Know the Higher Education Expenses Covered by Your IRA Account

College Education spells costs. Savings nowadays accumulate just minimal interest rates; not enough to cover your entire child’s education. Good thing there are IRA assets. IRA stands for Individual Retirement Account and owning one can save you from the stress of financing your children’s education after high school. Using the IRA to cover for the qualified higher education expenses at a qualified educational institution gives a lot of convenience to parents nowadays.

What are higher education expenses and what measures are used to determine if the expenses are qualified? Section 529 Chapter 3 of Internal Revenue Code defines “qualified higher education expenses” as a term denoting the essential college expenses. Essential college expenses constitute equipment, supplies, books, tuition and fees needed for attendance or enrollment in a qualified educational institution. If your child is a half time student, these expenses can also include his room and board.

Be cautious however and remember that not all higher education expenses are covered by IRA. By law, it is required that the expenses should be coordinated with the other educational benefits of the student. On the recent rules released by Commissioner Gorski of the United States Tax Court, IRA distributions should be used to pay certain equipment or supplies necessary for enrollment or attendance; these expenses are penalty free. Moreover, the owner should withdraw his contributions for qualified higher education expenses the same year the expenses are incurred.

IRA does not cover all expenses! This should be stressed to all IRA owners since most of the times, there are confusions as to what can be regarded as expense or not. Simple guidelines will be:

a. Proper and complete documentation is necessary for purchase of books. The documentation is needed to show that the expense is really incurred during appropriate tax year.

b. Household items are not needed for enrollment. These items are not higher education expenses and thus are not qualified.

c. Laptop computers are important educational equipment needed by students nowadays. Although this maybe the case, these computers are not required for a student to be enrolled; and just the same, these will not qualify as higher educational expenses since schools will not require students to purchase one.

As you can notice, the rules are basic and direct. The US Court definitely requires that the eligible educational institution should be the ones stating their specific requirements. What is set by the educational institution as school expenses will then be the basis of IRA’s higher education expenses.

Being an IRA owner, you can choose to utilize all or just some of your IRA assets to help you settle your children’s education. Your distribution, when withdrawn before your age of 591/2, will be subject to 10% penalty tax and federal income tax. Nevertheless, the IRC allows several kinds of distribution exempted from the 10% penalty tax; this includes those distributions utilized to pay qualified expenses. Remember that if the amount you withdrew from your IRA account in a year does not exceed your eligible higher education expenses, the penalty tax of 10% will not be applied, however, you will still pay the regular income tax.

With the bulging costs of higher education nowadays, it’s a good thing people are getting wiser by investing their money for future. Individual Retirement Account is good for supporting your child’s education. Proper preparation is vital and owners must be responsible enough to know which will qualify as higher education expenses and which are not.

Government’s Hold on Higher Education – How Rational and/or Irrational?

The area of higher education is remarkably vast, having a variety of constituents, less or more contributive in nature. Also, like every other part of the social structure, good and bad lie in equilibrium there. Since corruption has radically made it to every sector of our society, there remain all the chances for a sensitive area like education to get affected, no exception.

College managements (private ones, especially) are too big bodies to get stormed away in the fury of corruption. In fact, they need to move with the flow and become a part of corruption in one way or the other. Every now and then, however, the delicate air of the area of higher education can be seen turning out to be insecure for students. Pity!

There is nothing complex in understanding that the weaker unit is always dominated in every social relationship, which students here in this case are. If anything adverse has to happen because of whatever irrational corruption carries along, that will happen to students. Not everyone thinks such thinking is thoughtful, though.

Where the idea of some legal body’s control over higher education institutes comes is the intellectual section of our society. Well educated intellectual people actually care for students, their future and career. They suggest that if there is a body required to govern institutes imparting higher education, it should be government itself. This they believe is the best way to make the control as pure and authentic as it ultimately can be.

Unlike that, those who deny this concept, strongly argue that government’s control on higher education can’t necessarily be transparent and corruption-free. This is exactly when a rich-in-contradiction narrative (always varying from person to person, obviously) of why there should or/and shouldn’t be some decree system to control higher education in India can be felt flowing around.

Is Government’s Control Actually Required?

In December 2010, the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) issued its notification with a new set of rules for B-schools. It included instructions to finish MBA entrance exams such as XAT, ATMA and MICAT. It also stated that only MAT and CAT or exams conducted by any state government will be main means of admission in B-schools.

Furthermore, the circular implemented fee related regulations wherein B-schools were denied right to set fee according to their own structure. Also, because of the changes that were introduced, now higher education institutes need to admit students only through a state government controlled process. This is how government has managed to regulate higher education institutes. Though any policy implemented by government can’t be challenged, still common man willing to react on such rules and regulations (to prove them right or wrong in this way?) can’t be ignored. Everything governments do, after all, is for common man.

Mass Reaction – Consensus or Disagreement?

