Financial Aid Changes

Course Eligibility for Federal Student Aid

Towards the end of last academic year, Oregon community colleges revisited a regulatory clarification from the U. S. Department of Education that institutions can only pay financial aid for classes required for a student's declared certificate or degree intent.  Specific policy language is: 

"If a student is enrolled in courses that do not count toward his degree, they cannot be used to determine enrollment status unless they are an eligible remedial courses. This means you cannot award the student aid for classes that do not count toward his degree or certificate."  

As a result of this clarification, COCC will need to determine how to best enforce this regulation.  To help outline some basic questions, a small work team reviewed this regulation as it relates to COCC policies and practices.  Brief findings from this group include: 

Potential Positive Outcomes  

  • Student Success:  In order to be in compliance with this regulation, discussions at other colleges include implementation of mandatory prerequisites, mandatory course placement, allowing a student to declare a major after they have cleared a "gateway"/starting course for a specific program, mandatory academic plans and related topics.  All of these are proven best practices supporting greater student success.
  • Instructional Planning:  Strict enforcement of this policy may allow instruction to be more intentional in identifying curriculum needs.  It is important to note that given that 20-30% of credit students are non-degree-seeking, this policy would not dictate all curriculum decisions.
  • Student Completion: This policy enforces students to more carefully choose courses.  As such, completion time may shrink, completion rates could increase, students would enter the workforce sooner and assuming curricular alignment takes place, students could potentially carry less loan debt.

Potential Challenges/Observations 

  • How should COCC best direction exploratory students?  Is the AAOT or the AGS the most "flexible" degree in that one allows greater choice in the types of classes taken?
  • Students may be more likely and frequently to change their major to accommodate this policy.  What policy and practice implications are associated with this?
  • The policy clarifies that only required and eligible remedial courses are financial aid eligible (remedial courses are defined as developmental classes only).  Prerequisites are not eligible unless they are required for the certificate or degree and as such, some CTE programs may need to consider curricular changes.
  • Unless it fits within their declared certificate or degree structure, HD and HHP activity classes may be most impacted by a strict enforcement of this regulation.  
  • Students would no longer be able to fill their schedule with non-eligible courses just to allow for full-time enrollment.  This would reduce their grant eligibility and as a result, students could potentially receive smaller refund checks. 

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