SAP guidelines spark academic plans, affect federal aid distribution

The Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships at Youngstown State University denied federal aid to 471 students for spring semester, a sharp increase from the 150 denied for fall semester.

Federal financial aid programs tightened the guidelines in the summer, forcing students who fail to meet academic requirements to be placed on “financial aid probation.”

Essentially, the regulation change removed financial aid from students who are out of Satisfactory Academic Performance compliance, which YSU uses to measure a student’s success toward gaining a degree and meeting certain GPA requirements.

Jack Fahey, vice president for student affairs and ombudsperson, said that when the guidelines came out, he was concerned for the student population receiving federal aid.

But from that fear came “good news.”

“It required us to sit down with each of those students,” Fahey said.

Students receiving federal aid must meet SAP standards, which include GPA, maximum hours attempted and completion rate.

Under the revamped SAP, students with 32 hours or more must maintain at least a 2.0 GPA. Freshmen must hold at least a 1.75 GPA and complete 55 percent of their attempted hours. For each rank, the completion percentage increases 5 percent, topping out with seniors who must complete 70 percent of registered classes. Graduate students must complete half of their attempted hours and maintain a 3.0 GPA.

The major change from last year is the immediate removal of financial aid once a student violates SAP. Students who fail to meet GPA requirements are put on an academic plan with the Center for Student Progress.

Students can apply for financial aid after they regain compliance.

For others, particularly those who have completion percentage issues or who have attempted more than 150 percent of the hours necessary to graduate, regaining compliance could be more difficult.

A student’s completion rate is cumulative. A poor completion rate from a history of dropping classes can be difficult to offset by the student’s third or fourth year.

James Stanger, associate director for technology and support services in the financial aid and scholarships office at YSU, said the gap between the fall and spring semesters was predicted since the new system was implemented in the summer. In the fall, the office denied financial aid only to those students who were extremely out of compliance, accumulating several dropped classes and continually not meeting GPA requirements.

“Once a year, we run these SAP rules by the student population, and any student who is out of compliance with any of these three components is cited. The student has to appeal. A committee looks at the appeal and decides whether to approve the student further or deny them based on how bad they’re doing,” Stanger said.

Appeals could be waved before the new federal regulation. Now, the federal government mandates the loss of financial aid.

“We could make a decision on a student’s appeal that was based on the student’s needs and the needs of the university,” Fahey told The Jambar in August, prior to the federal regulation change. “Now we’re in a situation where the federal government says, ‘Once you’re on federal aid probation, here are your guidelines. You better get this completion or get this GPA or you’re done.'”

Students denied aid can continue attending YSU but must foot the bill themselves until academic progress is made.

“Unfortunately, if you’ve only passed four out of 20 credit hours, it could take a couple semesters to get your completion rate age back up,” Stanger said.

As a solution to the new government requirements for federal aid, the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships puts students who are not meeting the requirements on a personalized academic plan. Part of the plan requires the student to sign a contract that states that the student signing understands “that if I do not achieve the grade point average and completion percentage listed above, my federal aid will be denied.”

Stanger said this was the first year the office put students on academic plans, and the denial rates were lower than years past.

“There are students whose academic record isn’t up to par for some semesters, and it’s clear they are not on track to obtaining a degree. Those are the students that the feds do not want to be dispersing aid to, and that’s why we deny them,” Stanger said.

Fahey said the “tough love” policy has made students more aware of knowing that “this is the work I need to do; I need to be careful so that I can get help that I need.”