To a reasonable extent, having a regulatory body comprising of an excellent regulatory mechanism to tame higher education institutes is essential. Imparting education to young minds, future pillars of a country, after all, is a task full of responsibility. Then anybody opening up an institute in a residence-like accommodation doesn’t make sense. The worse, they charge enormous fees and provide students with almost negligible facilities and education in this way becomes more of a profit-making thing.

As suggests our original education policy, education can’t be for profit and should be for all, irrespective of which class or caste one belongs to. To make this actually happen, we need a regulatory mechanism in place. Also, this is only through government’s control that we can put a check on low grade and unrecognized educational organizations.

At the same time though, imposing too much regulations is like challenging liberalization. We need to keep in mind that it was economic liberalization which helped India emerge as the fastest growing economy in the world. We can’t, again, set excess of rules and regulations for higher education institutes as they promote innovation. Generally, we don’t see government schools and colleges coming up with new curricula that lead to innovation among students. And when private institutes of higher education want to design and implement new course structure, we deny it in order to defend the rules prevailing for long back. This can’t be called fair, no.

All in all, and for the most part, there is a common belief among us that governments should concentrate on tightening the reins of unrecognized institutes making back-door entries. And if our government, instead, interferes in how established and recognized centres of higher education function, it is completely unfair. Then why do it when nothing worthwhile is going to come out of it?

How Can Cloud Computing Impact Higher Education Positively in Africa?

One could define cloud computing as an internet based computing where by shared resources, software and information are provided for computers and devices on demand. A lot of people have talked about cloud computing. Their ideas have summed up the basic task of cloud computing. Steve Jobs, late chairman of Apple (1997) said “I don’t need a hard disk in my computer if I can get to the server faster… carrying around these non-connected computers is byzantine by comparison.”

Currently, cloud computing has become a significant and major trend both big and small businesses, governments, individuals use cloud computing to make everyday life less complicated. One aspect of society which is strongly influenced by the concept of cloud computing is Education. Nelson Mandela once said that ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’ Education is one essential tool which every individual is entitled to.

Before the introduction of cloud computing, the process of gaining Higher education was tedious and stressful one. Students and faculty were both faced with all sorts of dreary tasks like… ‘I WONT DO ALL THE WORK FOR YOU. Go look for said tasks’.

This is where the benefits of cloud computing comes in to make education less stressful on both to students and teachers. Since this paper is targeting higher education in Africa, let us discuss the roots of education in Africa. Africa is a continent that is in the process of figuring out its path in education in relation to advanced technology.

Cloud computing has the potential to change the face of Education in Africa while ensuring that everyone gets access to said education. Africa is made up of a lot of countries, some being much developed than others in terms of technology in education. But the baseline is ‘how can cloud computing effectively benefit and impact higher education in Africa?’

• It allows students to have access to learning materials from any location
• It facilitates the day to day operations of institutions that provide this service
• It helps teachers easily keep track of student progress
• Allows for easy identification and authentication meaning only those supposed to have access to materials and other stuff will as opposed to books and paper records where anyone can have access

With the integration of cloud computing services into higher education in Africa, the use of textbooks, hard copy papers on journals and handwritten notes will be at its minimal. Notes, articles and all other soft copy documents can be retrieved from the cloud server at any time to use. Students do not have to carry heavy books around any more. All reading material that has a soft copy can be uploaded to the cloud.

Also, the use of floppy disk, external hard drives, pen drives will be used less or possibly not all. Instead of carrying around these items that will contain your important documents, you can easily access it from your cloud provider. Currently almost all software supports the cloud. Adobe and others like Microsoft have made provision for these services and it is so convenient for individual use. So, you forgetting your flash drive somewhere and not having access to your documents will not be happening any more or your document being corrupted. You can have access to your documents anywhere at any time. Also, it will save a student’s money… You don’t need to spend money on a flash drive or an external.

To the benefit of both the teacher and the student, issuing assignments have become really simple and every student is assured of having access to it. The problem with copying assignments from friends is that the information is not always accurate. There is something always missing. So now, whether you are in class or not, a student is assured of having access to assignments in its original correct form. There is no need for a stack of printed assignments to be distributed to over a hundred students for instance.

It is not just the staff and the student body that can enjoy from the cloud. Administration of the school can also benefit from the cloud. School administration can send notices concerning the students via the cloud. Instead of pasting papers and postures on the notice boards, it can be uploaded to the cloud for easy access. How easy is that?

Technically, everyone benefits from the cloud. Last but not the least; virtual classrooms have become realistic in the African higher institutions using the cloud. On-line courses can now be put in full force because every activity, research notes, lecture voice tutorials, assignments and all relevant documents can now be uploaded to the cloud. All students can have full access to the same information at all times. With this, people who cannot attend class like regular students due to day time jobs or other related events can equally have access to information just as a regular student does.

I am concentrating on higher education because that is the level of education in Africa where the cloud concept can be effectively implemented. They have access to technological infrastructure like phones, laptops, tablets etc. that can support the use of the cloud and it is quite feasible to be implemented at this level.

There are still challenges related to implementing the use of the cloud in the higher education but it is a process that looks achievable. As Benjamin Franklin said ‘An investment in knowledge pays the best interest’.

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