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Beware! You Don’t Have to Pay for Help with Your Student Loans

U.S. Department of Education Blog - April 23, 2015 - 11:00am

There are countless ads online from companies offering to help you manage your student loan debt…for a fee, of course. But, did you know that you can get help with your student loans for free?

If you’re a federal student loan borrower, the U.S. Department of Education provides free assistance to help:

  • Lower Your Monthly Payment;
  • Consolidate Your Loans;
  • See If You Qualify For Loan Forgiveness; and
  • Get Out of Default

Lower Your Monthly Payment

Are you out of a job or not earning very much? The federal government makes it easy for you to switch to a more affordable repayment plan at any time at no cost.

Your loan servicer – the company that collects your payments, responds to your customer service inquiries, and does other tasks related to your federal student loan – can help you decide which repayment plan best suits you. Click here for a list of servicers’ contact information and to find out how to look up your servicer.

Before you contact your servicer, check out the Repayment Estimator to get an idea of plans that may be available to you and to see estimates for your monthly payments.

Consolidate Your Loans

If you have multiple loans that you want to combine, you can apply for loan consolidation through StudentLoans.gov. The application is free, and there are no extra processing fees.

Some people find it simpler to group all their student loans into a single loan with one interest rate and one monthly payment. If you choose to consolidate your federal student loans with the U.S. Department of Education, you, too, may be able to take advantage of flexible repayment plans, including ones that base your payments on your income and family size.

See If You Qualify For Loan Forgiveness

Loan forgiveness is the process by which a borrower is released from their obligation to repay all or a portion of the principal and interest on a student loan. This also is known as discharge or cancellation. Loan forgiveness programs were created to encourage people to take certain types of jobs, to help borrowers with lower income jobs, and to compensate for permanent disabilities.

Many student loan companies advertise that they can help you get your loans forgiven. And sometimes, they simply are using the Department of Education’s free resources to help you, but are charging you to do so.

In fact, your loan servicer can help you determine if you qualify for loan forgiveness … for free.

Get Out of Default

If your loan is already in default, the debt relief companies know it and may target you with online and mobile ads, phone calls, and maybe even letters to your home address. By being in default, you’ve already incurred added interest, and you’re subject to collection fees. There’s no reason to add additional fees by signing up with a debt relief company.

Even if your loan is in default, loan consolidation is free and so is getting on a loan rehabilitation plan. Find out how to get out of default.

Protecting Your Log-In and Account Information

When student loan debt relief companies offer to manage your loan account, to do so, they will ask you to provide them with your federal student aid log-in information, or sign a Power of Attorney. Think about it: your log-in information is the equivalent of your signature on documents related to your student loan. If you share this information or sign a Power of Attorney, you are giving that person the power, literally, to take actions on your student loan on your behalf.

And if the debt relief company collects fees from you, but never actually makes any payments on your loan for you, you still will be responsible for those outstanding payments and late fees. You should protect your federal student aid log-in and account information as securely as you guard your ATM PIN.

Do You Think You’ve Been Scammed or Need a Resolution?

If you’ve already signed a contract with a debt relief company, and you think they have cheated you, call the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) at 1-855-411-2372, or submit a complaint online. Under “What type of service is your complaint about?” select Debt Settlement. Then, choose I have a problem with a company that I hired to help reduce or settle my debt.

Also, many state governments have an Office of Consumer Affairs or Consumer Protection either within or affiliated with the office of the state’s Attorney General.

If you’ve tried to work out your student loan debt issues with your servicer without success, you can contact the Federal Student Aid Ombudsman Group, which helps resolve disputes related to Direct Loans, Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program loans, Guaranteed Student Loans, and Perkins Loans.

Remember, there are no student loan companies affiliated with the Department of Education that charge fees to help you manage your loan repayment. With the resources available to you through the Department of Education, you can successfully manage your loan repayment for free.

April Jordan is a senior communications specialist at Federal Student Aid.

Categories: Higher Education News

Iowa Legislator Wants to Give Students the Chance to Fire Underwhelming Faculty

Chronicle of Higher Education - April 23, 2015 - 2:56am

A bill in the State Senate would require colleges to compile student evaluations of professors — and let students vote to dismiss one of those who score poorly.

