Detroit makes community college free

— Detroit high schoolers just got a free ticket to community college.

Starting this year, any graduating high school senior who is accepted to one of Detroit’s five community colleges won’t have to pay a dime for tuition.

The Detroit Promise Zone program, officially launched on Tuesday, will make it possible. At first the funds will come from a private scholarship foundation. But starting in 2018, some of the money will come from property taxes already earmarked for the program.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re a high school senior preparing for college now or a second-grader whose college career is years away. The Detroit Promise will be there to help make a college education a reality,” said Mayor Mike Duggan.

He hopes that the program will eventually expand to cover the cost of four years of college tuition at a state school for each Detroit student.

To be eligible, a student must have completed their junior and senior years at a public, private or charter high school in Detroit. It doesn’t matter how much their family earns, but the student must fill out the federal financial aid form called the FAFSA. The Detroit program will pick up the difference after any other federal and state grants and scholarships have been used.

About 500 students are expected to take advantage of the program and enroll at a community college each fall, according to a spokesman for the Detroit Regional Chamber, which helps administer the scholarship.

It will cost an average of $680 per person, annually, though each scholarship amount will vary depending on how much in other awards the student received.

The privately funded Detroit Scholarship program is already in place and has granted 2,000 students free tuition over the past three years. The Michigan Education Excellence Foundation raised the funds from a mix of companies, charitable foundations, and individuals.

But now that the Detroit Promise Zone has officially launched, scholarship funding will eventually move away from private donations toward earmarked tax funds. There isn’t an exact timeline for that transition, a spokesman said.

Detroit is one of 10 “promise zones” the state created in 2009 as a way to send more Michigan residents to college. The programs designate a share of state property taxes within the zone to pay for the scholarships.

“We are confident that Detroit’s future will be even brighter now that our city’s future leaders will be able to go to college at no cost,” said Detroit Promise Zone Authority Board Chairwoman Penny Bailer.

Tuition-free college is an idea that’s gaining traction. While President Obama has pushed for it nationally, Tennessee made community college tuition-free for graduating seniors last fall, and Oregon is set to launch a similar program next year.

High school seniors must register for the Detroit Scholarship Fund online by June 30 to be eligible.

Will Harriet Tubman be on the next $20 bill?

— Harriet Tubman should be the first woman on the $20 bill, according to a new online poll.

The survey was conducted by the advocacy group Women on 20s, which is pushing to have a woman’s face on U.S. paper currency.

The organization sent President Obama a petition Tuesday asking him to push for the change.

The campaign has drawn a lot of attention. More than 600,000 people have cast votes in the online poll in the past ten weeks, including celebrities like Susan Sarandon and Ellen DeGeneres.

Harriet Tubman, an abolitionist who led slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad, would replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill.

Tubman beat out a list of 15 candidates, including former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, civil rights activist Rosa Parks, and Native American chief Wilma Mankiller.

But only the Treasury Department has the authority to make changes to U.S. currency, and its official plans say that the $10 bill is the next one for a redesign, not the $20.

The campaign inspired U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire, to introduce legislation that would instruct the Treasury to put a woman on the $20 bill. There hasn’t been any vote on the bill.

Comcast to take more complaints via Facebook and Twitter

— Comcast is bulking up its presence on Twitter and Facebook as it tries to repair the damage done by a string of very public customer service catastrophes.

The company is now hiring 40 new “social care specialists” to respond to customers over social media, adding to its existing social staff of 20. They’ll be able to help with everything from scheduling appointments to troubleshooting Internet problems and setting up DVRs.

The cable giant is notorious for poor customer service.

In one of the more embarrassing incidents, a Comcast customer posted a recording of a frustrating eight-minute phone call in which a rep refused to cancel the caller’s service.

And Comcast landed in hot water earlier this year after someone at the company changed the name of customer Ricardo Brown to A–hole Brown, on a bill after he canceled the cable service. A 63 year-old from Illinois got a bill in the mail addressed to Super B—- Bauer.

The hiring push is just one way the company is addressing its customer service problem.

“We have thousands of people answering service calls on the phone, and for many customers that’s great. But some people would rather go online, and we want to make sure to give them that choice,” said Comcast spokeswoman Jennifer Khoury.

The company has more than 73,000 followers on Twitter, while its Xfinity Internet service has 5.9 million likes on Facebook.

And the number of customers reaching out through social media keeps growing, Khoury said.

In September, a Comcast executive vowed to improve things, but admitted that it would take years before he could honestly say the company is known for great customer service.

He may be right.

Meanwhile, Comcast is planning to merge with Time Warner Cable. The deal was struck last year, but still needs federal approval.


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Howard students will get paid to graduate on time

— Howard University is going to pay its students to graduate in four years.

The school says it will cover 50% of the cost of a student’s final semester if they graduate early or on time, starting next year. A single semester’s sticker price is $11,900, so that would be a savings of about $6,000 for anyone paying full price.

