In today's economy, many people struggle to afford the costs of higher education. In 2010, Congress passed the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 (HCERA), which included an unprecedented, fully-paid investment in higher education. HCERA eliminated the FFEL program, which the Congressional Budget Office estimated will save $61 billion over ten years by eliminating federal subsidies to private lenders. With these savings, HCERA strengthened the Pell Grant program, bringing the maximum Pell Grant award to $5,550. Further appropriations provided funding to maintain the maximum Pell Grant award at $5,550 for the 2011-2012 academic year.
In the 110th Congress, I worked to pass critical legislation to update the federal student lending programs. And in response to the growing credit crisis, the Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act of 2008 was passed on May 6, 2008. As a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, I will continue to work with my colleagues in the Senate to make higher education accessible to all hard-working Pennsylvanians.
A number of resources exist for prospective undergraduate students. This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the aid available, but it should give you a place to start. Much of this information has been prepared by the Congressional Research Service.
Student Aid check list:
- Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
- Financial Aid Department at your school
- Private Scholarships
- Private Loans
- Repaying loans
- Other Information Sources
1. Federal Student Aid
Programs for Federal Student Aid can be found at studentaid.ed.gov or by contacting the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243). To learn the amount and the type of Federal Student Aid for which you qualify, fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which can be found at fafsa.gov. You may learn more about how to obtain and manage Federal Student Loans at the new Department of Education website, https://studentloans.gov/myDirectLoan/index.action.
Here are examples of common Federal student aid programs:
- Federal Direct Loans: Through this program you may apply for student loans, both subsidized or unsubsidized, from the Federal Government. On a subsidized loan, you do not have to pay any interest while you are enrolled at least half time, and your principal will be deferred until after your studies have ended. Unsubsidized loans will accrue interest as would a typical loan. (Note: for graduate students, interest-subsidized loans will no longer be available after July 1, 2012)
- Federal Direct PLUS loans: These are unsubsidized loans available to parents of dependent undergraduate students or to graduate students and are available through the Federal Direct Loan Program.
- Pell Grants: Need-based grants that do not have to be repaid.
- Work-Study: Wage-Subsidized positions at the school which will allow you to earn money to pay for your education while you study. The Student Educational Employment program offers positions with the Federal Government to qualifying students. This can be accessed at http://www.usajobs.opm.gov/STUDENTS.asp.
Also search the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance for other grants, “Congressional” scholarships, and fellowships. I would suggest you search by Beneficiary.
After applying, you should keep copies of all forms and correspondence as you must reapply each year. Not every school participates in each program and you should contact your school’s financial aid department to learn about the specific programs in which they participate.
2. Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency
PHEAA helps students to access loans, scholarships and grants, including the Pennsylvania State Grant. To learn more about the services that PHEAA can offer, visit their website at www.pheaa.org.Below are some of the topics found at this website:
- State Grant Program
- Postsecondary Educational Gratuity Program
- Partnerships for Access to Higher Education
- National Guard Education Assistance Program
- State Work-Study Program
- Grants for Blind or Deaf Students
- Chaffee Education and Training Grant Program
- Teach Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant
3. Financial Aid Department at Your College
The school you have chosen may have its own student aid programs including merit and need-based scholarships. You should contact your Financial Aid Department to determine what aid they can offer.
4. Private scholarships
There exist a large number of privately sponsored scholarships, for some of which you may be eligible, although they often may be difficult to locate. A good starting place for finding these is the free scholarship search available at http://www.EducationPlanner.org. You should speak with local community groups and religious institutions, as well as your high school guidance counselor, to learn of other scholarships that may be available.
5. Private Loans
There are many private lenders that will offer you a private loan to pay for college. Students contemplating taking a private loan should thoroughly exhaust all available federal student loan aid and other options before making a decision. If private loans are your only option, be sure to read the fine details of the agreement regarding possible interest rate variation, repayment options, as well as early repayment/loan consolidation rights.
6. Repaying loans
This may often seem like an overwhelming task, but there is help available for repaying your loans. Also visit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Student Debt Repayment Assistant website at http://www.consumerfinance.gov/students/repay/ to learn about some of your options.
For those having difficulty repaying federally student loans, there are several options for how to manage your payment plan, including the Income Based Repayment plan in which you pay an amount designed to be affordable based on your income and family size. Under this plan, if you met certain requirements, any remaining debt after 25 years of consistent payments will be forgiven, or after 10 years if you work in public service. For more information about this program please see this United States Department of Education website.
Another option for managing debt is loan consolidation. Federal loans can be consolidated once, with some exceptions. While simplifying the management of your loans, loan consolidation in general can lead to a significantly lower, fixed interest rate, decreasing overall expenses. To learn more about this, please visit http://loanconsolidation.ed.gov/.
Private loans often are able to be consolidated, depending on your individual loan agreement. Consult your lender to be sure this option is available to you. Many employers will include as an employee benefit a student loan repayment program; it may be worth your time to discuss this with your current employer or with any prospective employers.
There are programs to help individuals pay off their loans, examples:
- Loan Forgiveness for Public Service Employees
- Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program
- Cancellation/Deferment Options for Teachers
- Nurse Education Loan Forgiveness Program
- National Health Service Corps
- Federal Student Loan Repayment Program
- State Loan Repayment and Forgiveness Programs for Law school graduates
- You Can Deal With It
If you are having problems with your loan and all other approaches fail, contact the Department of Education's Office of the Ombudsman.
