What College Accreditation Changes Mean for Students

Editor’s note (9/22/16): Today, the Department’s senior designated official upheld the NACIQI and Department staff recommendations to end recognition of ACICS. The agency has ten calendar days to inform the Department of their intent to appeal the decision to the Secretary of Education if it wishes to do so.

Editor’s note (6/24/16): Yesterday, NACIQI – the independent board that advises the Department of Education on accreditation – voted 10-3 in support of the Department’s recommendation to end recognition of ACICS. As noted in the post below, that was the next step in the process after the initial recommendation for Department staff. The recommendations now come to a senior official here at the Department, who has 90 days to make a decision. After that, ACICS will have the opportunity to appeal the decision to the Secretary of Education if it wishes to do so.

For millions of Americans, federal student loans and grants open the doors to a college education. That critical federal aid must be used at a school that is (among other things) given the seal of approval by an “accrediting agency” or “accreditor” recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. It’s one of the safeguards in the system. Accreditation is an important signal to students, families, and the Department about whether a school offers a quality education. Accreditors have a responsibility under federal law to make sure colleges earn that seal.

But what happens when the Department stops recognizing an accrediting agency?

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3 Types of FAFSA Deadlines You Should Pay Attention To

fafsa-deadlines

Ah, deadlines. The sworn enemy of students across the nation. When you’re busy with classes, extracurricular activities, and a social life in whatever time you’ve got left, it’s easy to lose track and let due dates start whooshing by. All of a sudden, your U.S. history paper is due at midnight, and you still don’t know Madison from a minuteman. We get it.

Nevertheless, we’re here to point out a few critical deadlines that you really shouldn’t miss: those to do with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). By submitting your FAFSA late, you might be forfeiting big money that can help you pay for college. Luckily for you, you’ve got just three types of deadlines to stay on top of. Now if only your Founding Father flashcards were that simple.

Here are those three deadlines:


1. The College Deadline

The first type of deadline comes from colleges themselves, and—spoiler alert—it’s typically pretty early. These deadlines vary from school to school, but they usually come well before the academic year starts. If you’re applying to multiple colleges, be sure to look up each school’s FAFSA deadline and apply by the earliest one.

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4 Things You Should Know After Filing Your FAFSA

after-the-fafsa

The 2017–18 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) will be available on October 1, 2016.  Here are a few things to look out for after you submit your FAFSA:

1. Your FAFSA confirmation page is not your financial aid award.

After you complete the FAFSA online and click “SUBMIT,” you’ll see a confirmation page like the one below. This is not your award package. You’ll get that separately from the school(s) you apply to and get into. Your school(s) calculate your aid.

2017-18 Confirmation Page Highlighted

 

The confirmation page provides federal aid estimates based on the information you provided on your FAFSA. It’s important to know that these figures are truly estimates and assume the information you provided on the FAFSA is correct. To calculate the actual amount of aid you’re eligible for, your school will take into account other factors, such as the cost to attend the school. Additionally, these estimates only take into account federal aid and not outside scholarships or state and institutional financial assistance you may also be eligible for.

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Validating My Seat at the Table

“We as students, and people of marginalized communities, belong at the table.”

The idea of belonging is something I’ve struggled with for years. From my lived experiences, growing up as an Asian American and Filipino American low-income student often made me feel like I wasn’t good enough. But recently I was able to participate in a Student Voices Session at the U.S. Department of Education with Secretary John King, Jr. – and it helped me validate myself, and begin the process of understanding that I do belong.

During the session I joined six other students for a panel discussion, where we pair shared and dialogued around our experiences with federal financial aid. We also uplifted our personal narratives as minority students across racial, ethnic, class identities and more. Many drew on ideas of familiarity and of community in accessing resources to pay for college, whether it was through on-campus clubs, local libraries, or families.

voices-blog-photo-2

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The First Lady’s New Tool for Students: Up Next

flotus

When we talk about improving educational outcomes, we talk about all kinds of critical issues: poverty, accountability, school climate, teachers and curriculum to name a few. These are all essential pieces of the puzzle and deserve our attention as educators, advocates, and parents. But another piece of the puzzle also merits further attention: student access to college advising.

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Voice from the Classroom: The Value of a Mentor

I’m new to teaching and have recently earned my master’s in education. I just started to implement the strategies I learned during student teaching in my own classroom. Getting to start from scratch is very exciting, but also a little intimidating. I am finally moving from wondering how I would make my classroom look, how I would start each class, how I would run each class, and how I would teach the curriculum, to actually putting it all into practice.

Learning in the classroom isn't just for students! Mentors can be invaluable for new teachers. (Photo courtesy of the author.)

Learning in the classroom isn’t just for students! Mentors can be invaluable for new teachers. (Photo courtesy of the author.)

I’ve always asked a lot of questions and welcomed advice from others, but sometimes other teachers don’t have the time to take out of their day to provide guidance. Every teacher is so busy — balancing life and work; in fact, I don’t know a teacher who works only 40 hours a week. However, somehow I was lucky enough to find myself not only in a great school, but in a fantastic math department, with the best mentor I could ask for.

