Road to College: Summer Tips for Rising Seniors

college arne quoteYes, soon-to-be high school seniors- your time has come! As you bask in the excitement of the upcoming year, set aside time this summer to lay the groundwork for a smooth college process. Trust me, you will be thankful you did later!

With all the information available for seniors, it’s essential for students and their families to take advantage of the tools that can help best inform you on taking the right path for secondary education.

Here are tips & tools from ED to get a head start this summer:

Tip: Search for the type of college that will best suit you. Narrow down the program, size, type, location, and tuition cost of colleges, this will help you zero in on a concise list of institutions to apply to come fall.

  • College ScorecardIncludes information about a particular college’s cost, its graduation rates and the average amount its students borrow. It is designed to help you compare colleges and choose one that is well-suited to your individual needs.

Tip: Research the tuition and fees of the institutions that top your college list. This will help give you and your family a clearer view of the potential cost of each institution right from the start of the college process.

  • College Affordability and Transparency Center: ED has compiled lists of institutions based on the tuition and fees and net prices (the price of attendance after considering all grant and scholarship aid) charged to students.

Tip: It is never too early to look for scholarships! Some deadlines are as early as a year before college starts, so take time this summer to research and begin applying for scholarships.

  • Federal Student Aid: There are thousands of scholarships, from all kinds of organizations; Federal Student Aid provides tips and resources to help you find scholarships you may be eligible for.

Kelsey Donohue works in the Office of Communication and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

Steps Forward to Improving Quality and Strengthening Accreditation

Every student who wants the opportunity deserves a high-quality postsecondary education. For what? For lifelong success, not only in his or her educational pursuits, but for long-term success in the workforce, in civic life and – ultimately – for the personal and professional rewards that come from living a life of accomplishment, contribution, and satisfaction! At the U.S. Department of Education, we are keenly focused on how to use the various federal levers for change and improvement at our disposal to encourage successful student outcomes and improved educational performance, institutional, state-level and national. As the president has said, we all share responsibility to provide educational opportunity and value. The accreditation community is an important partner in this work and plays a key role both in assuring a basic level of quality and in improving quality.univeristy photo

While the United States has some of the world’s best postsecondary institutions, we also have too many that are of poor quality, with track records that give their students little chance of attaining the postsecondary credentials and preparation that they intended to earn—and that are so vital in today’s society and economy.  The College Scorecard that we introduced earlier this year highlights the differences among different institutions related to net price, degree completion and student debt repayment all too starkly. Making performance transparent is a lever we are using to highlight success and fix the most pressing of our problems.

But these indicators are only indicative of a part of educational performance.  We also need to know whether students are successfully achieving the level of learning they need for lifelong success in work, civic participation, and life.  And we need to ensure that high-quality learning is affordable.

President Obama and Secretary Duncan are strongly committed to strengthening collaboration for results with the nation’s diverse accreditation stakeholders to clarify, simplify and improve accreditation processes, with a more targeted, rigorous focus on value and affordability. When President Obama announced his proposals for the FY2014 budget, he called on the accreditation community to work with the Administration to:

“…consider value, affordability, and student outcomes in making determinations about which colleges and universities receive access to federal student aid, either by incorporating measures of value and affordability into the existing accreditation system; or by establishing a new, alternative system of accreditation that would provide pathways for higher education models and colleges to receive federal student aid based on performance and results.”

Responding to recommendations of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI), last week our Department announced its intention to strengthen and better focus the accrediting agency recognition process.  Eight regional and 47 national accrediting organizations seeking renewal of their recognition from the federal government will benefit from a streamlined review process, which will focus in more depth on about 25 of up to 93 criteria that are most relevant to assessing institutional quality and the quality of student learning. This will result in a better, more targeted process that is simpler and less burdensome for accrediting agencies, NACIQI and the federal government. It is our hope and expectation that these improvements will also enable the postsecondary institutions they accredit to focus additional time and effort on quality enhancement and value.

With the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act commencing next year, the Department is also eager to engage in broader conversations with the postsecondary education community and its stakeholders (e.g., students, families, businesses, non-profits, states, philanthropies, etc.) about proposals to improve the accreditation processes to increase quality—with particular attention to value and affordability.

If we define value as high quality at an affordable cost, how can we help to ensure that we achieve it?  We are looking to the accreditation community and stakeholders to help us understand and measure such concepts as “quality,” “affordability” and “value” in ways that honor and preserve the diversity of our postsecondary landscape, yet hold all of us accountable for learning and completion outcomes and their improvement. We need far more attention to qualitative and quantitative methods that can strengthen institutional quality and student learning outcomes.

This effort to strengthen the accreditation process is just one example of how the Department is working to improve quality, while also increasing access, affordability, and completion. We will also continue to address value by encouraging innovation, whether through new developments in competency-based education, new validation models that can demonstrate what students know and can do, new attention to the faculty role in high quality learning, and/or alternative accreditation systems designed to produce high quality student outcomes at an affordable price. Experimentation, innovation and reliable evidence must drive the effort to achieve better student outcomes, both in terms of completion and in terms of demonstrated achievement; thus the great need for more and better postsecondary R&D.

In the months ahead, we look forward to engaging in an ongoing and robust national dialogue with our partners and stakeholders about accreditation and other ways we can improve quality in America’s postsecondary education, with a far clearer understanding of, and focus on, value and affordability.

Martha J. Kanter is the Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education and David Soo is a Policy Advisor for the Office of the Under Secretary.