And if the program motivates students to finish their coursework faster and enter the workforce sooner than they would have otherwise, they’ll actually save even more, said Derek Kindle, Howard’s executive director of student financial services.

About 46% of Howard University students graduate in four years, which is higher than the national average of 39%.

Howard’s tuition rebate program is “relatively uncommon,” said Robert Kelchen, an education professor at Seton Hall University.

At public colleges in Texas, students earn a $1,000 rebate if they finish on time. And some schools, such as Eastern Illinois University, offer a guaranteed tuition rate for four years. After that, the cost for any additional credits would go up.

But tuition rebates have been largely untested.

Finishing school in four years is sometimes difficult, and more than half of students across the country don’t do it. As tuition prices keep climbing, many students require lighter schedules so that they can also hold a job while going to school.

The rebate incentive is just one way Howard is trying to keep school affordable for students.

It is also freezing tuition next year, charging undergraduates the same $22,737 it did this year. That’s significantly less than the average for private, four-year colleges, which topped $31,000 last year, according to The College Board.

Howard already offers grants to the highest-need sophomores, juniors and seniors who are on track to graduate on time. It awarded more than $2 million through this program in the fall, its inaugural year. It also increased the number of credits that student can take in a single semester without increasing the price.


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Many spouses are cheating – financially

— If you’re keeping financial secrets from your spouse, you’re not alone.

One in five Americans has hidden a purchase of $500 or more from their significant other, according to a new study from And an estimated 7.2 million Americans have a bank account or credit card that their spouse doesn’t know about.

It may sound egregious, but hiding a shopping spree doesn’t take much more than a little white lie. You borrowed that new sweater from your sister, shipped an online order to the office, and just never mentioned the steep bar tab you rang up with coworkers.

Men are bigger secret spenders. They’re almost twice as likely as women to have hidden a purchase from their significant other. At the same time, more men also say they don’t mind if their spouse hides a big purchase. Only 18% of women say they’re OK with that.

But financial secrets can be a “recipe for disaster,” said Matt Schulz, a senior analyst at

It’s incredibly difficult to keep a household budget when you don’t know how much money is coming in and out, he said. It could lead to late bill payments, which can harm your credit score.

The report is based on a survey of 1,000 adults living in the U.S.

“Honesty is generally the best policy. If you don’t tell your spouse about these things and they find out, they might stat to wonder what else is being hidden,” Schulz said.


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Six ways to get free money for college

— President Obama wants to make community college free — but don’t hold your breath.

Yes, his announcement went viral earlier this month, but this kind of change requires congressional action and Republicans now control both the House and Senate. Even if Congress acts, states could opt out of participating altogether.

For now, students need to come up with about $3,300 for a year at the average two-year college. And that only covers tuition and fees. Other expenses could ring up an additional $13,000, according to The College Board. Instead of waiting for Washington to make a change, here are other ways to foot the bill.

Pell Grants: The federal government gives out grants of up to $5,730 to about 9 million students a year. They can be used for tuition, fees, books and living expenses. It’s based on financial need, and those making less than $60,000 typically qualify for at least some award, said Robert Kelchen, a professor of higher education at Seton Hall University. Students must submit the FAFSA form in order to be eligible.

Scholarships: Check the college’s financial aid office, but don’t forget about local groups that may offer awards based on special talents or interests. Some are merit-based, but others can be based on need, so be sure to fill out the FAFSA form early. Some states and colleges have a finite amount of money to dole out, and it’s allocated on a first-come, first-serve basis each year.

Think about a teaching career: You can get up to $4,000 a year from the federal government for pursuing a teaching degree. But you must agree to teach in a high-need field in a low-income area for at least four years after graduating, or you have to pay the money back.

Tax credit: Every student is eligible for a tax refund each year. Students making less than $80,000 are eligible for a maximum of $2,500. Of course, you still have to pay for tuition upfront before the credit comes your way.

Move to Tennessee or Chicago: There are already programs here that help cover the cost of community college, similar to the one proposed by President Obama. The state of Tennessee will cover the cost of tuition at a community college or technical school that’s not already covered by Pell Grants and other state scholarships.

Chicago will similarly cover the remaining cost of tuition, fees and books. Students who earn a 3.0 GPA in high school, place into college-level math and English courses, and are accepted into one of the City Colleges of Chicago are eligible.

Ask your employer: Some companies, big and small, offer discounts on college tuition, but they often dictate which school is eligible. Starbucks offers some money to workers who take classes at Arizona State University’s online program, and Wal-Mart gives a discount to those taking classes at an online school called American Public University. Home Depot supports employees pursuing a degree at any accredited college, university or technical school.


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Obama wants community college to be free

— Free education “for those willing to work for it.”

That’s what President Obama said he would like to see in an announcement the White House posted to Facebook and Vine on Thursday.

He’s proposing to make the first two years of community college free.