Categories: Higher Education News

8 Courses a Year for Every Professor? N.C. Lawmakers Ponder the Possibility

Chronicle of Higher Education - April 23, 2015 - 2:55am

A bill in North Carolina that would dock the pay of any public-university professor who failed to reach a minimum teaching load has sparked faculty outrage statewide.

Categories: Higher Education News

Recognizing Green Schools and Districts – and Colleges! – This Earth Day

U.S. Department of Education Blog - April 22, 2015 - 11:55am

U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) began in 2011-2012, recognizing 78 green schools. In 2012-2013, ED added a District Sustainability Award and honored 64 schools and 14 districts. The 2013-2014 cycle had 48 school honorees and 9 district honorees. 2015 is the inaugural year of the Postsecondary Sustainability Award.

To celebrate Earth Day, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the 2015 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS), District Sustainability Awardees, and the first-ever Postsecondary Sustainability Awardees. Joined by Managing Director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality Christy Goldfuss, Secretary Duncan celebrated the 58 schools, 14 districts, and nine postsecondary institutions chosen for their progress in reducing environmental impact and utility costs, promoting better health for students and staff, and offering effective environmental education, including civics, STEM and green career pathways.

Reiterating the Department’s support for sustainable schools, Secretary Duncan praised the honorees, “They demonstrate how sustainability concepts allow students to expand their traditional learning into the real world and to create change for the betterment of communities. This authentic learning engages students in all subjects, and bolsters their critical thinking, collaboration, and problem-solving capacities.”

The honorees were selected from a pool of candidates voluntarily nominated by thirty state education agencies across the country, with honorees selected from 28 of these jurisdictions. The schools serve diverse populations, with 52 public and six private schools, including 35 elementary, 19 middle, and 17 high schools, with several offering various K-12 variations. Forty-seven percent of this year’s honorees serve disadvantaged students, 22 percent are rural, and one-third of the postsecondary honorees are community colleges. Many also serve pre-K students, demonstrating that health, wellness, and environmental concepts can be taught to every student at every level. Honorees also show that their efforts not only improve health and learning, but also save schools money in utility costs which can be applied directly back to the classroom.

Read about this year’s honorees and their achievements in this year’s state-by-state .

There are many tools and resources available to all schools, prekindergarten to postsecondary, to help with sustainable facilities, wellness practices, and environmental learning. You can find free resources available through the U.S. Department of Education’s Green Strides portal. You can also stay up to date through the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools’ webpage, where you can connect with us through Facebook, Twitter, and the newsletter.

With the help of these tools, your school, district, or postsecondary institution may be eligible to apply in your state for one if its nominations to U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools in an upcoming year. Schools, districts and postsecondary institutions are encouraged to contact their state education authorities for more information on state applications. While a few state authorities don’t yet participate, hearing from interested schools may change that.

Andrea Suarez Falken is Director of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools and ED’s Facilities, Health, and Environment Liaison.

Categories: Higher Education News

Australia Calls for Renewed Effort to Attract Foreign Students

Chronicle of Higher Education - April 22, 2015 - 9:07am

Expecting more competition from the United States, the government issued a report to draw attention to the importance of overseas students to universities and the economy.

Categories: Higher Education News

Looking Beyond the Data to Help Students Succeed

Chronicle of Higher Education - April 22, 2015 - 2:57am

Assessment tools let educators zero in on traits they can help students change, like classroom behaviors and study skills, conference speakers say.

Categories: Higher Education News

Carnegie Corporation Makes a $6-Million Statement of Faith in the Humanities

Chronicle of Higher Education - April 22, 2015 - 2:56am

The philanthropic organization announces the first 32 recipients of its new fellowships for scholars in the humanities and social sciences.

Categories: Higher Education News

An Author's Take on Campus Sexual Assault: 'Universities Seem So Quick to Protect Their Brand'

Chronicle of Higher Education - April 22, 2015 - 2:55am

Jon Krakauer says he was discouraged by what he learned about how colleges handle assault investigations.

Categories: Higher Education News

Even With Unions, Adjuncts Are Rarely Protected From Last-Minute Job Losses

Chronicle of Higher Education - April 21, 2015 - 10:30am

Just one in four contracts ensures the instructors even a small payment when a course assignment is canceled, an analysis found.

Categories: Higher Education News

Addressing Sexual Assault as a Community

U.S. Department of Education Blog - April 21, 2015 - 7:31am

Cross-posted from the Department of Justice blog.

