Archive for 'Education & Training'

diploma millsDiploma mills are organizations that award fake degrees to individuals who haven’t taken classes or done any work. Nowadays, people are looking for the easiest way to gain credentials that they can use towards their career advancement, and that is why diploma mills continue to remain in business.

There are two kinds of diploma mills – diploma mills that sell fake degrees for cash, and diploma mills that pretend to be real accredited schools.

Recently US Congressmen unveiled legislation that aims to stop diploma mills. The bill is part of a much needed effort to stop unauthorized colleges and degrees, and intends to:

  • establish federal law definitions for diploma mills and accreditation mills
  • bar federal agencies from using diploma mill degrees to provide jobs that are dependent of the person’s education credentials
  • have the Federal Trade Commission define and crack down on diploma mills

The bill is further explained in an Inside Higher Ed article.

It has been hard to prosecute diploma mills, and the individuals who purchase false degrees, without a legal definition of what one is. The new legislation would define a diploma mill as any organization that is not accredited by an agency that is recognized by the U.S. Education Department, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, or authorized to give postsecondary degrees by the state government. The new legislation will also make passing off a fake degree as an accredited diploma a crime.

Individual states are also considering bills to stop using phony academic credentials. For example, unauthorized schools will be prohibited from using words like college, university, or state in their names.

Things to remember:

  • Receiving an education requires lots of time, hard work, and taking examinations and classes.
  • Although you usually do have to pay for schooling, you never just pay and instantly receive a diploma.
  • Make sure the online degree you are considering is being offered from a legitimate accredited school – you can now get in trouble with the law for purchasing them!

Although obtaining a degree from a diploma mill seems like a quick and easy alternative, it is not worth it in the long run. Find an online degree program that suits your individual needs and goals for the future, and save yourself time and money from being scammed by diploma mills!

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The subject of today’s post, though not exactly financial aid, feels like a higher education story for the holidays: a glimpse into how successful nontraditional students get their college degrees. Nontraditional college students (anyone other than an 18-year-old going to a 4-year college straight from high school, that is) are students of all ages and walks of life. If you’re one of them, you’re already familiar with the challenges that may have made it difficult for you to pursue your dream of a college degree.

This celebratory article, For one student, a long path to college degree, provides both inspiration and some insight into what it means to be a nontraditional student. It’s a great read. In this year of grim news, it’s nice to read about someone’s success for a change!

One of the resources the article mentioned is the Pell Grant. Pell Grants help millions of students a year, and data on Pell Grant recipients provides a familiar snapshot of nontraditional students. For instance, a recent National Center for Education Statistics report (July 2009) profiled Pell Grant recipients who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1999-2000. Here’s what the study found:

  • Majority were low-income
  • 23% were age 22 and under; 31% were 23-24; 27% were 25-29; and almost 19% were 30 and up
  • 60% were considered financially independent
  • 24% had dependents of their own
  • 11% were single parents
  • 34% delayed their enrollment in college after high school
  • 58% left college or career school for 4 or more months and later returned to complete a degree at either the same school or a different one

These percentages are from 10 years ago, so some may have grown or decreased in the recent recession. It would be a surprise if the percentage of Pell Grant recipients age 30 and older had not noticeably increased over the past two years.

Clearly, pursing a college degree is a big investment of time, money, and maybe even personal sacrifice, but to many people, it’s worth the effort. If not straight from high school, how do nontraditional students get started on their college degrees? Here are a couple of ideas.

What college will work for me?

The nonprofit education organization ACT, maker of the college entrance exam by the same name, has a checklist of 11 items for prospective college students to consider when choosing a college. The checklist is geared more toward the traditional college-bound high school senior, but many items are still relevant to nontraditional students working on their degrees across the years, colleges, and even states. Here are a few, with a nontraditional student twist:

  • Academics, particularly the programs, majors, and courses you need to stay on your degree track
  • Admission and transfer-admission requirements, and transfer policy
  • Total Costs: tuition, fees, books, transportation
  • Financial aid (who will give you the most?)
  • School size (can you get the personalized academic guidance and support you need to succeed, especially if you’re transferring in?)
  • Location (is it convenient for you?)
  • Housing for independent students if you need it
  • Facilities: certainly academic, maybe recreational, but also practical (is there a daycare center?)

