Apr 30, 2013

FAFSA recognizes Unmarried and Same-sex Households

The U.S. Department of Education announced yesterday that beginning in 2014, students whose parents are unmarried but living together, as well as the children of married gay and lesbian couples, will be asked to list both parents when applying for federal financial aid.

Until now, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) has collected financial information from only one parent if the parents were unmarried or in a same-sex marriage.

But starting with the 2014-15 form, FAFSA will collect information from parents living in a single household—regardless of marital status or gender.

The change is not expected to affect many families, but it could serve to reduce aid to some dependents of unmarried and same-sex couples because another parent’s income and assets will be consider in the calculation of need.

In fact, the Department of Education projects that in “most instances,” the amount of need-based Title IV federal aid these students receive will decrease because of the additional income and other resources used in the calculation of the student’s expected family contribution (EFC).

In other words, same-sex married couples who are currently barred from filing joint tax returns will be required to disclose total household income for purposes of computing financial need on FAFSA.

And couples who previously dodged disclosing a second household income by not marrying will be asked to provide a fuller accounting of their total resources.

"All students should be able to apply for federal student aid within a system that incorporates their unique family dynamics," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. "These changes will allow us to more precisely calculate federal student aid eligibility based on what a student's whole family is able to contribute and ensure taxpayer dollars are better targeted toward those students who have the most need, as well as provide an inclusive form that reflects the diversity of American families."

Toward this end, a new FAFSA form will use terms like “Parent 1 (father/mother/stepparent)” and Parent 2 (father/mother/stepparent) instead of gender-specific terms like “mother” and “father.”

The Department will publish these changes this week in the Federal Register for public comment as part of the draft 2014-15 FAFSA. 

Considering the impact the changes may have on some households, it’s likely the feds will get an earful.

Apr 29, 2013

On the Road with the Rhode Island Association of Admission Officers

Brown University

Braving the unpredictable New England weather, the Rhode Island Association of Admission Officers (RIAAO) hit the road last week to introduce 39 school-based and independent counselors to all ten of its member colleges and universities.

Starting at Roger Williams University in Bristol and ending at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in Providence, the tour hit virtually every corner of the Ocean State—“Smallest of the forty eight.”

While the campuses were bustling with spring concerts and year-end festivities, admissions offices were working behind the scenes to bring admitted students to campus and finalize plans for the Class of 2017. 

Here is a little more of what the 39 counselors learned about each school:

Roger Williams University.  Roger Williams launched the Student Advocacy Office to help new and returning students make the often difficult and challenging transition to college.  Each student is assigned an advocate who answers questions and provides support for adjustments to campus life.  The university is now offering an Intercultural Leadership Award—full tuition—to students who have overcome a life challenge, are first generation, or speak English as a second language.

New England Institute of Technology.  New England Tech is an “open enrollment” institution and requires no standardized tests for admissions.  Advanced academic credit is available through agreements with approved high schools as well as through experience in a particular field.  Among the more notable undergraduate programs is the Video Game Design major, which was recently named to Princeton Review’s 2013 list of top schools to study game design, along with MIT and the University of Southern California.

Salve Regina University.  Housed on a stunning campus featuring no less than 1500 trees and majestic mansions, Salve is one of only 21 colleges to be accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.  Salve's Department of Psychology offers a sequence of courses that prepares students interested in working with special needs children to sit for the Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst exam.

Bryant University.  Bryant and its U.S.-China Institute are working on an ambitious project that will bring a replica of the Forbidden City’s Shu Fang Zhai to campus.  Buildings will be fabricated in China and shipped in parts to be reconstructed on campus.  The project is scheduled to begin in August, 2013.

University of Rhode Island.  URI offers several innovative degree options including the International Engineering Program (IEP), the International Business Program (IBP), and a dual degree program combining Pharmacy and French.  Both the IEP and the IBP allow students to earn two degrees simultaneously:  a BS in engineering or business administration and a BA in German, French, Spanish, or Chinese—all within five years.  Students enrolled in the Doctor of Pharmacy program may earn a BA in French or Certificate in French and Pharmacy. 

Johnson and Wales University.  JWU enrolls more than 17,000 students on four campuses in Providence, North Miami, Denver and Charlotte. Students take classes in their majors starting first term through the JWU's “upside down” curriculum and  may earn bachelor degrees from the College of Business, the Hospitality College, the School of Technology, the College of Culinary Arts, and the White School of Arts and Sciences.  The university has spent $5 million to develop its Providence Harborside campus including the 82,000 square foot Cuisinart Center for Culinary Excellence (CCCE), which features a state-of-the-art environment specifically designed to accommodate the university’s advanced culinary curriculum.

Providence College.  The nation’s only Dominican college, Providence has been “test optional” for 7 years.  PC’s new Core Curriculum took effect with the class of 2016 and includes a revitalized Development of Western Civilization (DWC) program, which is a four semester, 16-credit course taken in the freshman and sophomore years.

Rhode Island College.  Celebrating its 160th anniversary, RIC is the oldest public institution of higher learning in the state.  Academic offerings are provided in five schools:  the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the Feinstein School of Education and Human Development, the School of Management, the School of Nursing, and the School of Social Work.  Students whose permanent address is within one of several specified Massachusetts or Connecticut communities are eligible for a special tuition discount under the Metropolitan Tuition Policy (MTP), which equals in-state tuition plus 50% or $10,863 for 2012-13.

