(BPT) - Families who have children heading off to college are likely navigating an array of options when it comes to actually paying for higher education. A new white paper by Prudential Financial titled Paying For College: A Practical Guide for Families, seeks to dispel some of the misconceptions surrounding loans, grants, scholarships, and available tax benefits. If the bad news about financing a college education is that it can be complex and time-consuming, the good news is that families willing to educate themselves on the process (and familiarize themselves with the potential pitfalls) can develop a strategy that does not break the bank for students or the parents.

“It can be a daunting process, but well worth the effort, especially if it means avoiding large amounts of debt or not dipping into retirement savings ” said Caroline Feeney, President, Prudential Advisors. “If it seems too intimidating, don’t be afraid to seek guidance because there is a good chance you’ll be able to put the right payment strategy in place that works for your family.”

Creating a Plan that Fits Your Family

While earning a college degree is certainly a worthwhile pursuit, the skyrocketing costs of college tuition can leave many students laden with burdensome levels of debt. Parents can also struggle, often sacrificing retirement savings to help their children.

According to Feeney, “We urge families to tap in to school resources, guidance and financial aid counselors, as well as the experience of a financial professional who can help them make critical decisions with respect to leveraging existing financial resources in a way that helps protect longer-term financial security.”

The report provides a roadmap for financing a college education. It provides basic, foundational information about qualifying for undergraduate financial aid, taking out public and private education loans, and taking advantage of potential tax deductions and credits. It also offers targeted advice for single, as well as divorced parents.

Seeking Aid: Knowledge is Power

One of the primary goals when researching college payment options is identifying all of the sources that do not result in long-term debt. For families who lack the resources to save in advance or to fund that education on a pay-as-you-go basis, seeking all types of financial aid is essential. Some considerations include:

  • Becoming familiar with the application deadline and requirements for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) https://fafsa.ed.gov/.

  • Learning the pros and cons of aid sources available, including grants, scholarships, work-study programs, tax credits, and tax deductions.

  • Researching the variables that affect a student’s access to financial aid, including choice of school, how much and in what form the family has saved for college, and how adept the family is at working through the process of applying for help.

Once they do their homework, families may be surprised to learn about more effective ways to qualify for grants and scholarships, and if student loans must be taken out, how to navigate the new repayment options that have become available.

Divorced and single parents also have special provisions available to them that are worth looking into.

“Every family has unique circumstances to consider. Investing time with a financial professional who can help guide them through resource planning can help alleviate some of the stress associated with understanding the process and making sure that the family’s finances are well handled,” said Feeney.

To learn more, visit www.prudential.com/payingforcollege.

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No Time to Pack School Lunch?

Brandpoint  |  2015-12-03

(BPT) - The school year is well underway and your best laid plans for coordinated family schedules, home-cooked dinners together and a bag lunch packed from home have evolved to an acceptable level of managed chaos.

Time is short and usually double-booked.

One thing you don’t need to worry about is your child’s lunch. The nutrition she gets at school will be just as good, if not better, than the bag lunch you were planning to send.

“Many parents aren’t aware of the nutritional content of what’s on the menu at their child’s cafeteria,” says Mary Fell, director of School Nutrition Services at Alum Rock Union School District in San Jose, California.

Fell explains, “Many of these are familiar and favorite foods for children and if you read the fine print, you’ll see they’re packed with a variety of powerhouse nutrients that they need, are lower in sodium and have 0 grams trans fat per serving.”

Chef Mark Ainsworth, nutrition expert and professor at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA), explains that school meals must meet the rules established by the USDA, which specify how many proteins, whole grains, sodium and fats are on the menu. Calories are set, as well. “I believe it’s actually more nutritionally balanced at school than it would be at home, unless mom or dad is a nutritionist or dietary expert,” says Ainsworth.

