Financial aid changes students need to know
By: KATIE HAYES
The Coordinating Board for Higher Education adopted a new plan of action on Sept. 3 to prevent the exhaust of funds of the A+ Scholarship Program. Students receiving funds are required to complete 12 credit hours for the fall 2015 semester and maintain a 2.0 grade point average.
Previously, students were able to enroll in 12 hours, withdraw from a class and the class would still be covered financially. The changes to the program are effective for the 2015-2016 academic year, but may be permanently implemented.
“Over the years, there has been an increase in A+ students and a decrease in funding,” Regina Blackshear, district-wide Director of Financial Aid and Scholarships said. “We went into state reserves last year. We won’t be doing that this year.”
Last year, the Missouri Department of Higher Education planned to fund all but one credit hour for students in the A+ Scholarship Program. After STLCC stepped up to fund the last credit hour, the Missouri Department of Higher Education paid for the last hour.
“[The Missouri Department of Higher Education] indicated that they are seeing quite a few students using the A+ Program,” Nicole Moore, director of financial services at STLCC-Meramec said. “So they are trying to come up with ways to make sure that they are effectively and efficiently using the money. It’s designed to be used for credits that students complete, so that’s why they’re putting in that caveat, which students should be doing.”
Conversation began in May 2015 to adopt the new plan.
“It provides students with the incentive to complete,” Kim Fitzgerald, vice president of student affairs at STLCC-Meramec said. “Our job right now is to help students with completion. Folks in Missouri are very focused on completion and completion rates and we would like to see these students finish what they start. We like to see them complete associate’s degrees. Our job is to make sure we have provided students with all the resources that will help them with completion and help them be successful.”
These state-wide changes were made after the fall 2015 semester began. This means that unless students registered for late-start classes, neither academic nor financial aid advisors were able to tell students.
“When it comes to state mandates, we don’t always get to choose,” Fitzgerald said. “It is difficult for the people who have entered into essentially what would be a contract with the state of Missouri that says ‘this is what’s going to happen.’ Then for those rules to change [mid-semester] is a challenge. So our job is to help students with that challenge.”
Without completing a minimum of 12 credit hours with a 2.0 grade point average, students in the program are ineligible to receive scholarship funds in spring 2016.
“It’s not a major difference, but definitely something to be aware of,” Moore said. “I think [the changes] are great. Most of your A+ students are here on a mission — they’re dedicated students. I think these are quality students who will not have a problem meeting this requirement. If students do have questions or are concerned, it’s definitely important that they talk to us if they’re [in the A+ Scholarship Program].”
It’s too soon to determine if enrollment will be affected by these changes, but STLCC is doing what they can to give students the tools they need to complete their education.
“I’m hoping it doesn’t affect enrollment,” Blackshear said. “The majority of A+ students who drop classes usually pick up late start classes…This will be the first year we’ll be able to gauge that. We will see if it’s as beneficial as the state thinks it’s going to be.”
The state designated more money to the fall 2015 semester than presumed necessary in hopes of a surplus of funds to use in spring 2016.
“I think if we’re looking at enrollment in terms of recruitment, I don’t know [if it will change],” Fitzgerald said. “If we’re talking about enrollment in terms of retention, perhaps. Perhaps if we focus on completion, then that helps students be retained. So that we’re really looking at the retention and not how many students come in, but how many stay and meet their educational goals. My advice to students in A+ would be the same I have for all students: to focus on your academics and be as successful as you can be while you’re here.