Archive for 'Grants'

Several months ago, EducationGrant alerted readers about online con artists flooding the Internet with grant scam websites that claim special access to thousands of dollars in free government grants and offering you exclusive secrets to getting your hands on some of that money. Fortunately, once you know how to recognize an Internet grant scam website, the con is not hard to spot.

Well, 6 months later, the pictures of the president are gone, but the internet grant scam sites are still out there (still displaying logos of all the impressive TV news that supposedly endorse the site), still preying on people who are easily fooled by loud promises of easy money and inside information that will propel their grant applications to the head of the line.

How to Investigate an Internet Grant Site

I saw a “press release” for one of these helpful grant sites the other day and followed its trail. (Some press release websites allow you to publish your own press release for a fee.) Clicking on the link in the “press release” took me to GovernmentGrantSource, which looks very similar to countless other helpful grant sites that have since been identified as scams.

It even has a .net web address, which gives the impression that it’s a nonprofit, public service site, rather than a commercial site.

This website’s membership services will cost you $4 for a trial period and $40/month unless you cancel within a certain amount of time. (Hmm, sounds familiar.)

The site is careful to state its fees a little more clearly than similar sites did six months ago. But since they’re asking us for money up front, I thought I’d do a little homework on the company. I went onto the Internet and searched for the phone number listed in the press release’s Contact Information section. (Not the website’s free 888 phone number, but the contact number of the person who published the press release.)

It turns out that the area code is in Canada and phone number is for a cell phone reseller. OK, maybe both the helpful grant site and the cell phone reseller site are owned by the same larger company.

A little more exploration of my search results eventually led me to a site where I found the Canadian phone number together with an email address. The name in the email address matched the name in the press release’s Contact Information box.

Sounds like a clue.

Next, to see if there was a company website matching the email address, I changed the email address (name@) to a website address (www.) and put that address into my browser. Here’s where I ended up.

It’s certainly possible that this website owner has government grant information and application tips worth $40 a month (forever), but there’s no question that he also enjoys cars.

Check out what the Federal Trade Commission has to say about Internet scams:

How to Recognize an Internet Grant Scam Website

Watch out for any site and/or any customer service phone rep that:

  • tells you they will need money up front, even if it’s only $3.95, before they can offer you any information, assistance, supplies, materials, equipment, or insider’s tips to the fast track
  • guarantees you that you’ll get the grant you want, not lose your house, get completely out of debt, make millions with your home-based business, etc.
  • requires your credit card number, social security number, or bank account number to get you started
  • needs you to make an investment in the company
  • tells you that you have to make a decision quickly because your opportunity is about to expire or be offered to someone else

How to Find a Legitimate Government Grant Site: Look for .gov

  • http://www07.grants.gov/applicants/applicants.jsp: the real government grants site, where you can find FREE listings of all available federal grants. You may have to register to apply for a grant, but registration won’t cost you anything. NOTE: You can’t get grants for college or personal expenses at this site. If you’re looking for an education grant for college, go to…
  • http://www.fafsa.ed.gov: the real federal government Department of Education website where you can apply for an education grant by filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Filing a FAFSA is FREE — it costs you nothing to apply for federal student aid and federal education grants. You’ll need to file a FAFSA for ALL federal and most private education grants and scholarships.
  • https://studentaid2.ed.gov/getmoney/scholarship/v3browse.asp: a huge school and private organization scholarship database maintained by the Department of Education.

How to Recognize an Internet Grant Scam Website: Do Your Homework

Don’t accept an Internet site’s flashy promises and lures of exclusive offers and information at face value. Do some investigation and remember that no legitimate website will ever charge you for information available for free on a federal or state government site.

Can you get more than one Pell Grant per school year? Right now, the answer is still “no,” but if higher education officials still working on some new rules can come to an agreement, the answer may change to “yes.” If that happens, students may become eligible for two Pell Grants in the same school year.

The first couple of eligibility requirements are likely to be:

  • Enrollment in an accredited certificate, associate degree, or bachelor degree program
  • Enrolled at least half-time for more than one academic year, more than two semesters, or the equivalent time during a single award year

What is a “single award year”?

The school year, called an “award year” by the U.S. Department of Education, runs from July 1st through the following June 30th, a little longer than the typical traditional college year of September to May. The award year covers the two traditional college semesters plus summer school.