“In San Jose, each of our meals align with USDA guidelines,” says Fell. “We know children eat with all of their senses - especially sight, smell and taste. We focus on the full experience, understanding the flavors and foods they like, to make their lunch a fun and nutritious break in their days.” Fell explains that her colleagues across the country are committed to similar goals. “We’re in this line of work because we care about kids and their nutrition.”

Parents may be surprised to learn a school lunch of mandarin oranges, a green salad with reduced calorie dressing, a slice of whole-grain crust pizza, like Big Daddy’s (R) Primo Cheese Pizza from Schwan’s Food Service, and a cup of nonfat milk, has comparable nutrients and 35 percent less sodium than a bag lunch with a turkey and cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread, carrot sticks, a medium apple, one ounce of multigrain chips and a cup of nonfat milk. Whole grains, calcium, protein and potassium are star ingredients in both lunches.

The essentials of whole grains

Whole grains are an important source of dietary fiber and also provide B-vitamins and essential minerals that help keep kids healthy. A diet rich in whole grains can help to lower the risk of many chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. They also help to provide a feeling of fullness.

The notable nutrients of potassium and calcium

Potassium and calcium have both been named “nutrients of concern” for children because research has shown their diets are often lacking these important nutrients. Potassium ensures normal heart and muscle function, maintains fluid balance and plays a role in promoting strong bones. Calcium is important for strong bones and also plays a role in blood clotting and muscle function.

The power of protein

Protein is a cornerstone of a child’s diet, supporting growth and development. Considered a building block for muscle and collagen, protein also helps to transport other nutrients in the body.

Companies like Schwan’s Food Service have worked to reduce sodium in their pizzas by incorporating sea salt in the crust and sauce, as well as adding herbs and spices, to enhance the flavor and the nutrition of this favorite food.

“We’re excited to share with parents the facts about our school meals,” says Fell. “It’s a great way for us to make kids smile and hopefully minimize the stress to pack those bag lunches.”

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What We Have Learned About High School Equivalency

NewsUSA  |  2015-11-24

(NewsUSA) - The past 18 months shook up state education communities preparing students to earn a high school equivalency certificate. With some states dropping the old test for new ones, states choosing to have multiple options, and the implementation of College and Career Ready (CCR) standards, the landscape drastically changed in a short period of time.

Here's what educators and those looking to achieve this educational milestone should know about the past year and a half.

1: 2014 marked the first year in U.S. history that alternative tests were used by states.

Twenty states administered alternative tests after choosing to either drop the GED test within their state or offer multiple tests for students to choose from. The HiSET exam developed by Educational Testing Service and the TASC Test Assessing Secondary Completion by CTB/McGraw Hill allow those who haven't completed high school the opportunity to earn their high school equivalencies.

Introducing numerous branded tests broke conventional terms and understanding of how people actually go about earning a high school credential.

2: People are learning you don't "get a GED."

Employers, education administrations and institutions of higher education incorrectly ask whether an applicant has his or her "GED." Having proof of a high school credential is essential for many careers and postsecondary education opportunities. However, the GED is a test -- not something earned.

HiSET, GED and TASC scores are mobile, meaning they can be used for employment and college applications throughout the United States. Test takers now have a choice as to what test they choose to take based on various categories such as price or whether the test is available in paper- and/or computer-delivered formats.

3: The results are the same.

All three tests measure high school equivalent skills, and each has implemented CCR standards. Whether one takes the HiSET, GED or TASC test, the end result when passing these tests is the individual earning a state-issued credential. For example, in California, a student can take either test and earn the California High School Equivalency Certificate when passing each test's subject areas.

The trend toward alternative testing shows no signs of slowing as more states consider new test options and vendors in the near future. Options in how one earns a high school credential have changed, but the outcomes are the same -- increasing one's ability to achieve a more secure future by reaching this education milestone.

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Novel Program Brings Hope to African Nation

NewsUSA  |  2015-11-24

(NewsUSA) - For decades, Angola's government has focused on its natural resources as its number one commodity. Now, however, there is a paradigm shift that may have an even greater potential -- the country's young people.

