The True Value of a College Education

Is higher education worth the cost?
As tuition at universities and both public and private colleges rises, so does student debt—this begs the question: is a college education valuable enough to make it worthwhile?

The second edition of the Gallup-Purdue Index from 2015 found that 50 percent of college graduates surveyed nationwide strongly agreed that college was worth the investment; however, the answers varied based on the type of institution they attended, when they graduated, and how much undergraduate debt they accumulated. But do the statistics support this overall opinion? In general, the answer is yes.

A 2016 study from Jaison R. Abel and Richard Deitz via the National Bureau of Economic Research found that since the Great Recession, only about 9 percent of recent college graduates have begun their careers in a low-skilled service job. Furthermore, Brittany Hackett of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Advisors summarized report findings that about 40 percent of recent college graduates were employed in the two highest-paid tiers of jobs, compared with only 18 percent of those without degrees. Additionally, more than half of those in the workforce without a college degree are working within the lowest paying and skill categories of jobs—double the amount of college-degree holders.

That same study from Abel and Dietz found that even the underemployed college graduates are making more than those without a degree in the same fields. Almost a quarter of them hold positions in fields making more than $55,000 per year, in contrast to the 9.8 percent of workers without a college degree that make the same. Making those numbers even more significant is that 59% percent of student loan borrowers owe less than $20,000 in debt, so the average debt-to-income ratio is very manageable, according to Jason Furman, chairman of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisors.

More research, this time from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, showed that a staggering 97 percent of all 2.9 million “good jobs” (defined as those paying more than $53,000 annually for a full-time, full-year worker) that were added since the economic downturn in 2010 went to college graduates. Significantly, “good jobs” made up nearly half of the total jobs added during that time of recovery. Additionally, researchers Anthony P. Carnevale, Tamara Jayasundera and Artem Gulish also found that middle- and low-wage jobs were much more likely to be filled by workers with some college or an associate degree.

“The numbers are clear: postsecondary education is important for gaining access to job opportunities in the current economy, and job seekers with Bachelor’s degrees or higher have the best odds of securing good jobs,” their report stated.

What’s more, the return on investment increases in the long term. According to researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, new college graduates begin with earnings only slightly higher than high school graduates–about $5,000 to $6,000 more–but over time the gap increases.

“Higher education is one of the most important investments individuals can make for themselves and for our economy with bachelor’s degree recipients typically earning $500,000 more in present value over their lifetimes compared to high school graduates,” Furman said, solidifying the point.

Despite the studies, reports and evidence, the bottom line, and as much of the above has suggested, is that the true value of a college education is always dependent upon your unique outlook and circumstances.

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Four Mistakes People Make With Student Loans

Stay smart with a student loan strategy
Going to college is a life-changing experience that can open doors to new careers and increase your lifetime earning potential. If you are looking for a new student loan or are trying to make the best out of the repayment period, make sure you are avoiding these common student loan mistakes.

Not considering private loans
Many would-be-students shy away from private loans because they have heard that they lack the protections and benefits that come with federal loans. While it’s true that federal loans offer a fixed interest rate in contrast to most private loans, it is often possible for a student to get a lower interest rate with a private loan, particularly if a parent cosigns. If you are able to obtain a much lower rate with a private loan, then it’s worth seriously considering whether the security of a fixed rate with a federal loan is worth it.

Ignoring retirement savings
It is understandable, and even laudable, to want to repay student loans as quickly as possible, but undertaking an ambitious repayment plan at the expense of completely ignoring retirement savings isn’t wise.

“A recent report from Morningstar Inc. subsidiary HelloWallet found that someone with a starting salary of $50,000 who pays off a $20,000 student loan ahead of schedule but skimps on retirement savings—by contributing only enough to an employer-sponsored 401(k) plan to receive half the employer’s 3% matching contribution—will wind up with a net worth at age 65 that’s $150,000 below where it would have been had he or she contributed enough to receive the full match and repaid the loan over a longer period, by making the minimum required payment,” states The Wall Street Journal Reporter Anne Tergesen in an article from Sep. 2016.

Not making automatic payments
One of the best steps you can take to make sure the student loan repayment process goes as smoothly as possible is to set up automatic payments. Some people delay setting up automatic payments because they have ambitious goals of paying more than the minimum each month, and want to wait to see what their bank account balance is before determining the payment amount. While it’s great to pay more when you can (as long as you aren’t sacrificing retirement savings), it’s not worth the risk of making a late payment or missing a payment all together. Setting up automatic payments that you can afford each month is the safest bet, and if you find you have extra money after the payment is made, you can always make a supplemental payment.

Paying for assistance
If you are having trouble affording your payments, you may have been tempted by ads that offer to help you figure out your options for paying on a different schedule or seeking loan forgiveness on your federal loan.

