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How can a Student Pay for College after Losing Student Aid Eligibility due to Unsatisfactory Academic Progress?

Mark Kantrowitz

October 11, 2010

I am not eligible for federal funding at this time because of unsatisfactory academic progress. My appeal was denied and I was told I would again be eligible for federal funding after “the satisfactory completion” of 6 non-federally funded credit hours in an semester. I could easily accomplish this if it weren’t for the fact that I don’t have the money to pay for the classes to begin with. — Megan B.

Sections 484(a)(2) and (c) of the Higher Education Act of 1965 and the regulations at 34 CFR 668.16(e), 34 CFR 668.32(f) and 34 CFR 668.34 require a student to be making satisfactory progress in the course of study the student is pursuing in order to continue receiving federal student aid. This requirement is often referred to as making “satisfactory academic progress” or SAP. The college’s satisfactory academic progress policy must include both qualitative (grade-based) and quantitative (time-related) standards. The qualitative standards require students to maintain at least a C cumulative grade point average or have academic standing consistent with the requirements for graduation. Colleges are permitted to have stricter standards, such as requiring a B average for graduate and professional students. The quantitative standards require students to demonstrate progress toward the degree within a maximum timeframe that is no more than 150% of the normal timeframe for obtaining a degree (e.g., 3 years for a 2-year degree and 6 years for a 4-year degree).

Students who fail to make satisfactory academic progress not only lose eligibility for federal student aid, but may also lose eligibility for institutional and state student aid programs. Most private scholarships also require the student to be making satisfactory academic progress. Some scholarships have stricter standards, such as requiring at least a B.

Colleges may waive the satisfactory academic progress requirements when the failure to make satisfactory academic progress was caused by “undue hardship” based on the death of a relative of the student, the personal injury or illness of the student, or other special circumstances as determined by the college.

Some colleges provide for a “financial aid warning” or “financial aid probation” in their satisfactory academic progress policies. Pending regulatory changes will define these terms and formalize this process starting July 1, 2011.

If a student loses eligibility for federal student aid because of a failure to maintain satisfactory academic progress, the student may regain eligibility for federal student aid by improving his or her academic performance. However, this usually requires the student to pay for at least one semester on his or her own, without the support of federal student aid.

This often leaves students in a Catch-22 situation, where they need federal student aid to help pay for college so that they can improve their academic performance, but they can’t get federal student aid until they improve their academic performance.

Since traditional student financial aid funding is not an option, students who are not making satisfactory academic progress must rely on other sources of money to pay for school. This can include working part-time on or near campus, private student loans, peer-to-peer education loans, money from friends and family, savings and selling personal possessions.

While students who fail to make satisfactory academic progress are ineligible for federal work-study, part-time jobs are often plentiful on or near college campuses. The free Fastweb scholarship matching service integrates information about part-time jobs into the scholarship search results based on distance from the job to the student’s school or home address. Working up to 15 hours a week can help improve grades by forcing the student to learn time management skills. Working a full-time job, on the other hand, is not recommended as it takes too much time away from school and can hurt academic performance.

The Hope Scholarship tax credit, Lifetime Learning tax credit and the Tuition and Fees deduction do not require students to be making satisfactory academic progress.


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