Changes that were implemented by the federal government on July 1 could hurt many students struggling to get through college, said Freeholder Bill O’Dea earlier this week. The Hudson County freeholders were preparing to pass a resolution at its first meeting in September asking the U.S. Congress to rescind the changes.
The new federal financial aid requirements would restrict eligibility and limit federal assistance for students pursuing higher education.
“This is a big issue,” O’Dea said. “We are still in a difficult economic time. New Jersey unemployment is hovering at 10 percent. Minority youth unemployment doubles that and access to affordable education is being taken away from 2,700 Hudson County students. Our congressmen and senators need to speak up loud and clear. Our state legislators need to, also. These changes, which went into effect on July 1, 2012, will seriously impact the ability of students to receive grants and loans, and thereby will prevent many students from pursuing a college education here or at any other institution.”
The changes to federal financial aid rules include the following: lowering the annual family income threshold for Pell Grant eligibility from $32,000 to $23,000; shortening the timeframe during which students are qualified for Pell Grants from 18 semesters to 12 semesters, applied retroactively, which affects numerous students who are studying part-time because of economic or other constraints and those students who require pre-college programs such as ESL and developmental course work; limiting eligibility for all federal financial aid programs to students with a high school or GED diploma, thereby eliminating the Ability to Benefit Test alternative route; and raising interest rates on subsidized Stafford Loans from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent and locking in Unsubsidized Stafford and graduate Stafford Loan rates at 6.8 percent.
“This is a big issue.” – Bill O’Dea
Also, under the new federal regulations that deal with Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP), a student who is receiving federal aid of any sort who attempts to take a certain number of credits but does not pass all of the credits, or who takes an incomplete or withdrawal, or who attempts to take a class a second time, automatically has that aid rescinded. In addition, a student who does complete all of their coursework but whose grade point average drops is also at risk of having federal aid rescinded.
“Hudson County Community College has one of the most proactive and successful financial aid departments and we are doing everything possible to reduce the effects of these new regulations on our students,” said HCCC President Glenn Gabert in a letter to the Freeholders in late August. “When we learned of students who lost eligibility, we immediately notified them so we could begin the appeal process with them. However, only about 30 percent of those students have replied. The HCCC Division of Student Affairs is taking every possible action to ensure that the maximum number of students receive the financial assistance they need to achieve their higher education goals. We are working with students who are no longer eligible for federal assistance to scholarships and not to debt. As you likely know as a result of today’s economy there are limited numbers of scholarships available from our Foundation and other sources, but we are doing all we can to find more for our students.”
HCCC has two campuses, one in Jersey City and another on the West New York-Union City border.
Under the new federal regulations, while a student may appeal the revocation of aid in writing and with proper documentation, the failure to file an appeal with the required documentation results in an automatic loss of eligibility. When an appeal is granted, the student must sit with a counselor and develop a remedial academic plan in order to continue receiving aid.