Based on Catherine’s story in the AP article, it sounds like a checklist specifically for nontraditional students would also include:

  • Powerful belief in both oneself and the value of a good education
  • Determination
  • Support from family and friends
  • Stick-to-it-iveness: the ability to persevere against the odds

How do I get financial aid?

You start with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). A new and improved one is being released in stages and the FAFSA for the 2010-2011 school year will be available on January 1st. Submitting a FAFSA is required in order for you to get a Pell Grant.

In the meantime, try the FAFSA4caster on Federal Student Aid website. This little calculator, a sort of mini-FAFSA, allows you to plug in some of the information you’ll need to put on the FAFSA, including the school(s) you’re considering. The FAFSA4caster then gives you an estimate of your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and your financial aid eligibility. It may be only the beginning of your journey to get your college degree, but a single step, or two, or three, can be a good start.

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What do you think of the new TV show “Community”? Does it help the president bring community colleges positive attention or does it reinforce the old cliché of community college as higher education’s Cinderella?

Almost half (44%) of U.S. undergraduates are community college students, earning more than 600,000 associate degrees and 320,000 professional and career certificates a year. Is it reality or fiction that some of those nontraditional students may end up having to live in their cars for a while at some point?

The unemployment rate just crept up over 10%, but back in July, TIME Magazine was already asking “Can Community Colleges Save the U.S. Economy?” and highlighting some of the stand-out benefits and problems of the community college experience.

The American Association of Community Colleges is on board with the TV show, operating on the belief that no publicity is bad publicity and seeing it as an opportunity to create a real “Community” community. While you’re on the AACC site, check out some profiles of real-life community college graduates.

Community colleges have always faced complex challenges, but maybe they really can save the economy.

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If you’re thinking about going back to school this year, talk to your employer about the type of financial aid known as tuition reimbursement. Continuing education credits or a college degree can often help you get ahead on the job, and skilled, educated employees are usually an organization’s greatest assets. Many companies offer tuition reimbursement as a worker benefit because they appreciate the value of dedicated employees.

Tuition Reimbursement 1-2-3

1) If you’re counting on tuition reimbursement for funding, contact your supervisor or human resources department before enrolling in any classes. If you qualify for tuition reimbursement, confirm exactly what percentage of your tuition will be covered. Depending on your company and the education program you select, you may be reimbursed for at least 25% of your tuition, but perhaps as much as 75% or even 100%.

2) Choose a continuing education or college degree program that will benefit both you and your employer. Most companies reimburse tuition only if the continuing education or degree program the employee takes is related to and enhances his or her contribution to the company, thus directly benefiting the employer. On the other hand, when lay-offs are epidemic, some employers will provide tuition reimbursement to help their employees transition to new careers.

3) Keep up with the necessary documentation. Stay on top of whatever paperwork is required to ensure your tuition reimbursement! Find out from your employer exactly what they need, and when, for processing your tuition reimbursement request by the time you need the money.

Tuition Reimbursement is a Good Investment for Employers

Companies benefit from investing in their employees’ education for many reasons:

  • Educated employees bring improved skills and knowledge — and often renewed inspiration — to the job, enhancing productivity and performance.
  • Employees with advanced skills and continuing education training may be promoted to senior positions within the company, saving an employer time and money on recruiting and training efforts.
  • Tuition reimbursement as a benefit creates an encouraging and supportive environment for employees, resulting in better morale and work performance.

Higher Education & Tuition Reimbursement: a Win-Win for Everyone

Higher education can improve not only your career but also your life, when advanced skills and expertise lead to a bigger paycheck and the financial stability that can come from a boosted salary. If you like the company you’re working for, going back to school to enhance your value to the organization is a practical investment in your future — and your employer may see your education as a good investment for the company, as well.

A new GI Bill for college takes effect this week. On August 1, 2009, the Post-9/11 GI Bill will open a whole new chapter of higher education opportunities for U.S. armed services veterans and personnel. The new GI Bill for college does not replace the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB). It is an alternative program with features and rules that may or may not benefit you.