Some schools, rather than having fall and spring semesters plus summer sessions, may divide their school year into quarters. This type of school year is also covered by the Department of Education award year of July 1st through June 30th.

What’s the part of the new Pell Grant update that the officials can’t agree on?

The purpose of the 2-Pell-Grants-per-year proposal is to help students “accelerate” their degree completion — and it is the definition of “accelerate” that is still being debated (no agreement yet). As far as this specific update is concerned, federal legislators define “accelerate” as helping students complete their degree faster than is normal — that is, ahead of other students in the same program. But non-federal college officials define “accelerate” as helping students complete their degree faster than they would have otherwise, if they had not gotten the extra financial aid.

College authorities do not want part-time students to lose out on qualifying for two Pell Grants per school year just because they are completing their degrees at a slower pace than fulltime students.

Should a second Pell Grant be awarded only to help students finish their degrees sooner than their fellow students who didn’t get Pell Grants? Or should a qualifying student be eligible for a second Pell Grant when the grant becomes the difference between staying in school part-time or being forced to drop out due to lack of money? That seems to be the question.

What would Senator Pell do?

We’ll have to wait a little while longer for the answer. The discussion between federal and college officials is still ongoing, but the official schedule dictates they will have to come to an understanding by the end of the year.

Indiana — President Obama visited Indiana today, another state whose budget crisis has forced a 30% cut to the amount of state financial aid awarded to each student who applied for it. The number of Indiana students who applied for state financial aid shot up 60,000 this year! (Yes, you read that right: 60,000 more students applied for state financial aid this year than last year.) There just wasn’t enough money in the budget for the State Student Assistance Commission to offer fully funded state grants to everyone who applied.

In Elkhart County, where the president discussed the purpose and dispersal of the stimulus bill money, the themes were unemployment, getting people back to work, the collapse of old manufacturing, and the rise of new energy and fuel-efficient automotive technology. Needed: an educated middle class looking forward to new jobs, trained for new technology, and rebuilding prosperous communities.

Fortunately, several Indiana colleges and universities are stepping up to help their students stay in school. Indiana Tech, Manchester College, Grace College, University of Indianapolis, University of Saint Francis, Trine University, Wabash College, and Huntington University have all dug deep into their pockets to cover the gaps in thousands of students’ financial aid. Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne enrollees are not so fortunate; the university advised its students that it can’t provide additional financial aid on such short notice.

Illinois — As in Michigan and Indiana, the Illinois budget shortfall required the elimination of funding that would have provided state financial aid for 130,000 college students, and reduction of one state grant, the Monetary Assistance Program, by half. In past years, Illinois college students had until August to apply for state financial aid. This year, accurately anticipating a huge increase in applications, the Illinois Student Assistance Commission changed the deadline to May 15. They tried to get the word out, but thousands of students missed the early cut-off.

We checked the federal financial aid website for the FAFSA policy on unanticipated changes to a student’s financial situation. Unfortunately, once your FAFSA has been processed, you can’t make any changes to reflect the loss of state aid. It says, “If your financial situation changes, check with your financial aid administrator.”

Financial aid administrators in Illinois seem to be equally stuck, for now. Nevertheless, it would be terrific if Illinois schools, like their Indiana peers, could find the resources to keep their students from having to drop out this fall.

“Education Pays,” a College Board report on the benefits of higher education to families, communities, and society, documented higher earnings, higher contributions to state taxes, lower unemployment levels, and lower poverty levels for workers with college degrees than for those without. A tax base that can’t pay taxes, or worse, has to leave the state for education or work, can’t help the state recover from recession.

Other possible solutions to the state financial aid crisis? Illinois and Indiana, along with many other states, received stimulus bill education funding a few months ago and may be about to get another installment a month early. Covering state financial aid shortfalls wasn’t one of the intended uses of this federal funding, but a small investment in college students now may restore an educated state workforce in the long run.

Otherwise, a later-enrolling accredited online program may work for students whose campus semester starts without them.

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Happy Friday! Wanted to share this entertaining Judge Judy clip, where the defendant used $2,500 from his step-daughter’s Pell Grant to purchase rims for his car and decided not to pay her back.

In the words of Judge Judy:“The government doesn’t put $2,500 on your rims! A Pell Grant is for education so somebody can increase their mind, can get a better job, make a future for themselves!”

Anyone willing to admit using their Pell Grant for something other than their education?