“If someone asks you to pay for these services, you are not dealing with the U.S. Department of Education or our loan servicers,” according to Nicole Callahan, a Digital Engagement Strategist at Federal Student Aid in an article for HomeRoom, the official blog of the U.S. Department of Education. “We don’t charge application or maintenance fees. If you’re asked to pay, walk away (or hang up).”

The cost of an education that can help you start a profitable career or get a better job in your current field is money well spent, and you can make sure you are getting the best return on your investment by avoiding these four common student loan mistakes.

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The Benefits of Going to a Community College

Why you should consider starting small
Though they tend to have a subpar reputation, community colleges give prospective students a lot of options and offer a ton of advantages. When deciding on higher education, consider what benefits a community college can give you.

Save money
Tuition is traditionally much cheaper at community colleges, and you’ll also save on room and board since, according to The Princeton Review, there is a community college within commuting distance of 90 percent of the U.S. population.

“Community college tuition is usually thousands of dollars cheaper than tuition for private and public four-year universities. This total cost is only a fraction of the cost of a private college, and still thousands of dollars less than a four-year program at a state college,” the Princeton Review noted. “Plus, even with the relatively low rates, nearly a third of community college students receive financial aid.”

Flexibility
While four-year schools typically require you to be a full-time student, U.S. News & World Report found that about 60 percent of community college students attend school part time, thus gaining flexibility to pursue other interests or handle responsibilities. Additionally, community colleges usually have multiple campus locations and offer courses both day and night, as well as online.

“This makes community college a good option for nontraditional students like parents and older students who wish to balance school with family or career obligations,” says U.S. News & World Report’s Travis Mitchell.

Give yourself a boost
At a community college, you have the opportunity to improve your academic record or to get ahead, which will also give your confidence a boost. This can be crucial to your future since, as Jeffery King writes in U.S. News & World Report, a large number of students do poorly their first two years, which can impact their educational and professional future.

Personalized attention
Students can also get a boost from the smaller class sizes offered at community colleges. More one-on-one time with instructors and opportunity to learn at a personalized pace can be a great support to young college students.

Ease of transfer
Many community colleges have convenient admissions agreements with select larger schools in the area, which make the entire transfer process nearly seamless.

Transition from high school
Community colleges are a great stepping stone to make hesitant students more comfortable.

“Attending a community college can be a good way for students to ease into the world of higher education and learn at their own pace,” Mitchell writes. “This is especially true for students who struggled in high school or anyone who’s unsure if they want to make the significant time investment in college.”

More time to think about career path
The first two years of college are typically a period of exploring career paths and passions. Though most students declare majors right out of high school, many will end up changing directions once they get more experience in that particular area. If you don’t feel strongly about any area of study right away, know that community colleges are a great tool for undecided students to fulfill general education requirements, saving you from taking unnecessary classes and wasting time and money.

Make an informed, conscious decision about your college experience, and get the best possible start to your future.

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Three Things You Need to Do to Your Student Loans Right Now

Stay ahead of this big expense

Recent college graduates already have enough on their plates worrying about getting a job and supporting themselves — the last thing they want to do is stress over student loan repayment. For most, paying off student loans takes a long time, so no matter where you are in that process, there are three things you should stop and do right now.

1. Get organized
Take an inventory of your student loans. You can get a list by signing up at http://www.nslds.ed.gov/. After a short enrollment process, you will have a handy list of all guaranteed loans that were issued to you by the government, as well as those made by private lenders through June 2010. If you have a private nonguaranteed loan, those should all be present and detailed on your credit report, which you can find for free online.

Create a spreadsheet chronicling the name of each lender, the web address, your username and password (ensure your device is locked or encrypted), the loan balance, and the interest rate. The latter will be helpful if you opt to consolidate or pay off any interest early down the road. But be sure to keep your list up to date, as interest rates on student loans can be fixed or variable.

2. Know your repayment options
“The standard repayment schedule extends your loan payments over ten years, or 120 payments,” explained Maggie McGrath of Forbes. “However, if the standard monthly payments aren’t manageable on your budget — or if you’re unemployed or otherwise unable to repay your loans — the federal government has some alternative repayment plans for you, as well as some deferral options.”

Income-based repayment (IBR) and income-contingent repayment (ICR) extend your payment period to 25 years, capping your monthly payments at a fixed percentage of your income. The income on which payments are based and the actual percentage differ between the two plans. Pay-as-you-earn is a 20-year repayment period, with yet another varying percentage of your discretionary income.

You can read about other repayment options from the government here: https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/understand/plans. Be wary, as these types of programs can cause your interest costs to increase over time, so always pay as close to your original amount due as you can.

3. Be aware of loan forgiveness opportunities
There are three primary programs that forgive the balance of your loan: Public service loan forgiveness, teacher loan forgiveness and Perkins loan cancellation.