Features of the Post-9/11 GI Bill include:

  • Full undergraduate tuition and fees at any eligible public, in-state college or university (Eligible= accredited by a U.S. Education Department-approved accrediting agency, offering education programs eligible for GI Bill coverage)
  • Full undergraduate tuition and fees at participating “Yellow Ribbon Program” private schools
  • Tuition and fees money goes straight to your school
  • $1000 for books and supplies
  • Housing stipend
  • Transferability of education benefits to spouse or children if your service status qualifies you for this benefit
  • 15 years to use your benefits

New GI Bill Eligibility

Active-duty and National Guard/Reserve Veterans who have served at least 90 days of active duty service after September 10, 2001, and received an honorable discharge qualify for the Post-9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33 Education Benefit). Veterans who served 30 days and were discharged due to a service-connected injury or illness are also eligible for the new GI Bill. To qualify for 100% of the benefit, a veteran must have served at least three years of active duty service after September 10, 2001, or have served 30 days before being discharged due to a service connected injury or illness. Veterans serving more than 90 days but less than three years of post-9/11 active duty service are eligible for a percentage of the full Post-9/11 GI Bill benefit, based on cumulative time served. Visit the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America GI Bill website for more about eligibility.

Comparing GI Bill Benefits

You cannot participate in more than one GI Bill program at a time. If you’re already signed up for the MGIB and you decide the Post-9/11 GI Bill will better suit your education goals, you can transfer, so long as you qualify for it. But the switch is permanent; you won’t be able to switch back. So it’s essential to understand the differences between the programs before making any changes.

For many eligible participants, the new Post-9/11 GI Bill for college will have more to offer than earlier VA education programs. But others may find that they come out ahead financially if they stick with the MGIB. For still others, the biggest factor in choosing a GI Bill program may not be how much money they can get, but having the opportunity to transfer their education benefits to their spouses or children.

To determine which program is right for you, you’ll have to compare the Post-9/11 GI Bill’s benefits, restrictions, and eligibility criteria to those of existing VA education programs. The VA’s GI Bill resource center recommends using these questions to help you decide:

1. Which benefit pays you more? Don’t look at only the amounts you qualify for under each Bill…also look at the financial aid you receive from other sources. If your state allows veterans to attend college free of charge anyway, participation in the Post-9/11 Bill won’t get you the equivalent of the tuition and fees in cash; you’ll only get the $1,000 book stipend and a housing stipend of some amount (if you qualify for it). But with the MGIB, if your state allows you to attend college for free, you’ll still get the fixed monthly payment of $1300 to spend any way you wish: books, housing, whatever.

2. What type of education or training program are you planning to pursue? The Post-9/11 Bill only covers undergraduate and graduate degrees at colleges and universities, and some licensing/certification programs. The Post-9/11 Bill does not cover certificate and diploma programs offered by institutions that do not grant degrees. The MGIB covers degree programs AND technical/vocational school training, flight training, apprenticeships, entrepreneurship training. Both bills cover accredited fully online programs and distance learning.

3. Which of the 3 separate pieces of the Post-9/11 GI Bill are you eligible for (tuition; housing; books)? If you’re on active duty while you’re in school, or if you’re enrolled in a fully online program, you won’t get the Post-9/11 Bill’s housing stipend.

4. Do you plan to attend school less than full-time? Same answer. If you attend half-time or less, you’re not entitled to the housing stipend the Post-9/11 Bill provides.

5. Where will you be living when you’re in school?
The Post-9/11 GI Bill includes a housing stipend, but depending on where you live, the costs of college and housing together could be less than the fixed, non-restricted payment you would receive under the MGIB.

6. Is your education plan likely to involve undergrad and grad work? You can’t participate in both the Post-9/11 and MGIB programs at the same time, but you can use up all your MGIB benefits and then get another 12 months of Post-9/11 benefits (assuming you qualify for the Post-9/11 program).

7. Is the amount of time you have to use your education benefits important to you? The Post-9/11 GI Bill gives you 5 more years than the MGIB to use your benefits before they expire.