In cooperation with Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW), a leading Swiss business school that has recently earned the AACSB International business accreditation, Angola wants to train select students in international business and start a new phase of economic development.

But can the formation of a new financial elite be enough for lasting change in a country that is still inherently poor?

Of course not, says Jose Filament Dos Santos, a representative from the Angolan sovereign wealth fund Fundo Soberano de Angola (FSDEA), which is funding the project. "But we firmly believe that you have to start somewhere, and it's best to get going in an area where it will have a big impact."

Other countries have already seen the benefit of investing in education and a younger generation, but it is no small step for a country whose majority still live in abject poverty.

The focus-shift of the FSDEA, from the investment in real estate to the social sector, justifies Dos Santos with the growing investment interest for years from foreign companies:

"In order to understand and draw up major contracts in international business that will bring in long-term revenues not only for investors, but also for the country and its people, Angola needs experts."

Enter the 'Future Leaders of Angola,' a six-month executive program that offers Angolan students advanced training in management at an international level.

A statement released by the 'Future Leaders of Angola' reads, "We believe [the graduates] will produce a noticeable effect, not least because they will pass on what they have learnt in their future jobs in Angola."

For its part, the university said it sees the course as a chance for students to contribute to an improvement in its citizens' lives.

"In the curriculum, we put a lot of emphasis on topics such as corporate responsibility, compliance and corruption, and give the participants greater awareness of these issues," stresses Daniel Seelhofer, head of the Department of International Business at ZHAW.

While proponents understand the program and the selection of students according to "purely objective criteria" will have its challenges, ultimately it could move the country forward in ways it never thought possible -- until now.

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Fund Your Favorite School One Apple at a Time

NewsUSA  |  2015-11-24

(NewsUSA) - While an apple a day may keep the doctor away, it turns out that this delectable fruit can help students, too.

This month you can aid specific school causes across the nation by taking a bite out of your favorite apple with "Buy an Apple, Help a Student," a fundraising program supported by the U.S. apple industry and other sponsors.

The way it works is this:

Between now and Nov. 15, the U.S. Apple Association, through its Apples for Education program, will feature 12 student causes on Apples4Ed.com. The classroom projects in need of funding range from new school gardens and improved libraries to updated technology, revitalized playgrounds and enhanced resources for teachers. To support one of these causes, all you have to do is follow these four simple steps:

  • Snack. Grab anything apple-related, such as a piece of fruit, juice, applesauce, or any product from one of the program partners, like Marzetti dips and dressings, KIND Snacks, Roth cheese, or Johnsonville sausage.

  • Snap. Take a picture of yourself or others enjoying the snack.

  • Tag. Find a school cause that you would like to support at Apples4Ed.com, tag your photo with the project's name and use the hashtag #Apples4Ed.

  • Share. Vote for your favorite school cause by uploading the photo to Apples4Ed.com or sharing on Instagram. You can vote as often as you like by uploading photos of yourself or others enjoying apples and apple pairings.

For every vote, the U.S. Apple Association and its program partners will pledge financial assistance to nominated projects to help them reach their goals. In addition, participants are eligible to win gift cards and have money donated directly to their selected projects.

In December, USApple will announce the cause with the most votes, which will receive the highest donation. All schools will receive a portion of funding for their respective project.

"We love the time-honored connection between apples and education and wanted to bring it to life with a fun program that lets people turn their daily apples into direct support for important classroom projects nationwide," said Wendy Brannen, USApple director of consumer health and public relations. "With Buy an Apple, Help a Student, enjoying an apple or delicious pairing from our program partners can go a long way in supporting healthy bodies and minds."

For more information, visit www.Apples4Ed.com.

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How to Help Your Child Get Over Math Anxiety

NewsUSA  |  2015-11-24

(NewsUSA) - Were you a math whiz growing up, or did you struggle and feel anxious at the mere mention of math? As a parent, you surely don't want your child to experience the same thing.