Brown University.  Founded in 1764, Brown offers undergraduates the opportunity to pursue studies in more than 70 concentrations ranging from Egyptology to computational biology. Select first-year students may be accepted to the Program in Liberal Medical Education, which combines a Brown Baccalaureate with an MD degree at the Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown, or they may choose the Brown-RISD Dual Degree program, in which students earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design and an AB from Brown. Students enrolled in these programs must meet certain program requirements in addition to Brown's usual undergraduate degree requirements.

Rhode Island School of Design.  As the studio curriculum for all first-year undergraduate students at RISD, Foundation Studies is comprised of three programs of study: Drawing, Design and Spatial Dynamics, each of which meets one full day per week for 7.5 hours.  For purposes of the application process, the “portfolio is king” and should reflect (to the extent possible) each of the 3 components of the Foundation Studies program.

Apr 26, 2013

Colleges committed to Campus Tree Management and Forestry

Old Dominion University

This time of year, college campuses are truly at their best.  Admitted student days and approaching graduations get grounds crews hustling out to plant grass and mulch gardens.  With a little cooperation from Mother Nature, flowers bloom and trees begin to green.

But beyond wanting to look attractive, a handful of colleges and universities have deepened their commitment to campus tree management and forestry.  These schools have earned special distinction in the Tree Campus USA program sponsored by the Arbor Day Foundation.

Tree Campus USA is a national program created in 2008 to honor colleges and universities for effective forest management and for engaging staff and students in conservation goals.

Out of well over 4,000 degree-granting colleges and universities in the U.S., only 191 have earned Tree Campus recognition to-date for their efforts to sustain healthy community forests both for students and residents of surrounding communities.
Catholic University of America

To earn the title, college campuses must meet five standards, which include maintaining a tree advisory
committee, a campus tree care plan, dedicated annual expenditures for trees, an Arbor Day observance, and student service-learning projects.

It is the hope that colleges will develop connections with the local communities to foster healthy, urban forests and involve students in projects to support this effort.

Locally, only nine colleges and universities have earned this distinction.  These include

"The Arbor Day Foundation has been a great partner for us as we continue to develop our tree planting and care efforts on campus,” said Matthew Gart, landscape architect for Virginia Tech’s Office of University Planning.  “We were one of the first schools recognized as a Tree Campus USA and view our re-certification as a critical part of our commitment to trees on the Virginia Tech Campus."

So in honor of Arbor Day 2013, take a few minutes and check out the complete list of colleges earning the title of Tree Campus USA.  These are some of the most beautiful campuses in America.

Apr 25, 2013

Celebrating Earth Week: Online Flashcards support ‘Sustainable Study’ and they’re FREE

It’s Earth Week.  And why not celebrate by discovering new ways to reduce paper dependence while developing more efficient study habits?

StudyBlue, an innovative mobile and “social” study platform, offers students just that opportunity with free online “app-based” tools including downloadable flashcards—shared or those you make yourself for studying anything from Introduction to Biology to SAT vocabulary words. 

One among many paperless study options, StudyBlue allows students to turn their study materials into flashcards and quizzes, effectively moving them away from heavy notebooks and stacks of 3x5 paper cards to study aids that are fun and easy to use. 

And the free online flashcards allow students to “mobilize”their notes, meaning they can study literally anywhere—any time.  How cool is that?

Another unique feature for high school students is they can set a Study Reminder for any online flashcards or notes, and they’ll get a text message when it’s time to study again—with a direct link to the material.  This could put mom’s nagging out of business.

In effect, StudyBlue provides students with a “digital backpack” that helps them store and organize class study materials as well as compare these materials with others studying the same subjects.

And for the environmentally conscious, using StudyBlue is a way to promote sustainability and  increase personal efficiency in study methods.  In fact, going digital is one way to significantly cut into the 320 pounds of paper waste StudyBlue estimates is produced each year by the average student in the U.S. 

For more information or to try out the free flashcard app, visit the StudyBlue website.

Apr 24, 2013

Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant increases for 2013-14

Marymount University

The Virginia General Assembly recently approved an increase to the Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant (VTAG) award amount.

In 2013-14, the undergraduate VTAG award will go from the current level of $2,800 to $3,100 per year per student.  The award for graduate students in health professions programs will be increased from $1,300 to $1,550.

This is great news for Virginia residents who are full time students at eligible private colleges or universities.

In 2012-13, approximately 22,000 Virginia residents are receiving non-need based tuition grants through the VTAG program.  And these students do not have to
  •  Pay VTAG back
  • Demonstrate financial need
  • File a financial statement
They simply needed to complete a relatively simple online application and submit the application to their institution’s financial aid office.

Established in 1972, the VTAG program is designed to assist Virginia residents who attend accredited private, nonprofit colleges and universities in Virginia for other than religious training or theological education.  The Council of Independent Colleges in Virginia (CICV) manages the program and has been enormously successful for increased funding for VTAG and other programs assisting students at independent Virginia colleges.

Neither merit- nor need-based, VTAG is a little gift from the state legislature designed to bring down tuition rates for Virginia residents electing to attend private institutions and level the playing field a little with the relatively inexpensive public system.

The 2013-14 VTAG application is now available and due by July 31, 2013.  For more information about the Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant, visit the CICV website.