'Debt relief' firms misleading student loan borrowers
Some 'debt relief' firms are charging fees to secure services that borrowers could get for free, a new report says.
June 25th, 2013
11:36 AM ET

'Debt relief' firms misleading student loan borrowers

By Melanie Hicken, CNNMoney

New York (CNNMoney) - Firms offering student loan "debt relief" are deceiving borrowers into paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars for access to free government programs, according to a recent consumer watchdog report.

With student loan debt soaring to record levels, many graduates are turning to companies that claim to help reduce or manage their debts. However, some of these firms are charging borrowers initial fees as high as $1,600 and monthly fees as high as $50 to secure services that these borrowers could otherwise get for free, according to the report from the National Consumer Law Center.

While the government offers several relief programs free of charge, such as repayment plans based on a borrower's income level, getting through the red tape is "rarely easy," according to the report. And many borrowers are unaware that the programs even exist in the first place.

To conduct its investigation, undercover NCLC "mystery shoppers" contacted 10 randomly selected student loan relief companies, analyzed websites and reviewed a variety of actual contracts and consumer complaints. They found that the majority of firms surveyed didn't inform potential clients that the products they offered - most frequently loan consolidations - were actually free government programs, or the companies buried that information in the fine print.

Read the full story on CNNMoney

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My View: Big debt for students, big perks for university elites
While NYU students accrue debt, NYU helps its executives and star faculty buy vacation homes.
June 25th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

My View: Big debt for students, big perks for university elites

By Claire Potter, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Claire Potter is a professor of history at the New School for Public Engagement. She blogs at Tenured Radical for the Chronicle of Higher Education.

(CNN) - New York University's 2010 graduating class owed a total of more than $600 million in student loans. It's unlikely the university will forgive them. But NYU has forgiven portions of mortgages they have extended to President John Sexton, other university executives or star faculty - money that has been used to buy properties in Manhattan or vacation homes in the Hamptons.

Does this shock you?

Or, how about this: Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, a former executive vice president at NYU, received an "exit bonus" of $685,000. Just to put this in perspective, Lew's NYU exit bonus alone would have provided free tuition for 275 undergraduates, or a little more than 17% of the incoming class.

The revelations about lavish compensation packages at New York University (my alma mater) have raised a firestorm of criticism. Faculty critics have already publicized NYU's top executive salaries: Sexton takes home nearly $1.5 million, Vivien Lee, the vice dean of science gets $1.1 million, and Robert Grossman, the dean of the medical center, makes a whopping $3.5 million.

Read Potter's full column

June 24th, 2013
10:54 AM ET

High court avoids larger ruling on university's affirmative action admissions policy

By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer

Washington (CNN) - The Supreme Court side-stepped a sweeping decision on the use of race-conscious school admission policies, ruling Monday on the criteria at the University of Texas and whether it violates the equal protection rights of some white applicants.

The justices threw the case back to the lower courts for further review.

The court affirmed the use of race in the admissions process, but makes it harder for institutions to use such policies to achieve diversity. The 7-1 decision from the court avoids the larger constitutional issues.

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I will graduate with $100,000 in loans
Kelly Mears has a lot at stake in the debate over government-subsidized student loan interest rates.
June 24th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

I will graduate with $100,000 in loans

By Jennifer Liberto, CNNMoney

Washington (CNNMoney) - When Kelly Mears graduates from Union College in the summer of 2015, she will have $100,000 in student loans.

Armed with a political science degree, Mears will join more than a million Americans who have racked up breathtaking amounts of student debt.

Mears is also one of 7 million undergraduates caught in the middle of a debate in Washington over government-subsidized student loans, as interest rates are set to double to 6.8% from 3.4% on July 1.

"It just seems to be a part of the growing American experience to go to school, graduate and work off that debt for the rest of your life," Mears said.

Super-borrowers with $100,000 of student loan debt aren't the norm. The average student graduates with $27,000 of loan debt.

The New York Fed said those who borrow $100,000 or more are about 3.1% of borrowers nationwide. But it's easy to see how students get there, with four years of private college tuition running $116,000 on average, according to the College Board.

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Professors teach into their golden years
A Fidelity survey released Monday found many professors teach into their golden years.
June 20th, 2013
01:00 PM ET

Professors teach into their golden years

By Melanie Hicken, CNNMoney

New York (CNNMoney) –While most people dream of the day they can retire, many college professors plan to put it off or work until their final years.