"It's easy to help your child not only excel at math but also enjoy it," says Raj Valli, the founder ofTabtor Math, a tablet-based math learning program for K-8 children personalized by a dedicated tutor. "Create a math-friendly environment, make math a playful language and participate in an ongoing dialogue about math."

Valli offers the following advice for helping your child enjoy math.

Create a positive environment around math. Since children model the attitudes of those around them, speak positively about math (even hiding your true feelings). Say encouraging phrases like, "It's really cool that you can use math every day."

Think about math as a language. Because children begin using language when they are very young, they don't feel the same anxiety about reading and writing as they do about math. To transfer this positive attitude over to math, approach math as a language, rather than as a "problem." Count things together, measure things together and talk about the numbers involved in any activity you are doing together. Don't worry too much about getting answers "right" or "wrong." Instead, help them think through the process of using math aloud, in words.

Hold a math "dialogue" centered on everyday activities. Once your child is comfortable with thinking about math in language terms, ask at the supermarket how many cookies are in a package and how your child calculated this answer. She might refer to the size of the package or the size of the cookies inside. Whether right or wrong, it's important to emphasize the process used in her head to make the guess. This gets her thinking about math as a visual subject involving shape and volume, rather than just as numbers in a line.

You might ask an older child how many slices of bread are in a loaf, how thick each slice is and how long the loaf is. Open the package to see how close the estimate was. He will learn to feel comfortable with estimating and will enjoy a conversation with you using math as a focal point.

If you set the stage correctly, you'll find that your child enjoys math more than you did -- and then you can relax and enjoy your child's future success in the classroom.

To learn more, please visit www.tabtor.com.

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Education a Must on Association Board

NewsUSA  |  2015-11-24

(NewsUSA) - Running a community association can be a rewarding but difficult task -- a minefield for even the most savvy, seasoned and well-intentioned arbiter.

Federal, state and local laws are changed, passed, or modified; buildings age; interest rates are as solid as a two-celebrity marriage; budgets, insurance companies and community elections present their own challenges.

If you are one of the more than 66 million Americans who live in a homeowners association or condominium, you might be thinking of becoming a board member, or perhaps you already serve on an association board. Either way, educating yourself is of paramount importance to you, your neighbors and community.

Which is why Community Associations Institute (CAI), a national education and advocacy group, is offering a new, comprehensive education course that will help community association board members better understand association operations, management and governance.

"We know from national surveys that association board members are dedicated volunteers doing their very best to serve their communities and neighbors," says CAI Chief Executive Officer Thomas Skiba, CAE. "But that doesn't mean they know everything they need to know. Many boards get in trouble because they don't know what they don't know. That's why this course can be helpful."

A Big Commitment

Although board members certainly go in with eyes wide open about the amount of time they will be volunteering and devoting to the association, Skiba points out that the role also requires a commitment to understand the legal, leadership and operational obligations of the position.

"The information and insights conveyed in the workshop can save association leaders time, money and unnecessary headaches, perhaps even help them avoid costly, divisive lawsuits," says Skiba. "Even with a skilled community manager or attorney, board members can find themselves facing the unanticipated surprises and traps that association boards inevitably encounter."

CAI has tapped experts in the community association business to develop a workshop that is available both as an online course and a classroom workshop by CAI chapters. The curriculum, Skiba says, is for both self-managed communities and those association boards that rely on a professional community manager or an association management company.

Highlights of the Workshop

The Board Leadership Development Workshop provides association board members with information and perspective on the critical elements of community association operations. So whether you're a first-time board member or a tenured officer, there's something for everyone. Here is just a sampling of what the program includes:

  • The functions of president, secretary and treasurer.
  • Governing documents.
  • Finances and reserve funding.
  • Board and annual meetings.
  • Rules compliance and enforcement.

Visit www.caionline.org or call 888-224-4321 to learn more.

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