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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On the surface, Pell Grants are a helpful way for lower-income students who need financial assistance to attend college. But, there are a few common misconceptions and little known facts that you should be aware of:

  1. There is no Pell Grant application, per se.
  2. To “apply” for a Pell Grant, as with most other education grants, you need to submit a FAFSA. There is no other form or separate Pell grant application to fill out. The Pell Grant is available to students through the federal government, so your eligibility and award funding is determined by some of the questions you answer on the FAFSA. Once you submit your FAFSA application, you will be notified by email or regular postal delivery if and when you receive Pell Grant funding.

  3. To qualify, you must not already have a Bachelor’s Degree.
  4. Pell Grants are awarded to undergraduate students who have not earned a bachelor’s degree or professional degree. One caveat: If you have earned a bachelor’s degree, but are enrolled specifically in a post-baccalaureate teacher certification or licensing program, you still might be eligible for a Pell Grant. But, if you are enrolled in a certification program, be aware that the school you are attending must not also offer a bachelor’s degree in education.

    We know – fine print is such a pain. But, better to be informed, right? For more details about this stipulation, visit the Federal Pell Grant section of the Transition to Teaching page.

  5. Your jail time or felony charges could restrict you from receiving a Pell grant.
    • If you were convicted of possession of illegal drugs for the first time, you won’t be eligible for federal aid until at least one year since your conviction.
    • If you were convicted for selling for the first time, you won’t be eligible for federal aid for at least two years from the date of your conviction.
    • If you have more than one offense for selling or more than two offenses for possession, you can only regain eligibility after you complete an approved rehabilitation program.
  6. If you are currently in jail: Your eligibility for a Pell Grant depends on the type of institution in which you are incarcerated. People in federal and state penal institutions aren’t eligible for Pell grants, but students in local penal institutions are.

    If you’re not incarcerated: it depends on the nature of your offense. The law imposes restrictions on drug offenses in particular.

    To determine whether a drug offense affects your eligibility, go to the Student Aid Eligibility Worksheet.

  7. There might be a 2010 Pell Grant increase.
  8. One of the more significant steps President Obama has taken to boost access to higher education is his proposal for a 2010 Pell Grant increase to $5,500 for the 2010-2011 school year. The total number of Pell Grants that could be available in 2010: about 7 million.

  9. The Pell Grant is named after Senator Claiborne Pell.
  10. Claiborne Pell was a Democratic Senator from Rhode Island and was best known as the sponsor of the Pell Grant, which was created in 1973 and was originally known as “Basic Educational Opportunity Grants”. Pell grants initially provided grants for prisoners because Pell understood that education while incarcerated resulted in a 65% drop in repeat offense rates, and that resulted in a safer public.

    Related posts:

The California Student Aid Commission runs CalGrants.org, a great website that offers financial aid and grant information about, well, California Grants! Funded by the State of California, this type of college grant awards up to $9,700 a year* to pay for tuition, student housing, and books at any California community college, Cal State University, University of California, private college, and most career technical or vocational schools. Oh, and did I mention that this is free money that you don’t have to pay back?

There are a few available Cal Grants that you can apply for:

  • Cal Grant A – you may use this entitlement award for college or school tuition fees for public or private colleges and also for some private career colleges.
  • Cal Grant B – this entitlement award helps low-income students, by providing a living allowance as well as grants for school or college.
  • Cal Grant C – this entitlement award helps students in paying the tuition and training costs at career colleges.

As with most scholarships or education grants, there are some academic and income requirements. Awards are given primarily to high school seniors and recent graduates, but for older students who have been out of high school for long time, there is an opportunity for you to get your hands on some of this money, too. If your GPA is unavailable you must submit a recent SAT, ACT, or GED test score instead.

If you want some assistance in applying for your Cal Grant, find a Cash for College workshop in your area. Each winter, financial aid experts team up to offer Cash for College workshops throughout the state where students can get help in filling out the FAFSA and GPA Verification forms. The mission is to help low-income and first-generation college students complete the application process so that they have the financial means to pursue higher education. While you’re there, ask them about the Cash for College Performance Based Scholarship that you might be eligible for.

*The fine print: in the last month or so, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed some budget revisions that could affect the Cal Grant program, and unfortunately, I’m not talking about an increase in award money. Awards will be subject to approval of the final 2009-10 state budget, so keep yourself informed by checking in with the financial aid office at the school you plan to attend.

