Failing students get federal aid

In California’s Central Valley, 10 percent of Pell Grants went to students who lost aid eligibility for dropping out, failing their classes or earning low grades, reports the Fresno Bee. As many as 25 percent of Pell recipients at community colleges fail to make “satisfactory academic progress” in a typical semester.

Low-income students get up to $5,500 in college aid; whatever isn’t needed for tuition goes to the student for living expenses.  The “refund” makes it possible for low-income adults to pay a babysitter, buy gas for the car, pay for books and survive while they try to improve their futures. But it also provides an incentive to enroll at a low-cost community college — California’s are the cheapest in the nation — for the money.

Pell recipients must show academic progress but have nine years to earn a certificate or degree. While students who drop out mid-term or get all F’s are supposed to repay the grant, the U.S. Education Department doesn’t track how much is repaid, the Bee reports. Nor does the department know how many aid recipients fail their classes.

Only 4 percent of Pell recipients at Fresno State fail to make satisfactory academic progress. The numbers are much higher for community college students.

In the spring 2010 semester at Fresno City College — the latest semester for which figures were available — about one-fourth of the students who won Pell Grants got warning letters for failing to maintain a C-minus average, dropping too many classes or dropping out.

. . . At Reedley College and the State Center Community College District’s centers in northeast Fresno, Madera and Oakhurst, 1,140 students — one-fourth of the Pell Grant recipients — got warning letters in spring 2010 for unsatisfactory academic progress.

. . .  In the fall 2010 semester at College of the Sequoias, nearly one-quarter of students on financial aid, including Pell Grants, got warning letters.

West Hills Community College District’s Coalinga and Lemoore colleges sent warning letters to nearly 11% of Pell Grant recipients in the spring 2010 semester, but only 5% in the fall 2010 semester.

Failing students should lose eligibility for aid after one semester, John Cummings, Reedley College’s vice president for admissions and records, told the Bee. Currently, students can fail for two semesters before losing the right to more money; many successfully appeal for a third semester of aid.

Pell recipients who earn poor grades may be doing their best. But college officials suspect fraud when aid recipients fail all their classes or withdraw a few weeks into the term after the refund checks go out.

“It’s happening in every state,” says Laurie Wolf, dean of student services at Des Moines Area Community College. Aid cheats “pick low-cost colleges” to maximize the refund. They also take out student loans they’ll never repay.

Some colleges have been granting two, three or four aid extensions to failing students who appeal the aid cut-off, Wolf says. That will change July 1, when new Education Department rules go into effect requiring colleges to cut off aid after a third semester of failure with no more appeals.

The appeals limit is long overdue, Benita Vega, financial aid administrator at College of the Sequoias, told the Bee.

“It’s the first time in 34 years that the government has come in and said, ‘We need to do something,’ ” Vega said.

At Louisiana’s low-cost technical colleges, 20 percent of Pell Grant recipients fail all their classes or withdraw in mid-term, after they receive the refund. “They’re enrolling not to get an education but to get a check,” says Joe May, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College system. Because tuition takes only 21 percent of the grant, a full-time student may get as much as $2,500 each semester in cash.

House Speaker Joel Robideaux has introduced a bill in the new legislative session that would allow the technical colleges to raise tuition to capture more of the Pell Grant, reducing the incentive for people to enroll for the refund.


POSTED BY Joanne Jacobs ON April 28, 2011

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Richard Rider

California community college students — time to start paying for your education
by Richard Rider, Chairman, San Diego Tax Fighters

Across the state, California community college officials and student activists have been holding coordinated protests. With the usual claimed victim status, they demand higher taxes to subsidize their academic fantasyland.

But these bureaucrats fail to tell the full story. It’s the CA community college STUDENTS (who benefit the most from the education) who should be paying more for their education — they’ve been over-subsidized long enough.

According to a March 2010 national tuition survey sponsored by Washington state, California has the lowest community college tuition and fees in the country. Even with the increase in per credit tuition from $26 to $36, CA community colleges STILL charge students the lowest tuition — students are paying about a third of the national community college tuition average.

Based on a 15 credit (five course) semester, 2009-10 CA community college tuition and fees equaled $780. Next lowest was New Mexico at $1,125. Third lowest was North Carolina at $1,684. National average was $3,029. The highest state is New Hampshire which charges $6,262.

Adjusting for the new increased $36 per credit CA community college fee, we find that CA community college cost rises to $1,080. Even assuming a zero percent increase in student charges for the rest of the nation’s community colleges — a CA community college tuition is STILL the lowest in the nation.
http://www.hecb.wa.gov/research/issues/documents/TuitionandFees2009-10Report-Final.pdf
Chart 5 on page 8

This ridiculously low tuition devalues education to students. This results in a 30+% drop rate for class completion — a course that starts off with 30 students finishes the semester with (on average) only 21 students.
It gets worse. A full 2/3 of California community college students pay no out-of-pocket tuition at all. They fill out a simple unverified “hardship” form that exempts them from any tuition payment, or they receive grants and tax credits for their full tuition.
http://tinyurl.com/ygqz9ls

On top of that, California offers thousands of absolutely free adult continuing education classes – a sop to the upper middle class. In San Diego, over 1,400 classes for everything from baking pastries to ballroom dancing are offered totally at taxpayer expense.
http://www.sdce.edu

It’s time to end this madness. Raise our CA student tuition to at least the national community college average. Let those that benefit the most from a community college education pay their fair share for that education. The LAST thing this recession-weary state needs is even higher taxes.

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