I am currently in community college, hoping to transfer to a
traditional 4-year college and then proceed to get my masters in
teaching. Where my frustration lies is this: I had a different career
focus before and was taking classes toward fulfilling that
goal. Now my college's financial aid administrator says that I have
taken too many credits at the community college level and will not
eligible for any government financial aid until I continue on to a
4-year institution. Is this really true? Is there any way around this?
She mentioned maybe trying to enroll into another community college
but she wasn't sure that this would work either. I have never received
financial aid in the past; I have simply paid my own way and worked
full-time. I need to start going full time and can't find many
options. I received a private student loan last semester but only with
a co-signer. My current co-signer will not do so again.
— Glenda S.
Continued eligibility for student financial aid requires the student
to be making Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP). By federal law and
regulations, college policies for measuring SAP must not only consider
the grades earned by the student, but also the pace of progress toward
a degree. In particular, the student must be on track to graduate
within the maximum timeframe for the degree program. The maximum
timeframe is 150% of the normal timeframe for the program, such as 6
years for a 4-year degree and 3 years for a 2-year degree. After
violating the 150% maximum timeframe restriction, the student is no
longer eligible for federal student aid and often institutional
college aid as well.
Students who change majors repeatedly often encounter the maximum
timeframe restrictions, especially if few of their previous classes
count toward the new major.
One way of working around this problem is to transfer to a different
community college. Depending on how many of the previous credits are
counted toward the degree program at the new college, the student
may be able to reset the maximum timeframe clock.
If a student already has enough credits to obtain an Associate's
degree, the student could graduate with the degree even if it isn't in
the student's current field of study. This then resets the maximum
timeframe clock, allowing the student to pursue a second Associate's
degree in the desired field of study. Eligibility for many forms of
student financial aid for an undergraduate education ends when a
student obtains his or her first Bachelor's degree, but there are no
similar restrictions on the receipt of multiple Associate's degrees.
Another solution is to transfer to a 4-year college, if the goal is to
ultimately obtain a Bachelor's degree. The 4-year college will be more
expensive than a community college, but perhaps enough of the
community college credits will transfer to allow the student to
graduate with a Bachelor's degree in only one or two more years of
classes. An in-state public college will be less expensive than most
private and out-of-state public colleges.
The ability to reset the clock may become more restricted in the
future, as Congress and the US Department of Education seek ways to
eliminate waste and abuse. Perpetual students, also known as Pell
runners, often enroll in low-cost community colleges in order to
maximize the amount of money disbursed after tuition and fees are
deducted from the financial aid funds. Pell runners use this money for
living expenses without any intention of getting a college degree,
treating student aid as a kind of welfare. Often a Pell runner will
switch majors or colleges in order to stretch out the eligibility for
financial aid. Overall, Pell runners represent a very small percentage
of student aid funds, but they are much more prevalent at community
colleges. Congress reduced the maximum number of semesters of
Pell Grant eligibility from 18 to 12 in order to address this form of
fraud. But this can also affect genuine students who are having
difficulty choosing a field of study.
If at all possible, a student who intends to become a teacher should
borrow only federal student loans. Teachers are eligible for a variety
of loan forgiveness programs, including public service loan
forgiveness. These loan forgiveness programs, however, are available
only for federal student loans. Private student loans are not