By Cliff Foster
Thousands of Metropolitan State University of Denver students will be impacted by two major changes in financial aid this fall, one involving disbursement of federal loans and the other support for some remedial courses.
Following a U.S. Department of Education audit in June, the University will no longer provide students who receive federal loans the full semester amount before classes start. As for remedial classes, financial aid will no longer cover basic 030 courses, which are offered to MSU Denver students needing help through the community college system.
In budgeting, MSU Denver considers all incoming students to be full-time, taking 12 or more credit hours in a semester. Their federal loan amounts are based on that assumption, and in the past they received all their financial aid 10 days before the semester kicked off.
A problem arose when students dropped classes, withdrew or never attended school, making them ineligible for some or all of the full financial aid they had received up front. In such cases, the University must determine the loan amount a student was not entitled to receive and send the money back to the government. Sometimes that involves collecting from the student—and that isn’t always easy.
“We had to bill them for the money,” says Judi Diaz Bonacquisti, associate vice president for enrollment management. “So it caused a lot of headaches in our [financial aid] office and the Bursar’s office and a lot of times we didn’t get the money back” and had to send the account to a collection agency.
The auditors said, in effect, that MSU Denver must prorate loans to match the credits a student is actually taking, but left it up to the school as to how to do that. As a result, full-time students will now receive half their loan amount 10 days before the semester starts and the rest based on their course enrollment just after the census date, when the official student head count is recorded. That means for this semester they’ll get half the money Aug. 10 and the remaining amount, corresponding to their course load, after Sept. 6.
“If you’re still full-time, then we’re going to disburse the second half of that loan because you’re still eligible for that money; if you’re not, you’re only going to get your aid prorated for what you’re eligible for,” Diaz Bonacquisti says.
The new loan policy will impact an estimated 12,000 students. The University considered following the policy of the community college system, which doesn’t give out financial aid until after the census date, but concluded it would be “very disruptive to the students,” says Financial Aid Director Cindy Hejl.
The new remedial course policy follows a decision by the community college system that 030 courses in math, reading and English are less than high school level and thus no longer eligible for financial aid. “It’s their class. We don’t have any say into what they teach, so we have to follow their guidelines,” Diaz Bonacquisti says.
The University recently e-mailed more than 2,500 students who either have registered or have placed in a 030 remedial course. If the student wants to take the course, the out-of-pocket cost is $615 for three credits. But the e-mail points out that there are alternatives such as free tutoring offered by MSU Denver’s Student Academic Success Tutoring Program and the option of retaking the Accuplacer exam to try to score high enough to enroll in more advanced 060 or above remedial courses, which qualify for financial aid.
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