**Update (08/03/09): The California Student Aid Commission informed California State University campuses on July 31st that Cal Grant awards will be adjusted to cover the CSU’s recent student fee increase of $672 per year. For more information, click here.

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.

Simplifying the FAFSA

Washington, D.C., June 24, 2009 — We recently reported on the millions of college students who don’t apply for federal financial aid each year because the 30-page FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is too complicated and time-consuming. Today, the Department of Education is taking some first steps in simplifying the FAFSA, introducing a working draft of a dramatically shortened form that may be ready for students as early as the 2010-2011 school year.

Lisa Desjardins of CNN details some of the specific, dinosaur-aged questions that are likely to be dropped from the streamlined financial aid form.

Simplifying the FAFSA is a project long overdue. Today’s introduction to the major overhaul will highlight the sharp reduction in questions and a common sense arrangement with the IRS that will allow students and families to download financial information straight from their tax returns to the online FAFSA.

Simplification efforts will also include cleaning up inefficient or irrelevant questions, such as those that apply to only 3% of Pell Grant recipients. The online version of the federal financial aid application will be cut from 30 screens to just 10.

The fact that simplifying the FAFSA has even reached a draft phase is tremendous news for college students and their families. Stay tuned for updates as more details and an image of the new FAFSA emerge.

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More than 40% of 21st-century college students are 25 years of age or olderThe adult learner, or nontraditional learner, is today’s primary college student. More than 40% of 21st-century college students are 25 years of age or older, and approximately 13% are single parents. Most need financial aid to cover education costs. If you’ve always thought college scholarships were only for high school seniors, you’ll be glad to know there are adult learning scholarships to help nontraditional learners return to school. Here are some tips on where to look for them.

Federal aid first
Fill out the FAFSA immediately. Federal financial aid is determined by family income, not by age. The amount of federal aid you can get depends on whether you’re a full-, half-, or part-time student, but as long as you’re working toward an accredited degree or certificate/diploma, there is no age restriction on federal financial aid.

Federal adult learning scholarships include Pell Grants, the FSEOG, the Work-Study program, and TEACH Grants. Congress just increased maximum Pell Grants to $5,350 in 2009 and $5,550 in 2010. The number of Pell Grants was also increased by 800,000 grants. Your FAFSA is your Pell Grant application. If your income qualifies you for a Pell Grant, you’ll automatically get one.

The FAFSA is also used by individual states to determine your eligibility for state-sponsored adult learning scholarships and grants. With the 2009 economic stimulus bill funds they received, many states are working with their community colleges to provide new career education and retraining programs as quickly as possible.

Your school’s scholarships
If you’re already enrolled, or thinking of enrolling, in a school, talk to a financial aid counselor there. Many adult learning scholarships and grants are provided by individual colleges and universities to help nontraditional students begin or stay in school.

Also ask whether your school has an Alpha Sigma Lambda Chapter. Alpha Sigma Lambda is the national honor society for nontraditional adult students, which offers a number of adult learning scholarships and grants.

If your school doesn’t have any adult learning scholarships appropriate for you, they may be able to provide you with the names of alumni associations and local organizations or foundations that do.

Your employer or HR department: tuition reimbursement
Your employer may not seem like an obvious scholarship source, but many companies offer benefits that employees never hear about. Even small businesses sometimes offer tuition reimbursement for higher education, advanced training, and retraining programs that increase the value of your contribution to the company, and employers associated with large national industries may have access to adult learning scholarships through trade organizations.

Your union or professional association’s scholarships
If you belong to a union, professional association, or trade association, contact your local representative and ask if the group provides any adult learning scholarships and grants. A good example is the Union Plus Scholarship Program, which has awarded more than $2 million in scholarships to labor union members and their families. Another example is the Two Ten Footwear Foundation, which provides college scholarships to students affiliated with the footwear, leather, or allied industries.

National organizations and foundations
Many national organizations, philanthropic societies, charitable foundations, and private companies are sources of adult learning scholarships and grants. For example, the retail clothing store Talbot’s awards 55 scholarships per year to women who are returning to school to complete their first undergraduate degree and Coca-Cola provides 150 adult learning scholarships a year for students enrolled in community college.

Your local Chamber of Commerce may also know of local or national scholarships.

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