Finding the Right College For You – Tools & Resources from ED

If you are a high school senior who has yet to decide where you’re going to college this fall, you are most likely not alone. May 1st marks the National College Decision Day where the vast majority of U.S. colleges and universities require students to notify them of their decision to attend.

As you navigate the college decision process, the U.S. Department of Education provides tools for you and your family to make it easy to compare important information such as college costs, average student loan debt, and graduation rates across different institutions.

If you are a student or the parent of a college-bound teen struggling with this decision, here are a few tools that can help:

Federal Student Aid The College Scorecard

The College Scorecard includes essential information about a particular college’s cost, its graduation rates and the average amount its students borrow, all in an easy-to-read format. It is designed to help you compare colleges and choose one that is well-suited to your individual needs.

Net Price Calculator Center

Federal Student Aid

The Net Price Calculator Center provides an easy tool to explore the net price of any given college- that is, the price after subtracting the scholarships and grants you are likely to receive. Then, you can easily compare estimated net prices across the institutions that you are considering.

Financial Aid Shopping Sheet

Many colleges and universities have adapted a Shopping Sheet which will be included in your financial aid package. The Shopping Sheet provides personalized information on financial aid and net costs as well as general information on institutional outcomes- all in a standardized format. This tool provides an easy way to make clear comparisons among financial aid offers that you may receive.

FSA2

College Navigator

College Navigator is an interactive website that allows you to explore and compare features of different institutions, including programs and majors, admissions considerations, campus crime statistics and more.

For additional tips visit Federal Student Aid’s Choosing a School resources and follow @USEDGOV & @FAFSA on Twitter.

Now that you have the resources and the tools to pick the right college, you can let out a sigh of relief and show your campus pride with that coveted university sweatshirt. Congratulations!

Kelsey Donohue is a senior at Marist College (N.Y.), and an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

New Tools for Student Loan Borrowers

Federal Student Aid image

Spring is here, college finals are looming, commencement speakers are being announced, and before long, a new group of college graduates will need to start thinking about paying back their student loans. Earlier this week, the Department of Education announced new tools that will help recent college grads better understand their loan debt and stay on track in repayment.

These two new features include a Complete Counseling Web page and a new Repayment Estimator that lets the borrower easily compare monthly payment options under the seven repayment plans available. Both tools are part of the Obama Administration’s ongoing effort to help students and families make informed and sound financial decisions throughout each step as they pursue their higher education goals.

During his State of the Union address in February, President Obama unveiled the new College Scorecard to help empower students and families with more transparent information about college costs and outcomes. The Scorecard provides clear, concise information on cost, graduation rates, loan default rates and the amount families borrowed for every degree-granting institution in the country. The College Scorecard, along with the resources from Federal Student Aid, will help students take the right steps, financially and academically, to achieve their college degree.

As many know, managing loans can often be confusing and overwhelming for college students, and we want to ensure that graduates have access to tools that will help them successfully navigate this process. We encourage federal student loan borrowers to log in at StudentLoans.gov to take advantage of these new resources today!


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Kelsey Donohue is a senior at Marist College (N.Y.), and an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

5 Steps for Picking a College

Picking a college can be a daunting task for students and their families. The Obama Administration and the Department of Education are making it easier for students to pick the right school by providing key information on a school’s cost and how much debt the typical graduate has upon leaving a school.

Graduation CapsLast week, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan laid out five easy steps students and their families can take to help pick the right college.

1. Research prospective schools and consider the total cost and student success in the job market and other outcomes. Check out ED’s College Affordability and Transparency Center to get started.

2. Apply to several schools. There are a lot of great options, and your job is to find the highest quality education you can get for the best value.

3. Fill out the FAFSA. Make sure you can get the financial aid you need to be successful. Get started at: studentaid.gov

4. Compare financial aid awards from different schools. Understand how much you will have in grants and scholarships, and determine if loans are necessary. ED’s new “Shopping Sheet” makes this process easy and straightforward.

5. Pick the best school for you. Study hard, get involved and keep focused on your end goals.

Stay up to date with Secretary Duncan and the Department of Education by receiving our weekly news update.

Finding an Affordable College Just Got Easier

Summer is here, and many recent high school graduates may still be weighing which college or university to attend during the upcoming fall semester. ED’s recently-launched College Affordability and Transparency Center is making that decision much easier by providing students and their families with an easy-to-use website that identifies the most reasonably-priced universities, as well as the institutions whose prices rise at the highest rates.

The Affordability and Transparency Center not only allows college applicants and their families to compare tuition rates at colleges and universities, but students can pinpoint their search on a variety of criteria, including whether the college is a two- or four-year program, public or private, or a for-profit or not-for-profit college. The site also allows comparisons of the cost of a year at college based on its listed tuition and fees or its “net price” (tuition and fees minus grant and scholarship aid). To find the cost of a specific vocational program, there is a search feature to compare the costs of similar career programs—such as nursing or computer science—across different schools. Finally, to keep students and families prepared for the future, the Affordability and Transparency Center lets you see which colleges have the highest annual tuition or net cost increases.

Higher education is a strong investment, and it is crucial that families and students are able to make informed decisions. Through the College Affordability and Transparency Center, ED is providing valuable data on which colleges are the most cost-effective. Students shouldn’t rule out college because they can’t find one that suits their budget—the Center will help students and families find the right school with the right program at the right price.

Get started by visiting ED’s College Affordability and Transparency Center.

Ben Firke is an intern in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the Department of Education