Heavy Costs for Low Grades

Students who do not take 36 units a year and keep a minimum 2.0 GPA will lose their federally funded financial aid, such as Pell Grants and Federal Loans, due to new federal regulations from the U.S. Department of Education.

Program Integrity Regulations, effective July 1, 2011, are designed to ensure that only eligible students receive aid, according to the U.S. Department of Education website. The new law eliminates academic probation entirely. Previously, students with a GPA lower than 2.0 but at least 1.5 were placed on academic probation, an academic term in which students could raise their GPA to minimum requirements.
Muir College Senator Elizabeth Garcia brought up the new law at the A.S. Council meeting on Nov. 2. Garcia, also a house advisor, was instructed to spread the news about the law by Muir College Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Ann Hawthorne.

“Before, to be eligible, you had to complete the 36 units a year and keep a 2.0 GPA,” Garcia said. “If you did below a 2.0 GPA or didn’t finish the unit requirement, you would be placed on academic probation. Now if you fall below a 2.0 GPA or do not complete 36 units a year, you get no financial aid, period.”

In conjunction with the regulations, starting Nov. 1, all colleges that receive federal aid are required to put a net price calculator on their websites for prospective students. The calculators are intended to provide a close estimate of what students will owe after need-based aid and merit-based aid are given.  

According to a document from the campus financial aid office released on June 28, 2011, the U.S. Department of Education requires that students must maintain “satisfactory academic progress” (SAP) standards in order to receive federally funded financial aid. Financial aid programs affected include Federal Pell Grants, Federal Perkins Loan, Federal Work Study, Federal Loans (subsidized and unsubsidized), Cal
Grant programs and university need-based aid.

In addition to GPA and unit requirements, the regulations also specify that students must graduate within a maximum of five years.
Garcia said she believes the new law is directly affected by national budget concerns.

“I think this reflects on the entire [national] budget as a whole,” Garcia said. “The federal government doesn’t want to be giving money to students who aren’t doing well in school. It shows that the federal government is strained.”

In order for full-time students to receive financial aid, they must be enrolled in 36 units during the academic year. The 36-unit requirement is not limited to fall, winter and spring quarters. Students may also use units acquired through summer session. Full-time status requires students to be enrolled in a minimum of 12 units per quarter.

Students must also maintain a 2.0 GPA throughout the academic year. According to the document, although a student’s GPA may have met the standards at the end of the academic year, a drop in GPA below 2.0 during summer session affects the student’s eligibility status for financial aid for the following year.

“Most students get some sort of financial aid from UCSD,” Garcia said. “For a majority, it’s how they’re getting through college.”
According to UCOP Student Financial Support, 17,135 UCSD undergraduate students received federally funded financial aid in the 2010-11 academic year. This is approximately 70 percent of students.

In 2009-10, approximately 57 percent of UC undergraduate students received grants and scholarships from aid programs such as Pell Grant, Cal Grant and university programs, according to the website of the UC Office of the President.

If a student is denied financial aid because he does not meet the GPA or unit requirements, he can submit an appeal. Students must submit documentation of “exceptional” circumstances and complete an Academic Plan. “Exceptional” circumstances are not explicitly defined, but are at the discretion of the appeals committee. Under these conditions, the Financial Aid Satisfactory Progress Appeals Committee may grant a probationary period. Students cannot re-appeal if their appeal has been denied and are limited to one appeal during their time at UCSD.

“It’s no surprise that college is difficult and challenging,” Garcia said. “[The new law] puts more pressure on students, now they don’t have that academic probation period. If they have a bad quarter, they have to deal with the results and appealing the decision.”

A representative from the Financial Aid Office could not be reached as of press time.

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