Report: Colleges Must Help Students Academically to Keep Financial Aid

Posted July 23, 2021
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Teacher stands behind a student working at a computer screen

Col­lege stu­dents of col­or, stu­dents from low-income com­mu­ni­ties and stu­dents who expe­ri­ence fos­ter care are more like­ly to lose fed­er­al finan­cial aid for tuition and oth­er school expens­es — and not grad­u­ate — because of how schools apply rig­or­ous nation­al achieve­ment stan­dards tied to edu­ca­tion­al grants. This find­ing comes from a recent John Bur­ton Advo­cates for Youth (JBAY) report, The Over­looked Obsta­cle: How Sat­is­fac­to­ry Aca­d­e­m­ic Progress Impedes Stu­dent Suc­cess and Equi­ty, which out­lines ways that schools can bet­ter equip and sup­port students.

The stan­dards — known as Sat­is­fac­to­ry Aca­d­e­m­ic Progress (SAP) require­ments, which typ­i­cal­ly include GPA min­i­mums and a course com­ple­tion rate — are used to deter­mine whether stu­dents receiv­ing finan­cial aid are doing well enough aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly to keep their fund­ing. The JBAY report, fund­ed in part by the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, found that over a third of all youth in fos­ter care and 42% of Black youth in fos­ter care did not meet SAP require­ments dur­ing their first year at com­mu­ni­ty col­lege. Black, Native Amer­i­can and His­pan­ic stu­dents rep­re­sent­ed in the study were more than twice as like­ly not to meet SAP than white and Asian students.

The pan­dem­ic has put a spot­light on how vul­ner­a­ble post­sec­ondary attain­ment can be, espe­cial­ly for young peo­ple of col­or who have expe­ri­enced fos­ter care,” says Cather­ine Lester, an asso­ciate direc­tor with Casey’s Fam­i­ly Well-Being Strat­e­gy Group. That’s why it is crit­i­cal for us to make the case for — and then cre­ate — the con­di­tions nec­es­sary for these young peo­ple to per­sist and suc­ceed on their edu­ca­tion­al journey.”

For many of these young peo­ple, finan­cial aid is a crit­i­cal key to col­lege grad­u­a­tion. Stu­dents who do not meet SAP require­ments and there­fore lose their finan­cial aid are more like­ly to drop out of col­lege; and if they remain enrolled, they’re often dis­qual­i­fied from future fund­ing — fur­ther lim­it­ing their abil­i­ty to stay in school and earn a degree. Among Pell Grant recip­i­ents includ­ed in the study who did not meet SAP require­ments in the first two con­sec­u­tive terms, 87% either dis­en­rolled or lost their grant by their sec­ond year.

The met­rics … present a trou­bling nar­ra­tive regard­ing stu­dents’ abil­i­ty to remain enrolled and main­tain finan­cial aid after the cru­cial first year in col­lege. The dif­fer­ences across eth­nic groups and between fos­ter youth and non-fos­ter youth also point to the dis­parate impact that SAP poli­cies have on dif­fer­ent stu­dent groups,” the report states. SAP poli­cies serve to rein­force the insti­tu­tion­al racism that has put these stu­dents at a dis­ad­van­tage in the first place.”

To sup­port stu­dent suc­cess, JBAY urges col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties to adopt poli­cies and prac­tices that:

  • pro­vide ample warn­ing to stu­dents at risk of los­ing finan­cial aid; 
  • use esca­lat­ing GPA require­ments that would allow stu­dents the flex­i­bil­i­ty of hav­ing low­er GPAs dur­ing their first year but earn a high­er cumu­la­tive GPA by the end of their pro­gram; and
  • cre­ate flex­i­ble appeals process­es that take into con­sid­er­a­tion the real­i­ties of many of today’s col­lege students.

Fed­er­al and state lead­ers can be instru­men­tal in address­ing the sys­temic inequities embed­ded in the exist­ing SAP require­ments, the report finds. 

JBAY rec­om­mends that fed­er­al leaders:

  • give stu­dents more time to meet SAP require­ments before revok­ing finan­cial aid; and 
  • cre­ate more oppor­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents to regain aid.

Mean­while, JBAY urges states to: 

  • ensure that finan­cial aid offices have ade­quate funding;
  • encour­age schools to adopt more flex­i­ble SAP require­ments; and 
  • mod­i­fy SAP stan­dards for local finan­cial aid pro­grams that are not sub­ject to fed­er­al stan­dards, if they are able to do so; and
  • pro­vide access to the Chafee Edu­ca­tion and Train­ing Vouch­er pro­gram for cur­rent and for­mer fos­ter youth. 

Down­load the JBAY report

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