As we recognize Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I want to take a moment to reflect on the work of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to address and prevent sexual assault in schools and communities across the country. The impact of sexual assault can reverberate throughout a community, and the response to sexual assault within a community – from a residential advisor in a college dorm to a special victim’s unit detective – has a profound and lasting impact on the health and well-being of a sexual assault survivor.

Over the past few years, the division has engaged with law enforcement, prosecutors and schools to promote a comprehensive, integrated and effective response to reports of sexual assault. In doing so, we look to assist both schools and law enforcement in their efforts to protect students and address the needs of sexual assault survivors. As more people across the country are working together to prevent and improve the response to sexual assault, questions are frequently asked about the role of colleges and universities and why sexual assault is not handled exclusively by law enforcement.

Let’s be clear. Sexual assault is a crime and must be dealt with appropriately. However, the responsibility for addressing sexual assault does not stop at law enforcement. Schools also have a civil rights obligation to respond appropriately to reports of sexual assault.

Every school is responsible for providing a safe, nondiscriminatory environment to all students. Sexual assault can interfere with or destroy a student’s ability to get an education. We have heard from survivors of sexual assault who are fearful of being in the same classroom as their attackers or are subjected to harassment and retaliation by classmates for reporting the assault. We have heard from too many students who left school after being assaulted.

Under federal civil rights laws, schools must respond to reports of sexual assault, investigate where appropriate and provide a prompt, effective and impartial resolution. It is not enough just to respond to individual complaints from survivors. To effectively address and prevent sexual assault, schools need to respond to reports from all sources, especially when assaults are repeatedly perpetrated by the same student or at the same location. Having an appropriate and effective response system in place increases student confidence and trust in their school and the ability of the school to provide for their safety.

To provide a safe and nondiscriminatory learning environment, schools must be able to administer discipline where appropriate. This administrative response serves a unique and critically important function and must happen in addition to any criminal prosecution. A school disciplinary proceeding is not, however, a criminal proceeding, and should never be viewed as an alternative to criminal prosecution. Schools do not have the authority and are not asked to determine whether alleged perpetrators of sexual assault committed a crime.

That is the role of law enforcement. And law enforcement – including campus police, local police and prosecutors – play a critical role: as one of the key responders to reports of sexual assault, and as partners with schools, victim advocates and others in the effort to protect the community from sexual assault. Indeed, the importance of communication and coordination among each of these partners in both responding to and preventing sexual assault cannot be underestimated. In our experience, when everyone works together, survivors of sexual assault are more likely to report and to receive services, exhibit greater confidence in the criminal justice and school systems and feel far better supported throughout the process.

In Missoula, Montana, to address serious shortcomings in how the University of Montana-Missoula and local law enforcement investigated and responded to sexual assaults, the division reached agreements with the university, its campus police, the city police department and the county prosecutor’s office. This first of its kind multi-pronged approach to combating sexual assault – which reaches from the campus to the courthouse door – has resulted in significant improvements in the response to sexual assault within the Missoula community. We, along with our colleagues at the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, are working with leaders from across the community as they implement these agreements so that whenever sexual assaults are reported, policies and procedures are already in place; first responders and investigators are trained to handle the report appropriately; and supports and services are more readily available and better coordinated. It is with this kind of focused attention and collaboration that sexual assault can be eradicated from our communities and students can feel safe and supported in school.

Vanita Gupta is Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights.

Categories: Higher Education News

U. of Montana, Back in the Sexual-Assault Spotlight, Ponders What’s Changed

Chronicle of Higher Education - April 21, 2015 - 2:57am

Jon Krakauer’s new book largely avoids criticizing the university. But did federal intervention make the campus safer?

Categories: Higher Education News

Potential New Leaders of 2-Year Colleges Face Higher Hurdles

Chronicle of Higher Education - April 21, 2015 - 2:56am

Just as a "tsunami" of retirements approaches, the president's job is getting scarier. Tighter budgets and pressure to reform are among the challenges new chiefs will confront.

Categories: Higher Education News

Colleges Respond to Racist Incidents as if Their Chief Worry Is Bad PR, Studies Find

Chronicle of Higher Education - April 21, 2015 - 2:55am

New research on how presidents and other administrators react to displays of bias suggests their focus on the display leaves the bias firmly intact.