8. Will you be a member of the Armed Forces on August 1, 2009? You must be serving in the armed forces either on active duty or in the selective reserves on this date to get the option of transferring your education benefits to a family member.

9. Do you plan to transfer your unused benefits to an immediate family member? Only the Post-9/11 Bill will let you do this; the MGIB will not. To be eligible to transfer benefits to family members, you must first qualify for the Post 9/11 GI Bill and be serving either on active duty or in the selective reserves on August 1, 2009. The transferability provision is not available to anyone who has retired or separated from the service before August 1, 2009, or to members of the Individual Ready Reserve and Fleet Reserve.

GI Bill for College Information Resources

The NewGIBill.org site has a great plain English “Get answers to your questions” section and a Benefit Calculator that you can plug your school information into. The calculator can help you figure out which GI Bill will cover your education costs better and show you all the various factors that are taken into consideration.

The VA website has detailed charts comparing the benefits and eligibility criteria of each GI Bill program as well as a number of case studies illustrating how different individuals would benefit under the Post-9/11 GI Bill vs. the older education benefit programs. The case studies are particularly helpful because you can see how the different eligibility rules are applied in addition to seeing how the math adds up.

In addition to the VA website, the Department of Defense website has an excellent section on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, along with information on switching from one GI Bill program to another, and on the new opportunity to transfer Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to immediate family members. There are also good articles on the loopholes and flaws already coming to light in the new Bill, and what action is being taken to fix those problems.

New GI Bill for College: Please Accept Our Thanks for Your Service to the Country

The creation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill provides armed services veterans and personnel with the most comprehensive education benefits since the original bill, the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, was signed into law nearly 70 years ago. It may take a little while to get all the kinks worked out, but whether you stay with the tried and true MGIB or sign up for the Post-9/11 Bill, using your GI Bill benefits for college is a well-earned investment in the rest of your life.

Note: An error in the information in #8 was pointed out to us and corrected on August 7, 2009. The information currently posted is the correct information.

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The Post-9/11 GI Bill, the new addition to the military tuition assistance programs offered by the Veterans Affairs Department, officially kicks in on August 1st. The new GI Bill offers a timely alternative to job-hunting in a rocky economy: use your military tuition assistance benefits to go back to school instead.

USAToday: New GI Bill Could Open Education Doors for More Vets

The American Council on Education provides a “plain language Q&A” of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which will pay up to 100% tuition and fees at any state-operated college or university for veterans with at least 90 days of active military duty since 9/11/2001. The new GI Bill also provides a monthly housing stipend and up to $1,000 a year for books and school supplies. If you have to move to be near your campus, the bill gives you a one-time stipend for those costs, or, if you enroll in an accredited distance learning program, that’s also covered by this military tuition assistance plan.

Eligible service members honorably discharged with 36 or more months of active duty will get 100% of the Post-9/11 Bill’s benefits; those with less than 36 months of active service get a prorated percentage. The benefits increase with your amount of active service.

One of the appeals of the new GI Bill is the transferability of military tuition assistance benefits to your spouse or children, an option long desired by service members. A June Stars and Stripes article provides an overview of the transferability process so far.

Another appeal of the Post-9/11 GI Bill is the opportunity to attend a private college, regardless of cost. Under the Post-9/11 GI Bill Yellow Ribbon Program, participating private universities will waive or offset up to 50% of whatever their tuition is above the highest state-operated tuition, and VA will match that same amount. For example, if the tuition bill at a participating Yellow Ribbon university is $30,000 and the Post-9/11 GI Bill will only cover $15,000 (the highest public university in-state undergraduate tuition), the university and VA will split the $15,000 difference.

A new feature that may have temporarily backfired is the extension of GI Bill benefits to National Guardsmen and reservists. Extending benefits to Guardsmen and reservists with at least 90 days of active service was another long overdue policy change, but one loophole got by: it applies only to Guardsmen and reservists who served overseas. This oversight will no doubt be rectified at some point, but probably not this year.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill does not replace the Montgomery GI Bill, it is an alternative program offering a different arrangement for dispensing tuition assistance funding. The primary difference between the Montgomery GI Bill and the Post-9/11 GI Bill is that the first provides a consistent monthly stipend intended to cover all your living and school costs (including tuition and books) and the second provides you with separate payments for tuition and fees, housing, and books. The Post-9/11 GI Bill gives you 15 years to use up your benefits; the MGIB, only 10 years.

