Many students at community colleges would not be able to pursue their educational and vocational goals were it not for the help they receive through financial aid programs.
Unfortunately, every year, some students experience the heartbreak of learning that they are no longer eligible for financial aid, and the money that has afforded them higher education is being withdrawn. Usually these students become ineligible for financial aid because their grade point averages have fallen below the minimum requirement. In other cases, they have withdrawn from a class, and thus, failed to complete the minimum number of credits per term.
Usually, students do not immediately lose their financial aid, but are instead sent a warning letter and put on probation for a school term. In a Hartford Courant article, a representative of one Connecticut community college estimates that about 20 percent of students receiving financial aid are on probation at any given time.
The warning letter and probation can serve as a harsh reality check for students who believed that financial aid would be consistent. Margaret Wolf, director of financial aid at Connecticut's Capital Community College, tells the Hartford Courant that after students initially qualify for financial aid, they may mistakenly think that they no longer have to worry about their grades and eligibility. Students need to remember, Wolf says, that "the government is looking at you as a financial investment."
The federal government provides a number of grants and loans to students who wish to pursue higher education, but lack the funds to do so. In order to secure and keep this federal financial aid, students should become familiar with the academic requirements they must meet.
The Federal Student Aid Commission says that students need to show satisfactory progress towards a degree or certificate in order to maintain their financial aid. What counts as "satisfactory progress" varies from one school to another, but it usually includes the following elements:
Grade Point Average
One of the measurements that counts towards financial aid eligibility is your grade point average. At Foothill College in California, for example, students must maintain at least a 2.0 cumulative GPA and earn at least a 2.0 GPA every quarter in order to maintain eligibility for financial aid.
Most colleges require that students complete a minimum number of the courses in which they enroll if they are to continue to receive financial aid. At Northeast Texas Community College, for example, a student who registers for 12 semester credits must complete at least 9 credits by the end of the semester in order to remain eligible for aid.
Time Frame for Degree or Certificate Completion
Schools also must set limits on the number of credits students may accumulate while receiving financial aid without earning a degree or certificate. At Foothill Community College, for example, students must achieve either an A.A./A.S. degree or a transfer to a four-year college within 90 and 110 quarter units. If a student reaches the maximum allowed number of credits and has not achieved a degree or transfer goal, the student will no longer be eligible for financial aid.
Tips for Students Receiving Financial Aid
Don't withdraw from classes if you can help it
In some cases, it may be better to stay in a course and take a low grade, rather than withdrawing from the course. Falling below the required ratio of courses completed to courses registered is a sure path to financial aid probation.
Stay focused on your degree plan
Students should also make sure they have a plan for which courses they need to take in order to earn a degree, certificate, or transfer eligibility to a four-year college or university. If students take too many "just for fun" courses while receiving financial aid without making progress towards a degree or certificate, they may find that their aid is cut off before they can achieve their educational goals.
Know that you can file an appeal if your financial aid is denied
If your financial aid is denied, you almost always have the option of filing an appeal with your college's financial aid office. The employees of a college's financial aid office want students to succeed, and they are likely to be understanding if genuinely difficult life circumstances have interfered with a student's academic progress. Students who take the initiative to file an appeal may find that all hope is not lost.