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Rough Seas Ahead for Higher Education



This past weekend I was pondering the global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially its impact on higher education. Over the years, in certain past articles I’ve written for College Confidential, I made predictions about the future of college in America. Inspired by my musings, I checked to see what my forecasts were, as far back as 2015.

The main theme that ran through them was something like, “There’s a sea change coming,” meaning that big changes were in the making for higher ed. In surveying the college landscape today, as we head toward August and Fall Semester 2020, I can best describe the situation by paraphrasing that great 1957 rock-and-roll hit by Jerry Lee Lewis: There’s a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on. All because of COVID-19.

Fall Plans Vary Dramatically

To document some of the aspects of this shaking, I’ll reference some highly disparate plans for reopening campuses this fall, as well as the issue of college cost and how students are currently thinking about that. As for Fall 2020 plans, keep in mind that it’s mid-July. About three weeks or so remain before some students will begin returning to campus. Thus, colleges’ current fall plans are subject to change without notice, depending on the coronavirus’ behavior, even after students have moved back to college.

As for contrasting plans to bring students back to campus this fall, let’s look at two dramatically different approaches, from Bowdoin College and Middlebury College. This disparity came to my attention through an Inside Higher Ed article by Bill Burger: A Tale of 2 Colleges. In it, Burger notes the two completely different procedures these two Northeastern liberal arts colleges have proposed for the fall semester.

Bowdoin College president Clayton Rose announced last week that the 1,800-student Maine school would open its campus in September only to a small number of students: incoming first-years and transfers, students who would find it nearly impossible to participate in online learning at home, and a small number of senior honors students whose projects require the use of campus resources. That’s it. With the exception of first-year writing seminars, all classes will be online. The college has canceled fall sports and virtually all extracurricular activities. Tuition for the online fall semester at Bowdoin will be $27,911 unchanged from last year

Keep tuition numbers for both Bowdoin and Middlebury in mind because I’ll be presenting some thoughts about that, along with some student attitudes, farther down the page.

Burger compares Bowdoin’s austere plan with Middlebury’s more traditional concept, which seems much more mainstream, at least under the current circumstances:

Later that day, just two states over and 160 miles to the west, Middlebury College president Laurie Patton announced the Vermont school’s reopening plan. In sharp contrast to Bowdoin, Middlebury invited all of its undergraduates — close to 2,750 in all — to return in September, promising a mix of in-person and remote classes, as well as a significant number of hybrid courses. The college’s faculty members, who engaged in a searing debate over the question a week earlier before voting in favor of a reopening, will each be able to choose how they teach. A Middlebury administrator told me that students strongly supported having an in-person experience when recently surveyed on their preference. There is no word on the status of athletics or other extracurricular activities. Tuition for the 2020-21 fall semester at Middlebury will be $28,940 — up 3.75 percent from last year

Bowdoin, bringing first-year students to campus while forestalling others, is attempting to make the transition from high school to college easier by having first-years begin their college careers at the start of their first semester rather than later. A later start could make for an aura of asynchronous imbalance. This appears to be the preferred plan for other schools that aren’t bringing everyone back this fall.

Cost Questions Arise

Regarding costs for fall, there are various schemes. Some schools, such as Bowdoin, are keeping costs stable (the same as last year), even in light of online classes and dramatically different campus accommodations. Others have raised costs, such as Middlebury. Still others have cut costs, such as Princeton University.

Regardless of cuts, increases or no changes in costs, the overwhelming sentiment among students and parents is that college is much too expensive. The seemingly excessive high cost has led to an astronomical amount of loan debt for students, along with an equally alarming level of loan defaults. All this leads to one key question:

Why is college so expensive?

One of the best answers to that question comes from U.S. News, in Emma Kerr’s article by the same name as our question. Some important insights:

While the sticker price is rarely what students actually pay after grants and scholarships, researchers at The New Center, a bipartisan think tank in Washington, D.C., set out to understand the root cause of the rising cost of tuition and the student debt crisis facing the U.S. in a report released in August.

It’s easy to see why there tends to be a reliance on student loans to pay for college: Tuition prices increased 36% from 2008 to 2018, while the real median income in the U.S. grew just over 2.1% in the same period, according to data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. To afford college, many students take on debt, resulting in more than 1 million people defaulting on their student loans every year, with average monthly payments close to $400

Comparing the small rises in income and inflation with the leap in tuition should be enough to shock and anger any reasonable person. Getting back to my practice of predicting, I believe that Americans, in general, won’t abide this disparity much longer, especially as we head through challenging pandemic-era economic times. The headwaters of this changing mindset may be seen in the current downturn in college enrollment. COVID-19 is doing its part in adding to that plunge.

Student Surveys Reveal Uncertainty

What do students think about all this?

According to TestMax, the results of two recent surveys of almost 3,000 students from universities across the US “hold grave implications for the future of higher education — indicating a looming collapse — and reflect the depth of the COVID-19 recession’s impact on the job market.” Ominous findings, indeed.

