“Your financial aid will be impacted if you do not enroll in required courses,” said the email sent out to several students from the office of financial aid on Jan. 4.
The email informed the recipients that they were registered for courses not included in their degree programs, and that they were recommended to go see their academic advisers to enroll in the “correct courses.”
On Jan. 7, faculty members also received an email from the office of academic affairs stating that they were “expected to be available” on all regular operating hours from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 8, and Monday, Jan. 11, in order to assist students with scheduling changes.
Jan. 11 was the last day to add/drop courses without financial penalty.
These events have transpired under a policy where students eligible for federal financial aid and VA will receive their grants only for classes that count towards their degree program.
According to the financial aid office, “all courses registered must apply to the student’s degree completion which includes General Studies, Major, Minor, Free Electives, etc.”
However, based on student interviews and faculty consultation, I have gathered that certain electives and pre-requisites have not been covered under this policy.
Why is this a problem now
vs. past semesters?
According to Angela Johnson, director of financial aid, Federal Title IV financial aid regulations, under which this policy in implemented, have not changed, meaning this has always been the university’s policy.
However, many students were clearly unaware of it, and many had never faced the issue in the past.
“I always received Pell (Grant) for the electives I had to take,” said Anthony Mitchell, a junior computer science major from Phenix City, who is currently in his fourth year at Troy University.
Johnson explained that her office has implemented software that provides automation when a student may be taking a class not applicable to his or her degree completion.
“The software uses the existing Degree Audit Program Evaluation found on Trojan Web Express, available to advisers and students,” Johnson said in an email.
She said that her office ran the software on Jan. 1 and emailed students on Jan. 4.
“If a course falls into the ‘Other’ category on the Program Evaluation after the student registers, students should see their adviser to determine if a course substitution or a change of major is needed in order to allow the course to appropriately apply on the degree plan.”
She also added that an email was sent to “all students and staff” on Nov. 18, 2015, stating that “only courses required for your degree will be eligible for FA/VA.”
I spoke to several students but could not get a confirmation from anyone that they received this email.
“I did not receive any email in November discussing this policy from the financial aid office,” said Jane Morrell, a senior multimedia journalism major from Auburn, and opinion editor for the Tropolitan, who was told that she is ineligible for a part of her Pell Grant for an elective class she had to take to stay full time.
Also, Nov. 18 was after registration for Spring 2016 opened.
Who determines what’s essential and what’s not?
Jordan Moguel is a junior American Sign Language/ Interpreter Training Program major from Enterprise, who received the email on Jan. 4.
Moguel is taking a class called “Fingerspelling” which is listed only as an elective under her program catalog and hence, is unable to receive her Pell Grant for that class. She was also unable to choose a different class as she is limited in the number of ASL classes she can take each semester because they build on one another.
“You would think a class entitled ‘Fingerspelling’ would be a tad necessary for a degree in interpreting. So essentially I am out $700 because the government is forcing my program to choose between essential classes.”
Why the late notice?
Jada Dumas, a junior computer science major from Birmingham, said she found out about her financial aid issue only a day before the drop/add period ended.
Dumas, who had recently changed her major from nursing, was told by her new adviser to change her biology class to chemistry to solve the problem, which she did, but it ended up having only $30 more added to her account without the $720 she was expecting in refund.
The financial aid office initially told her that it was only a matter of processing, but she got a call back an hour later telling her that it was an issue with her pre-calculus class, a prerequisite for her general studies classes.
Dumas said that she understands why financial aid might not pay for certain classes, but she is still dissatisfied with the situation.
“My problem is one, late notice or no notice at all and two, pre-reqs should most definitely count towards my major,” she said. “It’s not my fault that I didn’t test high enough to go straight to my needed course.
“It’s like, ‘You’re not smart enough; pay it yourself.’ ”
An inconvenient surprise
Mitchell also agrees that students should have received notifications about this policy way before the beginning of classes in order to give them time to make financial preparations and adjustments.
“Being a dedicated student, I really need the money, not even for a refund but to simply pay for my classes, which is what I‘m here for,” he said. “This was really an inconvenience, and now I, among other students, have to pay the thousands off before next semester to even be able to register for classes.
“For the students that can pay off their balance, it’s fine, but for those who can’t, it’s really a devastating halt on their academic progress for the upcoming semester if they can’t register for classes due to an outstanding balance,” Mitchell said.
Last-minute battle for class openings, making reluctant compromises
“However, there are not always enough seats to fit the amount of students who need to take that class, so that’s not always possible,” said Jade Dobynes, a junior exercise science major from Hoover, who also had to change her class schedule. “So even working with financial aid departments, I had to request professors to open seats.”
Another student is having to take a class she neither wanted to, nor is ready for, in order to be a full-time student and receive her financial aid.
Katie Lila, a junior accounting major from Goshen, wanted to take ASL. Having finished her general studies area V, that class, she was told, didn’t count toward her degree.
She had to register for an upper-level class in accounting without having taken its prerequisite course, an exception the college allowed her to make.
“I don’t think it’s fair I have to take a class I’m not prepared for so I can keep the 12 hours required,” she said.
“I ended up being signed up for a class that I do not have any interest in taking, but it was the only course available that would count other than the other three I was already registered,” said Haley (last name omitted on request), a junior financial economics major from Dothan, who was registered for Spanish because she wanted to learn a second language to boost her career.
However, she too had to re-register.
“This has made a negative impact on me because I do not like the class, and I do not think I could use any knowledge from this class in my career,” she said.
The unanswered questions
The conundrum that students faced last month due to the policy baffles me for many reasons.
While the financial aid office insists that there has been no change in policy, the evidence indicates otherwise. Students like Mitchell had never faced the issue in their four years here so far.
Faculty were also asked to provide additional support in scheduling changes, an email that is the first of its kind according to many professors who spoke off the record.
A “Financial Aid Note” stating the policy has appeared on our Blackboards when we log in from the start of this semester.
However, my biggest concern is that if this has always been a university policy, why were so many students only sent notification about their ineligibility for certain courses a mere few days before classes began?
For most students, college is an expensive ordeal as it is. Informing them that there will be a shortfall in their expected grants shortly before they begin a term is not just an inconvenience; it can be detrimental to those who rely on every penny of their financial aid to support their education and livelihoods.
It’s a major issue that has affected many of our students, and if pre-requisites and electives will not be considered as “counting towards your degree,” students will be continue to feel these negative financial effects.
(Larry Willis and Destiny Hosmer contributed to this article.)