7. Other information sources
1. For information regarding targeted aid for special groups, consider these options:
- Veterans: Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP) - Congress passed the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011. Included in this new law is the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP).
VRAP offers up to 12 months of training assistance to unemployed Veterans. Participants must be enrolled in a VA approved program of education offered by a community college or technical
school. The program must lead to an Associate Degree, Non-College Degree, or a Certificate, and train the Veteran for a high demand occupation. To learn more about this program, please visit: http://benefits.va.gov/vow/education.htm
The Post 9/11 GI Bill provides financial support for education and housing to individuals with at least 90 days of aggregated service on or after September 11, 2001, or individuals discharged with a service-connected disability after 30 days. You must have received an honorable discharge to be eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which includes:
- Tuition and fees paid directly to the school not to exceed the maximum in-state tuition and fees at a public institution of higher learning.
- For more expensive tuition, a program exists which may help to reimburse the difference. This program is called the “Yellow Ribbon Program.”
- A monthly housing allowance based on the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) for an E-5 with dependents at the location of the school.
- For those attending foreign schools (schools without a main campus in the United States) the BAH rate is fixed at $1,347.00 for 2011 and $1,348.00 for 2010. An annual books and supplies stipend of $1,000 paid proportionately based on enrollment.
- A one-time rural benefit payment for eligible individuals.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill also offers some service members the opportunity to transfer their GI Bill to dependents.
- For more information, please visit: www.gibill.va.gov/beneftis/post_911_gibill/index.html or call the VA at 1-888-GI-BILL (1-888-442-4551)
Yellow Ribbon Program - The Yellow Ribbon Program was established by the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008. This program allows institutions of higher learning (such as colleges, universities, and other degree-granting schools) in the United States to voluntarily enter into an agreement with VA to fund tuition and fee expenses that exceed the highest public in-state undergraduate tuition and fee rate in their state. The institution can contribute a specified dollar amount of those expenses, and VA will match the contribution-not to exceed 50% of the difference. This provides the possibility for you to earn a degree at no cost. To learn more about this program, please visit: www.gibill.va.gov/benefits/post_911_gibill/yellow_ribbon_program.html
- Montgomery GI Bill - Active Duty (MGIB-AD)
- Montgomery GI Bill - Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR)
- Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP)
- Veterans Educational Assistance Program (VEAP)
- Educational Assistance Test Program (Section 901)
- Survivors’ and Dependents' Educational Assistance Program (DEA)
- National Call to Service Program
- Disabled students: HEATH Resource Center
- Financial Aid for Law School: Law School Admission Council
- Medical students: Association of American Medical Colleges
- Science, Mathematics And Research For Transformation (SMART) Scholarship for Service Program is a United States Department of Defense program to support undergraduate and graduate students pursing the degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines.
- Study abroad (for U.S. and non-U.S. citizens): International Education Financial Aid
- Foreign students: Financial Aid for International Students
- Grants for Minorities: Asians, Blacks, Hispanics, Latinos, Native Americans, and Other Ethnic Groups
- African Americans: Scholarships (UNCF)
- Hispanic Americans: Scholarships (HSF)
- Native Americans: American Indian College Fund
2. There is often assistance available for those who engage in public service:
Volunteers who complete one year of service receive an education award for current higher education expenses or to repay student loans.
- Military academies:
U.S. Air Force Academy
U.S. Coast Guard Academy
U.S. Merchant Marine Academy
U.S. Military Academy
U.S. Naval Academy
- National Health Service Corps
Scholarships and loan repayment for health profession students who agree to work in underserved areas.
- Nursing Scholarships
Offered in exchange for two years of service in areas with critical nursing shortages.
- Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC)
For students who want to be commissioned as officers after graduating from college.
U.S. Air Force ROTC
U.S. Army ROTC
U.S. Navy ROTC
- United States Army Education Division
Additional benefits for Army personnel.
- Bureau of Health Professions
Scholarships and loans to needy health profession students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Scholarships, grants, fellowships, internships, and cooperative education with federal agencies.
- Indian Health Service
Scholarships for American Indian/Alaskan Native health profession students and loan repayment for persons working in IHS facilities.
3. Aid for private K-12 education: while there is no direct federal assistance for this area, some potential sources are listed here:
- Coverdell Education Savings Accounts: for elementary and secondary school expenses as well as higher education.
- Children's Scholarship Fund: partial tuition assistance to low-income students.
4. For Parents considering saving for your children's future endeavors, consider prepaid tuition and college savings ("Section 529") plans. To learn about this visit the College Savings Plan Network at http://www.collegesavings.org/index.aspx.
5. In response to the economic crisis, many of Pennsylvania's 14 community colleges offer some free education to workers who have lost their jobs. If you have recently lost your job and are interested in advancing your education, you may wish to contact your local community college to if they are able to provide assistance.
I hope that this information has been helpful. If you have any further questions or require and assistance in these matters, please contact my office of constituent services at (717) 231-7540. I wish you the best of luck in your education and future endeavors.
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