Categories: Higher Education News

For Those Without One, College Degrees Are Seen as Important but Too Expensive

Chronicle of Higher Education - April 21, 2015 - 2:55am

People lacking a higher education overwhelmingly agree it’s needed to get a good job, a study finds. But they don’t necessarily see it as essential to them individually.

Categories: Higher Education News

Secretary Arne Duncan Joins Medium

U.S. Department of Education Blog - April 20, 2015 - 3:53pm

Earlier today, Secretary of Education Arne joined Medium, a new self-publishing platform that encourages people to share ideas and stories that matter.

In his inaugural Medium post, Secretary Duncan discusses how technological tools can “empower students to become who they want to be, and who we need them to be — the kind of children and young people who ask, ‘What can I improve? How can I help? What can I build?'”

“Technology can just as easily widen the lead for those who already have every advantage. If the technology revolution only happens for families that already have money and education, then it’s not really a revolution.”  

Read the Secretary’s full post and follow us to keep the conversation going.

We’re always looking for new ways to connect with the public, which is why you can also follow Secretary Duncan on Facebook and Twitter, too.

Categories: Higher Education News

Games for Learning Summit: Expanding the Conversation Between Educators and Game Designers

U.S. Department of Education Blog - April 20, 2015 - 1:00pm

Cross-posted from Medium.

Whether it is using quick warm-ups like Game of Phones or highly immersive experiences with Mario Kart and Minecraft, digital games can be powerful motivators for learning. It is with this in mind that we are eager to expand the conversation between teachers and game developers.

The U.S. Department of Education and Games for Change, with support from the Entertainment Software Association, will host the Games for Learning Summit April 21 at the 2015 Games for Change (G4C) Festival. With more than 250 participants, including nationally recognized educators, the designers of some of today’s most popular video games, and members of the U.S. Department of Education, we are hopeful that this event will encourage collaboration focused on the learning needs and interests of young people in the U.S.

Collaborating and designing with the learning interests of young people in mind requires a shift in thinking from all stakeholders. Based on the conversations we’ve had with teachers and students, there is a hunger for better games that support better learning today. With the recent release of The Ed Tech Developer’s Guide, the pathways for developing for impact are clearer than ever.

At the beginning of the school year, the two of us (along with a handful of amazing teachers) spent a weekend enmeshed with teams of game designers at the White House Education Game Jam. Focused on games that could provide powerful learning resources for schools, we have continued to be optimistic about the results that such collaboration can yield.

A recent game-design project in Chad’s classroom highlights some of what game-based learning has to offer us as teachers and students. Inspired by games ranging from Geometry Dash to Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure, students working in teams of four completed their own Scratch games like Wasteland Adventures, World Championship Soccer, and Sanic Pong. Each ‘studio’ of four students brainstormed genres, tropes, and mechanics for games they wanted to create and play. Then they got to work. Programmers started to code. Artists worked with platforms like Piskel and Google Draw. Sound Engineers scoured freesound.org and Sound Bible for sound effects and composed theme music with Online Sequencer. Student project managers kept everyone working and talking with one another through shared docs and folders.

The project helped students develop media literacy, soft skills like collaboration, and technical skills like managing an online repository of A/V assets, to say nothing of the logic, math, reading, and writing skills they demonstrated in navigating tutorials, communicating online, and building their games. Students even discussed gender norms in character design and traditional gaming narratives. Game-based learning isn’t about consuming a product to pick up a fact or two; it’s about learning to analyze or produce pieces of interactive media that require critical thinking, persistence, and problem-solving to master, critique, play, and make.

Now, with several White House Education Game Jam alumni and friends coming to the Games for Learning Summit, we are excited about focusing on articulating the thinking, dialogue, and spaces for collaboration between developers and educators.

We’re looking forward to continuing conversation far beyond the Games and Learning Summit. We need to work together to answer questions like: How can we help one another make and use games to fulfill educational needs in the classroom? How can we put the best interactive content in the hands of students for the most meaningful educational experiences — those focused on discovery and decision-making? Let’s figure out game-changing ways to harness the power of play for the work of learning in schools.

Join the conversation on Tuesday by watching the live stream and Tweeting your contributions with #G4L15.

