Federal aid will no longer cover all courses: Georgia State begins to enforce old U.S. Dept. of Ed. rule

From The Signal Archives, 2016

The students at Georgia State who receive federal aid may be under the impression that it will cover any class they choose to register for — because that is the way it has always been. 

But thanks to a newly enforced rule by the U.S Department of Education, students are now only be able to register for classes that are in their academic pathways.

The set of classes required for a student’s major, minor and core classes is what makes up an academic pathway. Louveisha Francois, assistant director of Academic Advisement, said these pathways are set by the department for each major. 

Student Lauren Grove said she was creating her class schedule for the spring semester and received an error message she had not seen before. 

“I logged onto my PAWS account, and it would say I have a program of study issue that I had to acknowledge,” Grove said.

Grove, a chemistry major, was registered for a music course that is not included in her academic pathway. 

Grove took this class to satisfy a rule required by Student Financial Services, stating a student must be enrolled in at least six credit hours to receive federal grants; otherwise, their grants will be reduced. 

Grove said she had already registered for the only two classes she had left to take to graduate, but those classes did not equal six credit hours. She thought she would be able to register for any class of her liking and that financial aid would cover it but saw that was no longer the case.

“It’s an inconvenience to have to sit in an advising office to have to figure out which classes will be covered rather than just being able to register for what better suits my tastes,” Grove said. 

According to Atia Sherese Lindley, director of Student Financial Management, students are still welcome to take classes outside of their pathway, but they are putting their financial aid at a risk. 

“If the course is not required for his/her degree, [then] his/her financial aid could be prorated or cancelled as required by the U.S. Department of Education,” Lindley said. 

If your major allows for electives and you have available credits remaining in your  elective section, electives will not have an impact on your financial aid

However, if you have satisfied all of your electives, then the course is most likely not eligible for financial aid. While this rule is not new, Georgia State now has the appropriate technology to implement it. 

““While the rule is not new, the technology has not been available to provide an automated way to check each student’s schedule each term until recently,” Lindley said. “Our work with EAB and the early already system helped ensure that our risk was minimal prior to having an official process in place.” 

Georgia State wanted an automated way to check each student’s schedule for each term. 

The Signal previously reported in June that Georgia State worked side-by-side with the data firm EAB to develop the models that are now used in the web platform Navigate for Georgia State’s GPS Advising initiative. 

This system works to monitor, alert and respond to potential threats to a student’s success. Students will now receive error messages in their PAWS account whenever they register for a class outside of their academic pathways and will be required to acknowledge the message.

“Georgia State has always taken pride in actively working to encourage students to not waste time or money by encouraging students to take classes that apply towards their program and graduate on time,” Lindley said. 

This rule applies to students who receive any type of financial federal aid, including the Pell Grant, the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) Grant, Federal Direct Loans and Federal Work-Study. 

“Federal aid is awarded based on the number of credit hours applicable toward your degree… some federal and state financial aid requires you to be a full time student,” Lindley said. 

For an undergraduate student to receive the maximum amount of their aid, they are required to be full-time, which means being registered for at least 12 credit hours that are applicable towards their degree. For graduate students, they are required to be registered for 9 credit hours.

While Georgia State say they only want to make sure students stay on track with graduating, some students, such as Grove, feel like this is a way for Georgia State to not allow them to explore different classes at no cost. 

Grove said that she was not going to pay out of pocket for the music class and settled for registering for a different class instead. 

“I’m still going to continue in my program, [this] just means I will have to take global history instead of music,” she said. 

Grove sat down with an advisor who helped her go over the classes that are covered by financial aid and other alternatives for which she was eligible. 

While students still have the option to change their majors to take a different set of classes, students could still run into issues with this.

Often students admit to no longer feeling passionate about their current majors or some do not have any idea of what they would like to major in. While there are no rules saying you can not change your pathway, doing so multiple times could lead students to taking more classes than necessary, causing them to have to stay in school longer. 

The more semesters a student adds to their time in college begins to affect their federal aid because there is a limit to the amount of HOPE/Zell Miller Scholarship students are eligible to receive. 

While students like to use their federal aid to explore classes that pique their interest, they may now have to think twice about that. Students can also prepare themselves before sitting down with their advisors by viewing their required classes through DegreeWorks and making a schedule themselves. 

DegreeWorks is a student’s academic evaluation and can be found through PAWS. It shows students all their previously taken classes, classes they are currently enrolled in and classes they are required to take, it also can tell students how many classes will be added if they decide to change their majors. 

There is no guarantee that this new implemented rule will change the core courses or add electives that students are allowed to take within their academic pathways because Georgia State is not sure yet. 

“That’s too early to know. This is new to Georgia State, so more changes are likely to come down the road as the semesters go along,” Francois said.