“To qualify for forgiveness, your loans can’t be in default, meaning they’ve gone unpaid for more than nine months,” noted higher education expert Brianna McGurran of Nerdwallet. “Also, private student loans don’t offer forgiveness, though some lenders will let you make interest-only payments or take a temporary interest rate reduction if you’re having trouble affording your bill.”

Public service loan forgiveness requires you to have been working for a nonprofit or the government for at least 10 years in roles including, but not limited to, firefighting, teaching, the military and nursing. In the teacher-specific program, you must work full time as an educator for five consecutive years. The Perkins loan forgiveness also cancels the balance of that loan if you’ve worked as a teacher, firefighter, nurse, police officer, school librarian or public defender for about five years or more. For a complete description of eligibility requirements, visit https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/forgiveness-cancellation.

If you take the time to do your homework and gather yourself before — or even while — you are repaying your student loans, the process will seem a lot less scary, and a lot more manageable.

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Direct Subsidized and Direct Unsubsidized Loans for Students

The difference between these two types of student loans

If you or a family member is in the process of applying to schools and seeking information about the various ways to cover tuition and the associated costs, you may have already learned that you can choose between applying for loans that are either subsidized or unsubsidized.

There are key differences between these two types of loans that you should learn to make sure you choose the type that better suits your financial needs.

One of the things that make the loan application process slightly more confusing is that different people or organizations may use different names when referring to the same loan. Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct Unsubsidized Loans are sometimes called Stafford Loans or Direct Stafford Loans, respectively, so if you’ve heard those terms, you should be aware that they are the same and not two additional loans out of four different types being discussed. Regardless of what these loans are called, when trying to figure out which type of loan is which, the most important criterion to look at is whether the loan is subsidized or unsubsidized.

Both loan types are offered by the U.S. Department of Education to eligible students who attend participating schools. They can be used at four-year colleges and universities, community colleges, and trade, technical and career schools.

Qualifying for either type of loan requires the student to be enrolled at least half time at a school participating in the Direct Loan Program. Typically, the student’s chosen program must be one leading to a degree or certificate.

Direct Subsidized Loans offer students slightly better terms. This is because they are intended to go to students with financial need.

The website run by Federal Student Aid, an office of the Department of Education, defines financial need as “[t]he difference between the cost of attendance [COA] at a school and your Expected Family Contribution [EFC],” and states, “While COA varies from school to school, your EFC does not change based on the school you attend.”

Although your EFC will not change depending on your chosen school, your school will be responsible for determining the amount that you can borrow. That amount may never exceed your financial need, however.

The biggest advantage of a Direct Subsidized Loan is that the Department of Education pays the interest on the loan while the student is still in school at least half time. The federal government will also pay the interest on the loan if the student has postponed his or her loan payments with an authorized loan deferral. Furthermore, the six months following the student’s graduation are considered a “grace period,” during which time the federal government continues to pay the loan interest. This is intended to make it easier for students to make payments while searching for a job.

Although the party responsible for paying the loan interest differs, the interest rate itself does not depend on the loan type.

“As of 2013, interest rates charged for Federal Direct Loans began to be tied to the 10-year Treasury note, with an additional margin added on to cover expenses,” states Mark P. Cussen, CFP, CMFC, AFC, in an article for Investopedia. “They do not depend on the borrower’s credit score.”

In order to qualify for a Direct Subsidized Loan, the income level of the student’s family must not be above certain levels. The exact criteria that define low family income and sufficient financial need are detailed in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). More information about the regulations and processes of applying for student aid with FAFSA can be found at https://fafsa.ed.gov.

While Direct Unsubsidized Loans don’t have an income requirement, the student is responsible for the interest accrued during all periods. One advantage of Direct Unsubsidized Loans is that they are available to graduate students, which isn’t the case with Direct Subsidized Loans. A further advantage is that it is possible to take out more money with a Direct Unsubsidized Loan, so students with very large educational costs to cover may find it necessary to use a loan that is unsubsidized.

The cost of education is rising at an alarming pace, but thankfully there are many financial tools, including Direct Subsidized and Direct Unsubsidized loans, to help students and their families cover it. To delve more deeply into the details of these loans and explore the wealth of information available online for students and their families in the application process, visit https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/.

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Benefits of Applying for Local Scholarships and Grants

With the rising costs of higher education, apply for as many scholarships as possible

A couple hundred dollarsfebruaryfeatured_localschol2 from a local scholarship may sound like a drop in the bucket when it comes to paying for college tuition and expenses, but the reality is that every dollar counts and several local scholarships can add up to a significant amount of free money for your education.

The reality of large-sum grants
There aren’t many people who can afford to foot the complete bill for their higher education. Yet most only apply to large-sum scholarships and grants to help pay for college, and while those $10,000 and $50,000 nationally awarded grants could make a significant difference in affordability, the truth is they’re difficult to get.

