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New financial aid rules hurt colleges, students

Struggling students will be more likely to drop out.

By Gloria Padilla/gpadilla@express-news.net

Updated 12:01 a.m., Saturday, May 28, 2011 College students struggling to maintain a 2.0 grade-point average may find themselves sitting out a semester without financial aid come the fall.

Slackers in the classroom will not be the only ones affected. New rules also will impact students with good grades who are taking longer than usual to complete their degrees.

The new regulations for federal grants and loans, effective July 1, will no longer give students whose GPAs drop below 2.0 a year to bring up their grades before they lose their grants.

They will also require students to not take more than 150 percent of the allotted time to finish their degree. For an undergraduate in a four-year baccalaureate program, that means completing a degree in no more than six years to remain eligible for financial aid.

The stricter rules are not unexpected given dwindling higher education dollars and the lack of improvement in college graduation rates.

Students placed on academic probation will now have to spend their own money on at least six college credit hours to improve their grades before being reconsidered for federal financial aid.

Under the old rules, students on scholastic probation had a year with financial aid to improve their academic standing.

The new rules will be detrimental to retention rates at some colleges and universities, hurting the bottom line. Without financial aid, some students will never return.

In San Antonio, the rules could impact 8,000 community college students, according to Alamo Colleges officials.

The Alamo Colleges allocate about $150,000 million a year in financial aid to about 55 percent of its students. The bulk of the funds — about $125,000 million — are in the form of federal aid; the other $25 million is in state and local aid.

The new rules also will affect the state grants, which follow the same set of regulations.

The loss of financial aid is a serious matter for many students. It pays for their tuition, fees and books, and is used to subsidize living expenses.

A full-time student can receive up to $5,000 a year in federal grants; a part-timer can qualify for $3,000. Tuition for 12 credit hours at the Alamo Colleges is $819 for students who live in Bexar County. Tuition rates are tripled for students who live out of district and six times higher for out-of-state students.

Jokes about students on the 10-year plan at local community colleges are common, but for some, the long-term plan is the only route.

Not all Alamo Colleges students are recent high school graduates living with parents, although the average age of a student enrolled in the district has decreased from 28 to 25 years.

Many students are working on a degree while struggling to maintain jobs and raise a family, and they can manage only one or two classes a semester.

Hopefully, the new financial aid rules will prompt some students to speed up their education and finish sooner.

But, unfortunately, the changes will cause many students who were struggling to abandon their higher education plans altogether, and that will be a sad loss.

Original article




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