Antero Garcia (@anterobot) is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education and teaches pre-service teachers as an Assistant Professor at Colorado State University.

Chad Sansing (@chadsansing) teaches technology and project-based learning at the BETA Academy in Staunton, Virginia.

Categories: Higher Education News

6 Things You MUST Know About Repaying Your Student Loans

U.S. Department of Education Blog - April 20, 2015 - 12:00pm

If you’re already repaying your student loans or about to begin making payments for the first time, it’s easy to get intimidated. Although you have lots of options to consider, there’s no reason to be alarmed. In just a few minutes, you can get a good handle on your student loans and who knows, you may even save yourself some time and money in the long run.

And REMEMBER: If you ever need any one-on-one help understanding your repayment options, you can get it (for FREE!) through your loan servicer. You should never have to pay for help with your federal student loans.

Here are six things you should know about your student loans.

1. When to start making payments

You don’t have to begin repaying most federal student loans until after you leave college or drop below half-time enrollment. Many federal student loans will even have a grace period. The grace period gives you time to get financially settled and to select your repayment plan. Note that for most loans, interest will accrue during your grace period. If you are able, you might want to consider making interest payments during your grace period so your principal balance doesn’t increase.

Your loan servicer or lender will provide you with a loan repayment schedule that states when your first payment is due, the number and frequency of payments, and the amount of each payment.

2. Who to pay

You will make your federal student loan payments to your loan servicer*, not the U.S. Department of Education (ED) directly. ED uses several loan servicers to handle the billing and other services on federal student loans. Your loan servicer can work with you to choose a repayment plan and can answer any questions you have about your federal student loans. It’s important to maintain contact with your loan servicer and keep your servicer informed of any changes to your mailing address, e-mail, or phone number so they know where to send correspondence and how to contact you.

3. How much to pay

Your bill will tell you how much to pay. Your payment (usually made monthly) depends on

  • the type of loan you received,
  • how much money you borrowed,
  • the interest rate on your loan, and
  • the repayment plan you choose.

You can use our repayment estimator to estimate your monthly payments under different repayment plans to determine which option is right for you. To switch repayment plans, contact your loan servicer.

4. How to Make Your Payments

There are several ways you can submit payments to your loan servicer, including options to submit your payment online through your loan servicer’s website.

TIP: Your servicer may offer the option to have your payments automatically withdrawn from your bank account each month. You may want to consider this option so you don’t forget to make your payments. And if you choose to enroll in automatic debit, you may even qualify for a special interest rate reduction.

5. What to do if you can’t make your payment

Contact your loan servicer as soon as possible if you are confused or can’t afford your monthly payment. You do have options to lower your payment, such as changing your repayment plan to one that will allow you to have a longer repayment period or to one that is based on your income. If switching repayment plans isn’t a good option for you, ask your loan servicer about loan consolidation or postponing your payments.

Note: Several third-party companies offer student loan assistance for a fee. Most of these services can be obtained for free from your loan servicer.

6. What could happen if you don’t make your payments

Not making your student loan payments is a big deal. It can result in default, which negatively impacts your credit score, and may affect your ability to borrow for things like buying a car or purchasing a home. Your tax refunds may also be withheld and applied to your outstanding student loan debt. There is never a reason to default. The Department of Education offers several options to ensure that you can successfully manage your student loans. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or having difficulty making payments, contact your loan servicer for help.

*If you are repaying federal student loans made by a private lender (before July 1, 2010), you may be required to make payments directly to that lender.

Tara Marini is a communications specialist at the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

Categories: Higher Education News

In Search of Limits, a Climate Scientist Pushes Bounds

Chronicle of Higher Education - April 20, 2015 - 11:00am

A new paper raises the question of how much the fear of being misinterpreted by skeptics is constraining researchers.

Categories: Higher Education News

Community-College Gathering Takes Up Challenges, Familiar and Fanciful

Chronicle of Higher Education - April 20, 2015 - 2:56am

Budget woes and completion goals are on the agenda. So are secret shoppers and new ideas for engaging students. After all, someone has to program and fly all those drones. 

Categories: Higher Education News

Sponsors of Campus Entrepreneurship

Chronicle of Higher Education - April 20, 2015 - 2:55am

Foundations and other nonprofit groups have helped finance the growth of undergraduate entrepreneurship programs.

Categories: Higher Education News

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