The sluggish economy has made people in all professions question whether their nest eggs will get them through retirement. Professors are no different - plus many of them love their jobs too much to leave. But paired with the fact that colleges and universities are offering a smaller percentage of tenure-track spots, it's making it increasingly tough for aspiring professors to start their careers.

A Fidelity survey released Monday echoes prior studies and anecdotal evidence that found many professors are teaching into their golden years.

Fidelity polled several hundred faculty members between the ages of 49 and 67, and nearly 75% said they planned to retire after age 65. While 65% of those planning to delay said they were motivated by financial reasons, such as maximizing Social Security payments or hanging onto health insurance, more than 80% plan to stay for professional reasons.

"If I go several days without teaching, I long for it," said 71-year-old writing professor Donald Gallehr. "I miss my students. I wish I was in the classroom."

But many of these professors are holding onto coveted - and shrinking - tenure-track spots, which usually guarantee lifetime job security. Tenured and tenure-track professors made up about a quarter of instructors in 2011, compared to nearly 40% of instructors in 1989 and close to 50% in 1975, according to the American Association of University Professors.

Read the full story on CNNMoney

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June 19th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

Girl raised in Mumbai brothel wins U.S. college scholarship

(CNN) – Shweta Katti was raised in Mumbai's largest red-light district - the only place her family could afford to live. Men would sometimes ask her to sleep with them. But her mother always wanted her to learn to read and write, and Kranti, an organization that works with girls from Mumbai's red-light areas, helped her apply to college.

This fall, she's heading to Bard College in New York.

Learn more about "Girl Rising" and how girls of the world are fighting to get an education

My graduation breakdown: 'Nothing will ever be this good again'
“I don’t want this year to be over. Nothing will ever be this good again," Liz Landau thought as she approached graduation.
June 3rd, 2013
05:00 AM ET

My graduation breakdown: 'Nothing will ever be this good again'

Elizabeth LandauBy Elizabeth Landau, CNN

Editor's note: Elizabeth Landau is a health and science writer and producer for CNN.com. She is a 2006 graduate of Princeton University. Here she offers a personal take on the terror that can accompany such a happy milestone.

(CNN) - On paper, I was ready to graduate. In my head, though, I never wanted that moment to arrive.

Sure, I was academically qualified. I had already been through the festivities that Princeton lavishes upon its graduating seniors in the week prior to The Day: The Reunions parade, a hilarious talk by David Sedaris, an outdoor sing-along, an inspirational speech by Bill Clinton, the bestowing of honors and awards, and a prom-like gala where soon-to-be-graduates and parents danced awkwardly. Princeton really likes to celebrate things.

The final ceremonial act would, superficially, be the easiest and least meaningful: Commencement – put on the cap and gown, sit through a few speeches, receive my diploma.

But in those last hours as a student, the perky, optimistic, ready-for-anything face I’d worn for four years melted away. I completely fell apart.

“Boludita, don’t cry,” my college sweetheart told me that morning, using a Spanish word meaning something like “little stupid one” that we had adapted into an affectionate nickname.

There was much to look forward to – an overseas trip! Graduate school! This all felt remote and less appealing because of graduation.

“I can’t help it,” I told him. “I don’t want to leave. I don’t want this year to be over. Nothing will ever be this good again.”

We bid farewell so he could catch a flight and I could get to graduation procession.When I was standing alone on the sidewalk with tears streaming down my cheeks, a single thought would not go away: “I will never be happy again.”

I wish that I had known Marina Keegan, the Yale graduate whose beautiful essay about graduating has been widely cherished since her untimely death in a car accident at age 22 last year. Marina’s incredible insight and wisdom led her to write, “The notion that it's too late to do anything is comical. It's hilarious. We're graduating college. We're so young. We can't, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it's all we have.”

It’s clear from Marina’s essay that she loved her time at Yale. I still get teary-eyed reading her words because it sounds as though she is directly addressing 22-year-old me - I who believed on graduation day that nothing was possible anymore.

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‘Skinny guy with a funny name’: Morehouse valedictorian’s long journey to graduation
"There is no impossible. There is no unbelievable," 2013 Morehouse valedictorian Betsegaw Tadele said during his speech.
May 28th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

‘Skinny guy with a funny name’: Morehouse valedictorian’s long journey to graduation

By Meron Moges-Gerbi, CNN

(CNN) - On a rainy afternoon this spring when President Barack Obama gave the commencement speech at Morehouse College in Atlanta, he called valedictorian Betsegaw Tadele the “skinny guy with a funny name” – a nickname Obama has often called himself.

