Tuesday, March 1, 2011
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Paying the Price of Education
Scene opens in the kitchen of a middle class home. A teenage girl and her mother are hugging each other, dancing for joy.
"I got into one of the best schools!" the daughter exclaimed, clutching the coveted acceptance letter in one hand.
"I got into one of the most expensive schools!" is what the father heard.
While this scene is depicted in a current television commercial, it's also playing in households around America this month.
Getting accepted at a top-tier school was once the hard part. Today, it pales in comparison to paying for that quality education.
Grants and student aid programs offered by the federal government have taken a hit as we struggle with balancing the huge budget deficit. Only 10 percent of the students enrolled in four-year programs have a chance of receiving a scholarship. And the average amount of those scholarships is $2,500. Less than one percent of students are granted scholarships of more than $15,000.
So where does the average family find the money for their child to attend the quality of school they worked so hard to achieve?
Students should apply for as many private scholarships as they can find. And with online tools, it's easier than ever to sort out those for which they may qualify.
The College Board's Scholarships.com, Peterson's College Search at Petersons.com and fastweb.com allow students to register and complete a background survey. They will match them to scholarships based on their response.
The surveys are quite lengthy. But it's important they answer every question, whether or not they feel it applies. Even a negative response can trigger a match you wouldn't have otherwise considered.
Apply for every scholarship, no matter how small the award. It may not seem worth the effort for a $500 award, but it will be easier to win. And once you do, adding the award to your resume can help you win bigger ones.
Follow application instructions carefully. A simple error might be the only difference between two extremely qualified candidates.
Proofread everything carefully before you send it in. You may want to ask someone else to proofread as well to catch anything questionable before it reaches the reviewer's desk.
Make a copy before sending your application. Consider sending it registered mail to confirm its safe arrival. You're not likely to get a confirmation that it's under review from the source. If it somehow doesn't reach the appropriate party, you'll be able to resend your application easily if you kept your own copy.
Job-hunting skills apply to scholarship-hunting as well. The competition is fierce for award money. Awards panels are Googling and checking out Facebook profiles of those in final contention. You may not have posted that picture from the last keg party online, but a classmate could have. And identified you by name.
Students can start hunting for scholarships well before their college applications. The databases mentioned above allow you to register at age 14. The programs keeps your profile so you'll be the first to know of any award added that matches your background.
There are also scholarships available for elementary school students such as the Scripps National Spelling Bee. But there are many others not quite so famous. Find a list here.
Scholarship searches are best conducted by the student or their parents. If you're asked to pay a fee to help your search or for more information on a particular scholarship, it's often a scam.
Consider the scholarship search as your part-time job. The time and effort you put into the hunt will payoff when the awards start rolling in.
The Rescue Story
In the 12 years I've been producing this newsletter for GCF Bank, the articles that illicit the most reader response have never failed to amaze me. We cover financial news, economic developments, tax tips, government issues, consumer reviews, emerging technology and miscellaneous subjects thrown in for fun.
Yet the ones that drive our readers to express their appreciation are more often than not the human interest articles flowing from the heart rather than those I spend hours researching before putting to paper.
One such article published in the June 8, 2010 issue brought such a flood of comments that it deserves a follow up. It detailed my flight with a friend who, as a member of Pilots 'N Paws, rescues pets on death row to unite them with families in whatever part of the country they may find a new home.
My husband and I had adopted a 1-year-old golden Labrador retriever. She was the lucky winner from close to 100 dogs presented that desperately needed a home. We found her in an Alabama shelter that euthanized animals simply because they were overcrowded, only a couple of days away from her date with death.
When I wrote, Dega had been in our family for a mere three days. We didn't yet know what issues would arise with adopting a shelter dog and had prepared for the worst.
Almost nine months later, we feel like we hit the puppy lottery.
Her first couple of weeks were challenging for all of us. Shelters didn't waste much food on those at death's door. The poor thing was ravenous.
