions that you shared with your ex-husband will need to be pro-rated by 50%.

Question 4: Our family owns and operates a small farm.  We do not reside on this farm, but we operate a cattle operation, renting additional hay land and pasture to feed the cattle.  Our crop land is rented out to other people, but we sometimes graze this land after the crops have been harvested.  What portion of the assets from this farm should be reported on the FAFSA?

Answer 4: The good news is that as long as you “materially” participate in the operation of the farm you do not need to report it as an asset on the FAFSA.    It is excluded regardless of whether you reside on the property or not.

Question 5: My son in law is attending an accredited university overseas, in Israel.  He has dual citizenship — US and Israeli.  He would like to apply for a student loan via FAFSA.  He will turn 25 in September.  He served in the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) for nearly five years.  His current status is that of a reserve duty soldier, meaning he periodically is called into service for a brief period of time.   The question is if the requirement for registering for Selective Service as part of the FAFSA, is still a viable requirement considering his situation?  Would such a situation enable him to have that requirement waived?  If not, and he still has to register with the Selective Service, what does that mean in practical terms?

Answer 5: Yes… your son-in-law, as a dual citizen and regardless of where he is taking up residence, is required to register for selective service if he wants to gain benefit of any of the federal loan and grant programs offered through the FAFSA.

The hope is that the US never implements the draft and calls him up to duty. However, in the unlikelihood that this this ever happens, he may be able to get a pass on being enlisted because of his commitment to the Israeli Defense Forces.  May be viewed as a conflict of interest…

Question 6: I was recently filling out my FAFSA and wasn’t sure how to accurately answer the question pertaining to assets. I’m hoping you may be able to help.  The FAFSA asks whether or not an individual has more than $2700 in assets.  I do technically have more than that in my bank account, however the majority of that money is from my current student loan that is being used to support me through school this year and will ultimately need to be paid off.  In addition, I have outstanding student loans that will need to be paid off upon graduation in addition to the loan I currently have in my bank account.  So overall, with the total amount of  debt I carry, I have less than $2700. it seems strange that my financial aid would keep me from being awarded more financial aid.

Answer 6: Unfortunately, regardless of the source (student loans) of the cash in the bank, you still have to report it as an asset. The only option you have is to gift the money to someone else or spend it prior to completing and submitting your FAFSA form if you don’t want it included in the EFC calculation.

For students, the EFC calculation basically states that you can spend 20% of your current assets on college expenses in the coming academic year. So if you have 3000 in the bank, automatically $600 will be earmarked by the FAFSA for you to spend next year toward your college expenses (regardless of your student loan debt- which doesn’t seem quite fair).

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One Stop Shop For Filing Your Taxes And FAFSA

One Stop Shop For Filing Your Taxes And FAFSA

Filing a FAFSA is always lauded as being the first step to accessing scholarship and grant money for education expenses. However, filing your taxes is a prerequisite to completing the FAFSA if you plan on reporting actual (not estimated) income numbers. Based upon this,  wouldn’t it make since to accomplish both in one swift action? The National Community Tax Coalition thinks so.

The National Community Tax Coalition (NCTC) states that students who fill out the FAFSA are 50% more likely to attend college versus those that don’t.  In order to help more first generation students make their way to college, the NCTC has implemented a program that will help students not only complete their FAFSA but also help them file their taxes. The program is called Financial Aid U and a website has been set up as a resource to help guide families to where they can receive Tax and FAFSA help.

Last year, NCTC partnered up with seven different organizations to provide their services and this current year they will have over 10 partner programs in place. Here is a list of the organizations providing Tax and FAFSA filing assistance:

Kudos to NCTC for putting their resources to good use and helping to make college more accessible and affordable for families and students.

NCTC is looking for additional community tax preparers to train on the FAFSA filing process. So, if anyone is interested in helping to expand their mission and outreach you should definitely drop them a line.

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