According to an October 2015 article in U.S. News by contributor Jessica Zdunek, largely-funded government agencies and well-known national brands like Ford, Nordstrom’s and Coca-Cola award significant educational scholarships each year, but applying to these means going up against hundreds, if not thousands, of other applicants across the country, which significantly reduces your chances of winning such a grant.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply for large scholarships, because there’s still the chance you could win, but you should better your odds of financial aid by applying for local grants as well.

The advantages of local scholarships
A first, albeit obvious, advantage of a local scholarship is just that: it’s local to where you live.

According to Zdunek, local scholarships can have application limitations that can actually increase your odds of being awarded. These grants can be limited to people who live in a specific town or region, to a certain GPA minimum, and even to specific extracurricular activities. As long as you meet the criteria listed, you are more likely to win a local award than a national one.

“Scholarship providers like to see people from their community succeed and so they often offer local scholarships available only to residents of a particular geographic region,” says an article on Scholarships.com, a financial aid and scholarship resource site.

Local scholarships are also less likely to be known, so there will be less competition for them than for a national grant.

According to a January 2011 article in U.S. News by Scholarship America, community organizations that offer scholarships typically inform the local high school, either by contacting the guidance counselor or by posting the scholarship in the school’s career center. Instead of competing against the thousands of people searching the internet, applicants compete only against the other students in their school.

Local scholarships can also be awarded on a relationship basis, such as businesses with financial assistance opportunities available to employees and their families. Some businesses will even award scholarships to students if they plan to work for the company after graduation, as this is seen as an investment for the company.

They are also generally easier to follow up on and there’s often a designated person in the business who can answer questions about the scholarship or application requirements directly.

Every dollar counts
“Local scholarships sometimes aren’t as eye catching because they’re just a few hundred dollars. “This can discourage people from applying, but the truth is these small amounts add up,” says Zdunek.

Even if the dollar amount is less than that of a national scholarship, any amount is helpful in offsetting the expense of higher education. For instance, those dollars could go toward books or equipment, or help cover smaller living expenses.

Find out more about our three $2,500 scholarships by visiting our site!

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Colleges That Don’t Make Students Take Out Loans

Are student loans a thing of the past?

Each year, more and more studentsCollegeLoans_062816 are graduating from college with thousands of dollars in student debt that they’re responsible for paying back. A 2014 study by The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS) found that nearly 69 percent of students graduate with an average student loan debt of $28,950.

However, according to Edvisors, a college finance website, more than 70 schools have adopted “no-loan” policies, where grants replace loans within their financial aid packages. Additionally, other colleges have eliminated loans for those students who are eligible for financial aid. At these schools, the number of students who borrow is much smaller, and college graduates have loan balances that are much lower than the national average of nearly 70 percent (according to TICAS).

While these policies don’t necessarily eliminate loans in their entirety, the financial aid package is based on the school’s estimate of what the family can afford to pay. If a family chooses not to pay the full amount, the student must borrow money to make up the difference. Also, some students borrow to cover costs that aren’t included in their financial aid packages, such as health insurance or laptop computers.

Schools that don’t make students take out loans typically have a smaller number of students who borrow, and the college graduates who do take out loans have balances much smaller than the national average.

According to Kiplinger in May of 2015, these five schools are among the best when you want to graduate with minimal student loans:

Yale University
Students who are eligible for financial aid—families with incomes of as much as $200,000—can utilize Yale’s no-loan program. According to Kiplinger, the total annual cost to attend Yale is $60,850 and the average need-based aid is $44,268. However, the percentage of students with loans is 16 percent.

Vanderbilt University
In 2009, Vanderbilt decided to take on a no-loan policy. All students who are eligible for financial aid are able to use the policy. Almost half of students at the university receive need-based aid, and 87 percent of students take four years to graduate, which minimizes costs. The total annual cost is $60,294, and the average need-based aid is $39,373. The percentage of students with loans is 22 percent.

Davidson College
This liberal arts college provides 100 percent financial aid through grants and campus jobs to the 46 percent of students who receive need-based aid. The average need-based aid is $33,717, and the total yearly cost is $59,146. The percentage of students with loans is 22 percent.

Princeton University
As the first school to employ a no-loan policy back in 2001, Princeton has an average student debt that is very low compared with that of other colleges. The total annual cost to attend Princeton is $59,165, with the average need-based aid reaching $37,183. The percentage of students with loans is 24 percent.

Offering need-based financial aid to over 60 percent of attendees, Harvard also meets all of those students’ demonstrated financial need, all without loans. Families who make between $65,000 and $150,000 annually are generally expected to give a maximum of 10 percent of their income. The average need-based aid is $41,975, and the total yearly cost is $59,607. The percentage of students with loans is 26 percent.

Digging yourself into debt while going to college isn’t necessary. Contact us today to find out what the best steps are for your individual situation.

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