While the post-9/11 GI Bill has some welcome new features, it may not be right for everyone. You’ll have to evaluate the benefits offered in each GI Bill program and decide which plan offers you the greatest advantages and the most money. But whether you stick with the Montgomery GI Bill or transfer to the Post-9/11 GI Bill program, this is a good time to make sure you’ve done everything you need to do to maximize your military assistance benefits. After the sacrifices you and your family have made for your country, you deserve the lifelong advantages that evolve through higher education.

After you’ve done a lot of research on college financial aid options, two things become apparent: one, there’s confusion about the difference between scholarships and education grants, and two, there are countless websites offering fantastically easy access to “government grants.” These “government grant” sites are usually loud and flashy with screaming headlines in large type about the millions of dollars the government must give away every year — and most are scams. There are many legitimate scholarship databases out there, but there are far more shady grant advertisements. Getting familiar with both kinds of websites, and with the differences between scholarships and education grants, can help you find the financial aid information you need more quickly.

Government Grants and Foundation Grants

A grant is funding that does not need to be repaid. It is a gift of money awarded to recipients who demonstrate with their application that they are in financial need or that they will meet the non-financial conditions placed on getting the money.

Government grants, the most widely available and most familiar type of grant, are available to qualifying citizens or organizations for a broad range of purposes, including community services, starting a small business, employment and training programs, legal services, humanities and arts programs, environment initiatives, and research and development in fields from agriculture to zoology.

Foundation grants — grants offered by private nonprofit foundations — are similar to government grants in that do not have to be repaid. But foundation grants usually have narrow, targeted guidelines for and restrictions on how the grant money can be spent, and a comprehensive application process to make sure the grant money goes to recipients who will make the best use of it.

Generally, neither government grants nor foundation grants are available to individuals for such personal services as paying your bills, buying a personal car, paying your college tuition, or clearing your credit card debt. There are numerous federal and state “safety net,” medical support, and other financial assistance programs available to help citizens and families in financial need.

Foundation grants and government grants, including federal and state grants, are intended for development or support of projects that will benefit the community at large, whether it is medical research, a local arts center, or a regional emergency preparedness program. The exception is a small business grant for individuals, and even in this case, you will probably need to demonstrate that your small business will provide a necessary service or benefit to the community. (Otherwise, you will probably need to obtain a small business loan.)

Contrary to what all the flashy “get your government grant right here” sites tell you, the only place you can apply for federal government grants is at the federal government grant site, www.grants.gov.

Education Grants

The term “education grant” can be a little confusing, because it can be used to refer a couple of different types of grants for education.

Education Grants for States and Communities Developing New Education Programs

One type of education grant is a government grant or foundation grant awarded to communities for the development of higher education or career training programs. A community may be national, a state, a county, or even a township. The best-publicized education grants being awarded right now are going to U.S. states, who are applying for and receiving several-million-dollar grants from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act ($787 billion “Stimulus Bill”). States are using these ARRA education grants to develop new college and career training programs, particularly to help workers who have lost their jobs in the current recession to transition to new industries and employment.

Examples of government and foundation education grants include $7 million of ARRA funds offered to the auto industry states for displaced worker education and $2 million in grants the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation is offering regional public universities to develop online education programs for local students.

Education grants of this type are not available to individual students looking for financial aid for college. This is one difference between scholarships and certain education grants. Scholarships are intended for individual students, but institutional education grants are awarded to organizations that develop education programs for students. As a student, you cannot apply for this type of education grant at any grants website, even the federal grants.gov site.

Education Grants for Individual Students

The second type of education grant is a government grant awarded to individual students for the sole purpose of paying for college or career training. There are only a few of these education grants at the federal level, although individual states may also offer a limited number of student-recipient education grants. Education grants for individual students are almost always awarded according to financial need.