The two surveys (one of undergrads and the other of law students), had some shocking findings:

  • 74 percent of undergrads feel they have overpaid for their education by an average of 57 percent.
  • 50 percent of law students say that if it were possible, they would likely not have chosen to go to law school knowing what they know now.
  • 56 percent of undergrads and 63 percent of law students state their income-earning abilities have been diminished by an average of 57 percent and 45 percent, respectively.
  • 62 percent of students said it will take them considerably longer than anticipated to pay off their student loans.

The general finding is that students overwhelmingly feel that tuition is about 50 percent too high relative to their income-earning abilities. As TestMax notes, “Such findings, as time goes on, could dramatically disrupt the norm of higher-education, and lead to monumental shifts in how young people enter the workforce.”

Of course, there is a group of colleges and universities that will always prosper, regardless of costs, economic conditions and even world events. Those “elites” include the Ivy League and Top-50-ranked schools. They prosper due to their perceived “prestige,” among other sought after aspects. However, the pandemic has caused even wealthy schools like Stanford economic stress.

What remains to be seen is how COVID-19 affects colleges this year. We already know that fall semester will be dicey and there’s no guarantee that spring will be any better. Add to this the factors of falling enrollment, student loan debt and apparent dissatisfaction with the cost effectiveness (a.k.a. value) of college and you have a tailor-made recipe for higher-ed administrators’ insomnia, with many sleepless nights ahead.


By: Dave Berry
Title: Rough Seas Ahead for Higher Education
Sourced From:
Published Date: Tue, 14 Jul 2020 13:07:26 +0000

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Apply Online For Student Loans



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Webinar Recap: How COVID-19 is Affecting Financial Aid



Many families are facing new financial challenges in light of the coronavirus emergency, and College Confidential has fielded dozens of questions on this topic recently. To address those queries, we hosted a webinar on April 9 entitled “Paying for College Amid Changes Due to the Impact of COVID-19.”

During the event, moderated by Aaron Murphy, manager of learning and development with Inside Track, the following panelists offered their perspectives on the issue:

  • Denise Trusty, director of financial aid with Morehead State University
  • Laura Reisert Kalinkewicz, associate vice president of college partnerships with RaiseMe
  • Amy Nelson, director of sales at International Scholarship and Tuition Services
  • Charlie Javice, founder and CEO of Frank.

Check out the following topics that the panelists discussed, along with their views of how things may unfold amid the financial challenges brought on by the coronavirus outbreak.

Family Finances Changed? Contact Your Schools

If you plan to start college in the fall as a freshman — or return to school as an existing student — and your financial situation has changed since you applied for financial aid, you should contact the colleges on your list immediately. Financial aid departments can consider appeals for more money, but must base these decisions on each individual student’s situation, Trusty said.

“I know with Morehead State, where I work, we will be doing professional judgement calls on all students who say they’ve been affected,” she noted. “We will reach out to those students to see what we can do to help them maybe obtain additional funding, additional grants, scholarships, whatever they would be eligible for. We do professional judgment all the time for our students, because things happen all the time. This year will be an especially large amount of those, I’m sure, but those are up to individual schools to make that call for their students.”

In addition, she added, the Department of Education has set aside over $6 billion for additional grants and scholarships that the universities will be able to use. “Currently, I don’t know how that’s all going to play into this,” Trusty said. “So that will be up to each individual university on how they lay those out. I know it will be beneficial, I just don’t know how available that will be to each student.”

Keep in mind that schools are accustomed to reviewing financial aid appeals, and they all have processes in place for to do so. “It is really, really important to know that schools typically leave a budget from 10 percent to 20 percent or so of their financial aid dollars for what would be called a professional judgment bucket,”Javice said. “Therefore, there is additional money to be had, and it’s up to you to request it. You should approach your school as soon as you know you might need more money, and be prepared to show supporting documentation demonstrating how your finances are different from when you filed your FAFSA initially. This might require proof of a job loss, medical bills, a cut in pay or another such issue, Javice said.

In addition, if another school gave you a better financial offer, you can petition the school that gave you the lower offer for more money, Javice noted. “This typically works better for private institutions versus public state schools, given the fact that they have a little bit more discrepancy and more dollars to put to work in terms of a tuition discount,” she added. “This is solely up to the school on a case by case basis.” In some cases, the money is distributed on a first come, first serve timeline, so don’t wait if you know you need more aid.

Although financial aid can be a stressful topic, try not to be emotional when you request more money, Javice added. You’ll get a lot further by having organized documentation to present than you would by getting angry or upset, she noted.

Consider Outside Scholarships

The coronavirus situation has changed plans not only for incoming freshmen, but also for current college students, Nelson said. “Organizations are stepping up and trying to find ways to provide additional scholarship opportunities this year,” she noted. Students should be proactive in seeking those options.

Raise Me is offering new micro-scholarships for students who are seeking additional funding sources, Kalinkewicz said. In addition, she encourages students to ask colleges for more time to make decisions, even if the school hasn’t extended its deposit process. You can always try and request additional time to get your financial aid package right, she noted.

