By Emily Blackner
Money matters at college, and Washington College faculty, staff, and students are aware of this. They react to new federal standards with increased efforts, like workshops, to find new sources of money to pay for education.
The new standards come from the Higher Education Act (HEA) and apply to the 2011-12 academic year, meaning that they are effective as of July 1, 2011. Under the regulations, Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) must be met in order for a student to be eligible for federal student aid. This includes Federal Work Study money, Pell Grants, federal subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford loans, and even WC-specific need-based tuition grants.
SAP is defined as a 2.0 cumulative GPA for most students, while first-year students must have a minimum GPA of 1.75, due to the difficulty that some students have with transitioning to college. Students must also earn passing grades in at least 67 percent of the hours they are in the classroom. Passing grades range from A to D-.
Additionally, there is a Maximum Time Frame for completing a degree program during which aid can be given. This is equal to 150 times the average length of time needed to complete that program, which means that, at WC, students must complete their academic program within 192 credits to continue to receive aid.
Students who do not meet one or more of those requirements will be notified via an SAP Ineligible letter and will not receive financial aid until they meet SAP requirements.
But, WC has instituted a policy for appealing an ineligible decision in the event of unforeseen circumstances. Examples include serious illness or injury of the student or a family member and the death of an immediate family member.
All of the above information comes from an email sent out by the Office of Student Aid, and that email was how the majority of WC students found out about the new regulations.
“I dimly remember the email,” said sophomore Stephie Giles, who works in Miller Library as part of the work study program. “But I only skimmed it because, really, it would be frustrating to read about some new higher standard for the same or less money then we got last year.”
According to the WC website, 85 percent of students at WC receive some type of financial aid, whether need-based or merit-based. Even so, financial aid staff do not think that these new requirements will impact students.
“We do not expect that this new policy will effect most WC students. WC is a strong and academically qualified community of learners,” the email states.
Students are nevertheless concerned about anything that could affect their aid awards.
“I rely a lot on financial aid to be able to come to this college,” Giles said. “If I lose any, then I might not have a way to pay without putting myself and my family further into debt.”
For other students who are worried about these new standards, or their impact, there are many private outside scholarships available. The WC website has a link to several of these under the Financial Aid tab. Also, websites like fastweb.com can be helpful in matching student interests and strengths to awards for which that they can apply.
Jeani Narcum, director of financial aid, said, “Our WC students usually bring close to $750,000 in outside scholarships with them each year. These are the scholarships that are through places like Kohls, Home Depot, Lion’s clubs, [and other] private organizations.”
The Office of Financial Aid is planning a series of workshops this semester to help students with money matters like budgeting and debt management. They also hope to have students who have been successful in finding outside scholarships lead talks to share their tips with other students.
The first workshop was held Sept. 26 and focused on the Federal Work Study program. Associate Director of Financial Aid Natalie Story, who is also the coordinator for the work study program, said, “We hope the workshop will allow students to make the most of their time at Washington College.”
This workshop was led by a student who explained how the work study program helped her in the actual working world.
“Students can hear what recruits are looking for in recent college graduates,” Story said. Another goal of the workshop is “to make work study a more enriching experience for students. We thought this was a good opportunity to make the work experience more fulfilling for students.”
Story hopes to use a student’s major or intended major to help her place students in campus jobs.
“I took a survey of supervisors [in the program],” Story said. “That way, students can see right away what they expect, so students can shine.”
WC has never done a workshop series like this.
“We are working with a blank canvas; it’s the first time we’ve ever done this,” Story said.
Because the workshop series is so new, Story and her colleagues are relying on student feedback.
“We want to know, what would they like to see?” she said. “Maybe they’d even like to help with the [workshop] program. I’m developing a short survey that students can fill out. It may be online so that students can do it at their leisure after they have had time to reflect.”
Attendance at the next program, which is to be held sometime in November, will be another indicator of the program’s success.
Story said that she hopes students find the workshops meaningful. She hopes that students understand that “what they do here is important. Everything that students do means a lot to the College; it can bond them to the school. They have an impact today and for the future.”