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12 Common FAFSA Mistakes

common-fafsa-mistakes

The 2017–18 FAFSA® will be available October 1, 2016—three months earlier than usual!

Beginning this year, you’ll also be required to use earlier (2015) tax information than in previous years. How does that benefit you? Since you’ve already filed your 2015 taxes, you’ll be able to transfer your tax information into your FAFSA right away! (And you won’t need to update your FAFSA after you file 2016 taxes.)

These exciting changes are sure to save you time and make the FAFSA much easier to complete. Just make sure to take your time so you don’t make one of these mistakes:


1. Not Completing the FAFSA

I hear all kinds of reasons: “The FAFSA is too hard,” “It takes too long to complete,” I never qualify anyway, so why does it matter?” It does matter. The FAFSA is not just the application for federal grants such as the Pell Grant. It’s also the application for work-study funds, low-interest federal student loans, and even scholarships and grants offered by your state, school, or private organization. If you don’t complete the FAFSA, you could lose out on thousands of dollars to help you pay for college. The FAFSA takes little time to complete, and there is help provided throughout the application. Oh, and contrary to popular belief, there is no income cut-off when it comes to federal student aid.

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8 Steps to Filling Out the FAFSA

Student on laptop

Need to fill out the FAFSA® but don’t know where to start? I’m here to help. Let’s walk through the process step by step:

1. Create an Account (FSA ID)

  • Student: An FSA ID is a username and password you need to log in to and sign the FAFSA online. If you don’t have an FSA ID, get one here ASAP. It takes about 10 minutes to create an FSA ID. If this will be your first time filling out the FAFSA, you’ll be able to use your FSA ID right away to sign and submit your FAFSA online. If this is not your first time filling out the FAFSA, you’ll need to wait 1–3 days before you can use your new FSA ID (there’s an account verification process).

IMPORTANT: Some of the most common FAFSA errors occur when the student and parent mix up their FSA IDs. If you don’t want your financial aid to be delayed, it’s extremely important that each parent and each student create his/her own FSA ID and that they do not share it with ANYONE, even each other.

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The Presidential Election: A Lesson in Civics

As a social studies teacher, I’m always excited to teach students about their legal rights, our political system and how they can become engaged citizens. However, that excitement kicks up a notch during a presidential election year because I’m reminded of the importance of teaching students how to become engaged citizens. As a social studies teacher, it’s up to me to set the foundation for my students so they will be able to engage productively.

Exchanging ideas in civics class. (Photo courtesy of the author)

Exchanging ideas in civics class. (Photo courtesy of the author)

Each year around Constitution Day (September 17), the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania releases data showcasing some Americans’ limited understanding of civics and government. Two alarming statistics from their most recent study: three-quarters of respondents could not name all three branches of government, and thirty-one percent of respondents could not name one branch. This data provides a yearly reminder about how important it is for me to arm my students with this knowledge so they can become informed citizens who don’t end up as one of those statistics.

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Helping ITT Students Find a Way Forward

Over the past two weeks, since the closure of ITT Educational Services, Inc. (ITT), we’ve received thousands of emails and calls from its former students trying to find their way forward. Some are looking for a pathway to degree completion by transferring to another institution. Others are applying for federal student loan discharge to wipe away their loans. Yet there are others who are so deeply frustrated, discouraged and angry at ITT’s closure that they’re considering abandoning their education. A college education is still the best investment a person can make in oneself and the surest path to the middle class. While ITT’s closure may be a disruption, we cannot allow it to be the end of the road for these students.

We’ve been working around the clock to support ITT students, and partners around the nation have stepped up to do the same.

Reaching Out Directly to Students

The day the closure was announced, Secretary King outlined students’ two core options: pursue a closed school federal loan discharge or transfer to a comparable program. Within the first week after the closure, we had:

  • emailed all 35,000 of ITT’s enrolled students restating their options.
  • launched an online hub with helpful information about the ITT transition, including FAQs and information about closed school loan discharge. The FAQ is continuously updated so that it has the most up to date information.
  • hosted 11 ITT-specific webinars, which is an easy, accessible way for students to learn more about their transition options, and published an up-to-date schedule of future webinars. Colleagues from Veterans Affairs joined us in the webinars to provide information to GI Bill beneficiaries affected by ITT’s closure. We have five more webinars scheduled.
  • used social media to remind impacted students of these resources and remind them that they never have to pay for services the Department offers for free.

The following week we continued direct outreach and emails. Through these efforts, the Department has had almost 20,000 interactions with impacted individuals through our webinars, call centers, and dedicated email account. While it’s up to each student to decide the path best for them, we are doing everything we can to ensure they are well-informed about their options and opportunities.

Counseling Students on Transfer

A number of our partners outside the government that focus on college readiness and counseling are interested in helping students make informed choices about how to move forward with their education. We’ve asked for their help with students as they explore comparable programs of study. To assist students with continuing their education at other institutions, a number of groups have committed to sharing resources with them, including:

  • Beyond 12,
  • National Association of College Admissions Counseling,
  • National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators,
  • National College Access Network,
  • UAspire, and
  • Veterans Education Success.