Federal education grants for students include the well-known Pell Grant, the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG), the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant, the Academic Competitiveness Grant (ACG), and the National Science & Mathematics Access to Retain Talent Grant (National SMART Grant). Eligibility for the Pell Grant, FSEOG, ACG, and SMART Grant, and the amount awarded per student, is based on financial need. Eligibility for the TEACH Grant is not need-based, but requires an agreement to teach in high-need schools for a certain period of time after graduation. Eligibility for all federal and state education grants for individual students requires submitting a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) every year of school.

Scholarships: Individual Student Education Grants By Another Name

William Shakespeare famously said, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” That may be true of a rose, but in higher education, a scholarship by any other name is just plain confusing. Nevertheless, the U.S. Department of Education is not likely to change the names of its student education grants to the Pell, FSEO, TEACH, Academic Competitiveness, and SMART Scholarships. So, it is up to us to remember that some education grants for individual students may be called grants, but the vast majority of these college grants are known as scholarships.

So Is There Any Difference Between Scholarships and Grants?

Well, in this use of the term “education grant,” there is often no difference between scholarships and student grants when it comes to the purpose of the money: both are intended to pay college costs. But the reasons for awarding the two types of aid can be different, and this may explain why both terms are still used.

Federal education grants for individual students are provided according to financial need, with the goal of helping more students get to college who might not otherwise have the opportunity. A Pell Grant is “need-based” financial aid. Scholarships, however, are often awarded to students based on their academic achievement, because achievement implies future success. Many scholarships are “merit-based” financial aid, and can be competitive.

Today, with the price of college so high, the separation between need-based and merit-based financial aid is not so clear-cut. The Department of Education still provides need-based education grants, but thousands of foundations, organizations, corporations, trade associations, and schools offer need-based scholarships, merit-based scholarships, and a broad array of scholarships that combine financial need with merit award. In addition to the familiar scholarships for athletes, there are scholarships for musicians, for minorities, for students in specific fields of study, for first-generation college students, for adult learners returning to school after years in the workforce, for single mothers, for students willing to go into challenging or high-demand professions, for workers laid off from businesses that have closed.

Scholarships that can cover all 4 years of college may no longer exist, but many students piece together the money they need by applying for several different scholarships on top of their federal education grants. As long as you know which education grants are for meant for states and communities, and which are meant for individual students, the difference between scholarships and grants should not matter — all you need to confirm is that you meet all the eligibility criteria. As always, read all the fine print.

If you’ve lost your job with one of the auto manufacturers and are not sure what to do next, take heart. Channeling stimulus money toward the states hardest hit by the recession, the U.S. Department of Education set aside $7 million in education funds especially for the auto industry states in early June, Colin Fly of the Associated Press reported last week. The Education Department wants community colleges and technical/vocational colleges to create “innovative and sustainable” retraining programs that will prepare displaced workers for new careers. The first programs funded with this money are targeted for communities in which autoworkers have lost their jobs, but retraining programs in other hard-hit states will follow.

The $7 million announced on June 3rd will be awarded to institutions of higher learning, private and public nonprofit organizations, and other agencies that create retraining programs primarily for adults who have been laid off in the auto industry states. One goal is to help these workers continue to provide for their families with a steady income; a second goal is to help workers successfully transition into new careers by using their skills and expertise in new industries.

“Education is the catalyst for a strong economy and the means by which adults will reinvent themselves and rebuild the industrial cities that have been the foundation of our nation,” said U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “The Obama administration is committed to supporting auto communities and workers, who have been displaced from their jobs. Community colleges are invaluable resources for adults seeking to acquire new skills that are needed by employers.”

For laid-off workers in the auto industry states, the $7 million education funding will be used in several ways directly and indirectly related to the needs of adults returning to school: career counseling, academic counseling, assistance with the college registration process, academic tutoring, childcare, transportation, and buying textbooks.

If you’re a laid-off auto industry worker, you may be eligible for one of these new retraining programs in the fall. Stay in touch with your state’s higher education office and unemployment office for announcements about which voc/tech and community colleges will offer programs that suit your needs and skills.

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