“Everyone understands that education is the key to success for our kids in the 21st century, but what we also understand is that it’s not just for kids. We also have to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to constantly train themselves for better jobs, better wages and better benefits,” the president said.

It’s unclear exactly how such a proposal would be funded, but it would require a partnership between the federal government and states, which would have the option to participate.

The program will be modeled after one in Tennessee, in which the state covers the cost for students that’s not already covered by grants and scholarships.

The proposal would require legislation.

That could be tough now that Republicans control both the House and Senate.

The president made the announcement from Air Force One as he left Detroit on his way to Tennessee and Arizona, on a tour where he is previewing some highlights of his State of the Union Address.

More details about the president’s proposal will be announced on Friday in Tennessee when he addresses the state’s education reform.

Colleges that offer the best return on your investment

— At a time of rising tuition and soaring college debt, the school students choose can make a big difference to their long-term financial health, according to a report on which colleges offer the best return on investment.

Harvey Mudd College, a private college in Claremont, Calif., offers students the biggest bang for their higher-education buck, according to the report from PayScale, a website that tracks pay data. During the first 20 years after getting a degree, graduates can expect to come out $1.1 million ahead of peers who skipped college and went straight to work after high school.

But return on investment depends a lot on a student’s major.

For computer science majors, Stanford University offers the best deal, with a return of $1.7 million over the first 20 years of their career.

Education majors, on the other hand, may not make as much as computer scientists after graduation, but they can get the most for their money at Montclair State University in New Jersey. Education alums can expect a $189,000 return on their investment during the first 20 years after earning a degree.

“We need people to be teachers and social workers,” said Katie Bardaro, an economist at PayScale. “But if you want to go into those fields, you need to understand the income potential so you can make the right choice about taking out loans and where you go to school.”

Majors in liberal arts programs also can enjoy much better income potential if they pick the right school. Political science majors at Texas A&M University, for example, earn a 20-year return of almost $600,000 on average. At Columbia University, art graduates can expect to earn a return of about $478,000 on their investment.

In general, students who get the best bang for their buck major in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) — and attend schools with well-known programs that help with job placement.

“When it comes to earnings, yes, it’s all about STEM,” said Bardaro.

PayScale’s study looked at how much a college grad earned over the first 20 years of their career, minus the cost of tuition, room, board and books, taking financial aid into account. PayScale then compared that number to the pay of a high school grad who worked for 24 to 26 years.


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Minimum wage hike could mean a raise for all

— When New Jersey increased its minimum wage this year, Dolores Riley gave raises to all 16 employees at her childcare center. But it wasn’t because they were all making $7.25 an hour.

In fact, only five staff members at Gramma’s School House were affected when New Jersey upped its minimum wage to $8.25. But Riley didn’t want to increase the pay of the least experienced employees without also rewarding those who had been there the longest. So she increased everyone’s pay by $.25 an hour.

She says it will increase her labor costs by $10,000 to $15,000 annually, a fact she’s not happy about, since she’ll be taking a pay cut to cover it.

Riley is not alone. When there’s a minimum wage increase, some small business owners will raise the pay for most, if not all, hourly workers in order to preserve their wage structure and retain quality employees.

That’s what economists call a ripple effect, meaning an increase in the minimum wage spills over to higher wage brackets.

On Jan. 1, 13 states raised their minimum wage (by varying degrees), and on July 1, California will increase its by $1 an hour.

As a result, the Economic Policy Institute estimates about 4.6 million workers will see their wages increased, 2.6 million of whom are directly affected as the new minimum wage exceeds their current hourly pay. The other 2 million already make slightly more than the new minimum wage but will benefit from the ripple effect.

And it could well be the entire country that sees an increase soon. Congressional Democrats and President Obama are pushing to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 by 2015.

For Joann Marks, who owns Florida-based marketing company Cosmetic Promotions, that would require raises for all six of her hourly workers, even though they are paid at least $10 an hour, well above Florida’s current minimum wage of $7.93.

She would also increase the pay of two of her salaried employees. Broken down, their compensation is equal to about $11 an hour, and Marks wants to pay them more than just above the minimum rate.

When wages increase, business owners are left with two options: cut back on staff or raise prices. But sometimes, one or both of those can’t be easily altered.

About 75% of Cosmetic Promotions’ business comes from partnerships with chain stores where prices are already set by a contract. So Marks expects to cut one worker from her staff of 15 if the new federal wage is approved.

“We work better with all these people, but we’d survive if we had to lose one,” Marks said.

Meanwhile, Riley’s hands are tied when it comes to the number of employees at Gramma’s School House. The state mandates how many caregivers she must have in the room based on the number of children.

And raising prices is not appealing. As the economy weakened, parents lost jobs and no longer needed her services. Riley says she’s making only a quarter of what she made before 2008 and enrollment is still declining.

“I just keep paying out of my own pocket,” she said.

Do you own a small business and oppose a minimum wage increase? Or do you welcome the change? Tell us how a minimum wage increase affects your business.