So, who is that other “skinny guy?”

Tadele’s journey to sharing a stage with the president began in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the youngest of Tadele Alemu and Almaz Ayalew’s two children. Tadele’s first name, Betsegaw, means "by God's grace" in Amharic, his native language.

In the summer of 2009, Tadele came to the United States in pursuit of a higher education.

Morehouse College, a historically black college, was not Tadele’s first choice; he was initially interested in more technical schools. Morehouse only awarded him enough scholarship funds to pay for tuition, not room and board. But Tadele’s brother happened to be living and working in Atlanta. Tadele saw this as an opportunity to spend time with his brother while taking advantage of what the university had to offer. Morehouse became his new destination.

After four years at Morehouse, Tadele had a 3.99 GPA. He graduated with a degree in computer science and a minor in mathematics. He won departmental awards in math and the school’s computer science leadership and scholarship award, led Morehouse’s Computer Science Club and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

"There is no impossible. There is no unbelievable. There is no unachievable, if you have the audacity to hope," Tadele said during his speech, paraphrasing the name of the president's 2006 book, "The Audacity of Hope."

President Obama and Betsegaw Tadele speak at the Morehouse graduation.

The next stop in Tadele’s journey is Seattle, where he'll work for Microsoft.

Here’s what Tadele had to say about meeting the president and finishing college:

CNN: First thing first, what was it like to meet President Obama?

Betsegaw Tadele: I didn’t really get to meet him except on stage. There were a lot of Secret Service (agents) around him. Many were suggesting I go and hug him, but I couldn’t do that. But it was great; after my speech, he got up gave me a hug and told me he was proud of me. That was a great honor.

CNN: What was the greatest part of being a Morehouse valedictorian?

Tadele: It was great to be able to mark that moment and summarize our journey at Morehouse. I wasn't nervous at all. I could feel the energy of the crowd, everyone was happy to be there. It was an honor to be able to acknowledge all these parents who sacrificed so much for their kids to be there. Acknowledging them and our hard work and the energy of that moment was unforgettable.

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May 24th, 2013
10:11 AM ET

Homeless teen graduates as valedictorian

(CNN) - Chelesa Fearce is the valedictorian at Charles Drew High School near Atlanta, Georgia, but it didn't come without a fight. The 17-year-old and her family have been homeless for years, living out of shelters, cars and occasionally short-lived apartments while her mom struggled to keep a job.

But Chelesa would crack open books at the homeless shelter and read against a cell phone light, she told CNN affiliate WSB. She's graduating with a 4.46 GPA, and is heading to Spelman College in the fall with enough credits to be a junior.

Her advice to students? "Do what you have to do right now so that you can have the future you want," she said.

From scrubbing floors to Ivy League: Homeless students heads to Harvard

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Students scarred by war earn college degrees
Mireille Kibibi is one of seven refugees graduating this year from Berry College in north Georgia.
May 21st, 2013
05:00 AM ET

Students scarred by war earn college degrees

By Moni Basu, CNN

Rome, Georgia (CNN) - Mireille Kibibi's march to the graduation stage at Berry College was tough - laden with the burdens of war.

As a little girl, she fled civil war in Burundi and escaped to neighboring Rwanda in 1994, the year of the genocide. In the chaos, she was separated from her mother, whom she has never seen again. Her father died a few years later.

Kibibi made it to the United States with her grandmother in 2005 and resumed school after missing fourth, fifth and eighth grades.

Now she was about to receive a bachelor's degree in accounting.

She felt all those things a college graduate feels: the relief that exams are over. The excitement of starting life in the real world. The joy of making your family proud.

But Kibibi's graduation was also filled with longing.

On this humid Saturday morning, as dark clouds delivered drizzle over North Georgia, Kibibi, 23, sat nervously among 377 classmates.

The rows and rows of folding chairs had been arranged on the south lawn days in advance. She wished her father and especially her grandmother could see her now, resplendent in the knee-length red dress she'd ordered on eBay. Her grandmother, who raised her, had died a while back.

"She's watching you," her friend Fatima Bostan-Ali reassured her.

"She's proud," said another friend, Lima Naseri.

Kibibi cherishes the support. She knows her friends understand. They are from Afghanistan and also have traveled uneasy paths to graduation day.

Read the full story

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