We are grateful to these organizations for stepping up to support ITT students, and we hope to see others around the country do the same. Organizations interested in pitching in can visit ifap.ed.gov/SupportITTStudents, our resource page for partners, and they can email supportITTstudents@ed.gov with any questions or to share examples of what they are doing.

Improving the School Transfer Process

The day ITT closed, I wrote to hundreds of college presidents in areas where ITT students are most concentrated to encourage them reach out to students directly, and to be open to accepting transfer credits. Many were interested in supporting students’ work towards degree completion. Our direct outreach to institutions coupled with that to related independent groups, such as the American Association of Community Colleges and federally recognized accreditors, has resulted in a number of positive efforts to inform students’ transition:

  • Many accreditors have proactively informed their accredited institutions of their flexibility in assessing credits for transfer, administering prior learning assessment, and waiving maximum transfer-in credit requirements to ensure colleges know about the ways they can support ITT students who want to continue their education.
  • Community colleges in Houston, Texas are accepting ITT students on a “staging process” until their official transcript is available to allow students to begin classes right away instead of waiting for administrative processes to catch up with them.
  • A number of colleges, such as those in Dearborn, Michigan, have proactively created webpages and reached out to students, providing enrollment opportunities and information on credit transfers.
  • Many colleges, such as the Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham, Oregon, are hosting transfer fairs, in collaboration with Federal Student Aid, where students can get answers to their questions.
  • Many institutions around the country are opening their doors to former ITT students and are making good-faith efforts to help them identify programs that match their interests and will allow them to continue their educational pursuits.

Employing a Multi-Agency Approach to Sharing Information

We are fortunate to have strong partners in other parts of the Obama Administration. The Veterans Administration, the Department of Defense, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have all conducted outreach to students to help them navigate their next steps. And the Department of Labor will provide information to its network of nearly 2,500 American Job Centers (AJCs) about options available to former students from recent school closings. Additionally, employees displaced by school closings can access reemployment assistance services at their local AJC.

There is much more work to be done to help the students impacted by this closure. If your organization would like to support these students, please email us and visit our resource page for stakeholders. Also, please share your student success stories as you conduct outreach. Together, we can help ITT students move forward to pursue their dreams.

Ted Mitchell is U.S. Under Secretary of Education.

7 Things You Need Before You Fill Out the FAFSA

7 Things

If you need financial aid to help you pay for college, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). The 2017–18 FAFSA will be available on October 1, 2016—three months earlier than usual—at 12 a.m. Central time. You should fill it out as soon as possible on the official government site, fafsa.gov.

To speed up the FAFSA process, get prepared early. Here is what you’ll need to fill out the FAFSA:

If you’re a dependent student, you will need certain information for your parents as well; we’ve indicated each of those items with an asterisk (*) below.

1. Your FSA ID*

An FSA ID is a username and password that you must use to log in to certain U.S. Department of Education (ED) websites, including fafsa.gov.

  • Anyone who plans to fill out the 2017–18 FAFSA should create an FSA ID as soon as possible.
  • If you are required to provide parent information on your FAFSA, your parent should create an FSA ID too.
  • Because your FSA ID is equivalent to your signature, parents and students each need to create their own FSA IDs using separate email addresses. Parents should not create an FSA ID for their child and vice versa.
  • In some situations, you may need to wait up to three days to use your FSA ID after creating it. If you want to avoid FAFSA delays, create your FSA ID now.

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Why You Should Fill Out the FAFSA ASAP

Why you should fill out the FAFSA ASAP

Spoiler alert: college is really expensive. Begging the government for money can make it more affordable! Such begging is done in the form of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid—FAFSA® for short. In order to maximize the amount of aid you can get, it’s very important that you fill out your FAFSA early.

In my experience, filling out the FAFSA is not super quick and easy. While you can do it in one sitting, it’s a bit of a process. That’s why it’s best to get a solid start on it so you’re not overwhelmed with it just before a deadline. Here are some tips to help you prep for and fill out your FAFSA.

And here’s some info about when you CAN fill out your FAFSA versus when you SHOULD fill out your FAFSA. There can be a big difference!

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Veteran Teacher Shares Hopes for the New Year

Secretary King and senior officials got on the bus and went back to school this week during #OpportunityTour, which visited exemplary PK-12 schools and institutions of higher education and celebrated local ideas and initiatives across several southern states, including Alabama. This week’s edition of Voice from the Classroom brings us perspective from the 2008 Alabama Teacher of the Year, Dr. Pamela Harman.

After teaching for more than 20 years, I can say that everything about a new school year is exciting (except maybe having to wear shoes).

When I was a new teacher, the beginning of the school year intimidated me. I was nervous about both my content knowledge and my pedagogy. So my goals for the year focused on improving my practice and strengthening my teaching skills. I worked to deepen my science content knowledge, and I developed a repertoire of instructional skills and habits of mind necessary to promote my students’ success and capacity for life-long learning. It was difficult for me to push students’ learning because I was still honing the skills I needed to teach and evaluate it.

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