Finding more money is not relegated to younger students, Javice added. “Adult learners comprise the biggest group of people actually going to college today,” she noted. It’s very common for people to be seeking new types of skills and going back to college to gain additional degrees. Financial aid is available to adult learners, and they may even get aid to pay such costs as rent, she added. In addition, they can seek outside scholarships or employer-matching funds to pay for their educations.

Not Necessarily Too Late to File FAFSA

Students who didn’t file a FAFSA already should do that as soon as possible so you can get access to financial aid funds, Javice said. Federal FAFSA deadlines are usually in June, but states make their own deadlines for state aid. Some states, such as New Jersey, have moved their deadlines back for this year, so check to make sure you stay on top of your deadlines.

And if you file for financial aid and you decide you don’t want it, you can always decline the financial offer or portions of that offer, Nelson said. Your best bet is to apply so you can take what you need and decline any amounts you don’t need. Even if you don’t think you qualify for financial aid, you should apply anyway because you could be surprised at what you’re offered. “You really need to complete that [FAFSA] process every year,” Nelson said. “The process is very easy, and jobs can come and go. It’s your safety net and you want to make sure you’ve completed it. It makes it a whole lot easier when situations like this arise.”

Some colleges also have supplemental applications to fill out for particular types of aid, so always reach out to your financial aid office for information on which documentation you should be completing, Kalinkewicz said.

Could Families — Not Schools — Be in the Driver’s Seat?

Because many merit scholarships are based on test scores and GPAs, some high school juniors are concerned that they won’t have access to those in the coming year. With test dates being canceled and grades moving to pass/fail, they fear they won’t meet the criteria to earn such scholarships.

“It’s clear to me that colleges and universities know the extraordinary circumstances we’re under,” Nelson said. “All schools are leaning forward and considering all options as the situation develops. I would continue to encourage juniors to stay engaged and stay informed.” You should also watch to see what happens with test dates, she said. The ACT and SAT dates could change, and some schools may forego the need for a test score altogether, she added.

In addition, some merit scholarships that have traditionally been based on test scores may become test optional, Kalinkewicz noted.

Keep in mind that in many cases, families are in the driver’s seat rather than having the colleges be in charge, Javice said. Some schools have lost revenue and are very eager for students right now, “so if you are scared because you thought you could never get into a specific school from an admission criteria standpoint, this is your year to stretch, this is your year to think about the schools that are your reach category and go for it, because schools need the money and need the students. So the power that used to be in an admissions office is in you, the student or the family’s hands,” she said.

She also advises juniors to request application waivers from schools to save the $50 to $100 or so per application that they would normally pay. The schools may say no, but it won’t hurt to ask, she advised. “Persistence is key when dealing with schools,” Javice noted.

Federal Student Loans Payment Suspended

As many families are aware, payments on federal student loans are automatically suspended from March 13 through September 30, 2020 thanks to the government’s CARES Act. This is essential to keep in mind, particularly for families that have multiple children in various stages of the college process.

“You will stop paying your loans and you will have zero interest from now until September 30, and that’s important for parents to know,” Nelson said regarding existing federal student loans. “If you had an auto draft, the auto draft has been shut off and will not continue. You can, however, continue to make those payments if you’d like, and any interest you had before March 13, once that interest is paid up, all your payments will go directly toward your principal.” She advises families with federally-backed loans to check with their loan servicing agents, because they have a lot of information for both parent and student borrowers on how the CARES Act will impact payments for the next six months.

Student Job Gone? Colleges Might Help

For students who expect to earn money via part-time or full-time work to pay for college, but can’t do so due to the coronavirus, colleges may have resources to help. “There are many colleges and universities that have put together emergency grants for students to cover expenses that they were maybe not expecting because of COVID-19,” Nelson said. “They are making accommodations to try and make up for that lost income for students.”

Trusty said Morehead State is continuing to pay students who were on federal work-study. “If they had a job, we are still paying them right now as if they were working, although they are not. In the summer, those funds will be flipped over to emergency grant funds. So we will make sure that our students are covered and can live as if they were employed with the work-study position.”

Some colleges have even made remote work available to students, Kalinkewicz added. Therefore, contact your financial aid office to determine if any accommodations are available to make up for lost student income whenever possible.

Consider Other Options to Save

If you are seeking ways to save money on college, you should also consider other resources, whether that means less expensive colleges, in-state options or potentially transferring down the road, Janice said. You can also save money by taking classes at a community college to pay a lower cost for your credits that can be transferred to a four-year college later.

“If you have that target institution in mind — maybe you’ve already been admitted there but your family has determined a year of community college will really help stretch things further — work on articulation agreements or a plan so you are taking the right classes that actually have the ability to transfer toward the degree you want at your target institution, not necessarily just as credit,” Kalinkewicz said.

In addition, many colleges offer merit aid for transfer students, she added. So always look for every potential financial aid and scholarship resource to best maximize your package and allow your dollars to stretch as far as possible.

Resource: To review the entire hour-long webinar, you can watch the replay here.

Share Your Thoughts

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Check out our forum to contribute to the conversation!

By: Torrey Kim
Title: Webinar Recap: How COVID-19 is Affecting Financial Aid
Sourced From:
Published Date: Fri, 10 Apr 2020 15:22:20 +0000

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