She had been bounced from shelter-to-home-to-shelter-to-foster home so many times she had no clue how long she would be spending with us. She was excitable and energetic. I never took her for a walk, she drug me down the street tethered by her leash.
Thankfully, the worst was over within those first two weeks. And all it cost us was a pound of bacon, a couple of dinner rolls and a month's worth of chiropractor visits.
Today we have the most compassionate and loving creature imaginable. This animal senses the needs of other dogs and reacts in kind.
She showed that in meeting another neighborhood dog, who had been badly abused before finding a forever home. They performed the sniff ritual. And then Dega lifted her paw to gently pet her new friend alongside his face and haunches. As his owner and I looked incredulously at each other over what we had just witnessed, she did it again as to affirm her action.
She'll crouch down to make herself small when playing with a Yorkie or Chihuahua. Not an easy task when she's close to five feet fully stretched.
And she'll slow down her pace when playing with an older greyhound that sometimes isn't up to running at their usual breakneck pace.
She'll bring me a shoe when she wants to walk. And we now do it together, her pacing stately by my side.
She performs a Happy Dance when she knows she'll be spending the day at work with my husband.
We were hesitant to adopt a shelter dog, afraid whatever baggage they brought along would be too big to handle. We couldn't have been any more wrong. This gentlest of pets turned out to be one of the best moves we've made.
Between 8 and 11 million animals are killed in shelters each year. Mostly because of lack of space.
Would you like to add a lovable, black lab to your household? Find one in a shelter. They're probably the breed least likely to find a new home. Senior dogs are hard to place too. They rarely make it out of a shelter alive.
Cats are a huge problem also. People tend to let their cats roam free and don't always get them spayed/neutered. Shelters put them down as fast as they come in because there just isn't room.
Research breeds thoroughly before looking for your next pet. Make sure their personalities match yours to be part of the solution rather than add to the problem. A wrong match may find you returning a dog who may have found the right home elsewhere rather than end up back on death row.
If you want a dog to just hang out with you while you watch TV, don't adopt a border collie. They need a job to do to be comfortable in their surroundings.
Be certain you want a dog and the responsibilities that go with it. Don't adopt because your child said he would do the feeding. They won't do it for long. You have to be willing to take over when the puppy grows up and the newness wears off.
If you don't have the time an animal deserves, don't adopt a pet. They certainly won't get any more attention in a kill shelter waiting to die.
A great number of pets in shelters today are a result of the economy. People lost their homes in foreclosure and can't take a beloved pet with them in a rented apartment. Others lost their jobs and find it hard to feed the family. They can't afford to feed a pet or pay for their vet care.
You'll find purebreds as well as mixed breeds at a shelter. All in need of a good home. By adopting one pet, you're actually saving the life of two by making room for another. Don't breed or buy while homeless animals die.
From the chief of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, to the Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke, the opinion is now official. A prolonged rise in oil prices will be a problem for the economy. Most of us know that this will be a problem as we pay more to fill our gas tanks.
The Fed chairman gives an economic report to Congress two times a year. On Tuesday, he listed other risks to the economy, including rising prices for oil, gasoline, food and other commodities, and further weakness in home prices. Each of these could prompt Americans to spend less. However, Bernanke told Congress today that the "most likely outcome is that the recent rise in commodity prices will lead to, at most, a temporary and relatively modest increase in U.S. consumer price inflation."
So, "commodities" are a big risk to the economy according to Mr. Bernanke. What might you ask is a commodity? A commodity, according to Wikipedia, is "a good for which there is demand, but which is supplied without qualitative differentiation across a market." The market treats it as the nearly the same no matter who produces it. Examples of commodities are copper, wheat, oranges and, of course, oil. Commodities exchanges are found in Chicago, Kansas, NY, etc. Futures contracts are traded where specific quantities are agreed to with future delivery dates. These contracts simply balance supply and demand. Outside forces, like a freeze in Florida or reduced oil production, impacts the supply side of the house! Huge futures contracts help predict the costs over the term of the contracts for utilities and other buyers of these commodities.
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