The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Academic plan guides students to financial aid eligibility

By Ashley Johnson/tr news editor
Montana Ybarra has an academic success plan designed to help her excel, and more than 260 other TR students have signed up for a similar plan this spring.

Since she’s been on her plan, Ybarra said her grades have improved, and she has been taught valuable tactics to help her succeed.

“Whenever it comes to tests, I freak out. My grades weren’t the best, and I found out I had test anxiety,” she said. “I talked to my counselor, and I got on the plan. I meet with her every week. She’s helped me.”
She said having a counselor who cares and who has helped her put things in perspective has motivated her to believe she can overcome anything.

“Now, I make sure I never cram for a test. Now, I read even more,” she said.

Many returning and existing TCC students have agreed on an academic success plan to try and regain financial eligibility after the federal government changed the guidelines for receiving financial aid.

Beginning last fall, the federal government implemented a policy requiring all federally funded colleges and universities to measure students’ completion ratio cumulatively.

TR financial aid director Bill McMullen said over a student’s entire academic career, the ratio between attempted hours and completed hours needs to be at 67 percent.

“Prior to that, it was measured annually, so that made it a little bit of a challenge for students,” he said.

A student could regain eligibility by completing six credit hours with a cumulative GPA of 2.0 under the old financial aid policy, said district financial aid director Samantha Stalnaker.  Now, students may need to complete more hours over multiple semesters to reach the 67 percent ratio.

“One reason it was changed is because based on that policy, the six hours wasn’t enough,” she said. “Under the new policy, … it’s based on what you’ve done in the past so that they are on track to graduate.”

A student that fails to meet the new standards will become ineligible for financial aid unless the institution allows for a reinstatement process.

The Dallas County Community College District is among many schools without a reinstatement option, causing students to pay out of pocket for tuition and school expenses until they meet the satisfactory academic progress.

TCCD, which awards financial aid to more than 30,000 students, has implemented a reinstatement or appeal process for students who do not meet the financial requirements because of mitigating circumstances faced during their academic career, McMullen said.

“At the end of each term once grades post, we measure the academic progress,” he said. “All students on financial aid receive a notice letting them know they need to log on to WebAdvisor and review their academic standing for financial aid purposes.”

If students find they’re ineligible, they are prompted to follow directions to begin the reinstatement process. Students must submit a letter to the financial aid office describing their mitigating circumstances and their plan to overcome them. Financial aid will review the letter and the student’s completion ratio, McMullen said.

“If we can measure their progress and it would indicate that they can get back to good standing within one term, at that point the process is complete, and then we would allow them to move on with the one term,” he said. “If the student’s completion rate is so low that it’s going to require multiple terms for them to get back in good standing, that’s where the academic success program will kick in.”

Students will sit down with a counselor to determine when the plan would start and when they would become eligible for financial aid, so they’ll get a completion date. The counselor would work with the student in building a program and getting them in touch with the different campus services, like the discovery center and learning workshops, McMullen said.

“It marries those students who are struggling academically with an advisor, with a counselor and with the financial aid office,” he said. “It opens up those doors of communication.”

Coordinator of the discovery center for student success Stevie Blakely said whether students have failed to meet the new financial aid requirements or have been given an academic warning, the student success plan will help them obtain a good academic standing.

“We want to try and work with them [students] more one on one to figure out why they aren’t getting a 2.0 and try and give them whatever help they need to get a 2.0,” she said. “For some people, that’s going to be tutoring. For other people, it might just be that life got in the way, they had a medical emergency, and so maybe they don’t really need tutoring. They just need a second chance. So it’s kind of the second chance program in that way.”

Students on the success plan must sign an agreement stating they plan to maintain a C or higher in all developmental courses, complete a career assessment and undertake other necessities applicable to their personal success plan. The academic advisor also signs the plan, McMullen said.

The student must meet with a counselor multiple times throughout the semester to track and get help with their progress. At the end of the semester, the counselor meets with the student to determine if the student has followed the plan, he said.

Once students agree to fulfill all the requirements and stay on track, their financial aid will be reinstated and they can continue to enroll. If students sign the success plan but do not follow it and remain below a 2.0 GPA or 67 percent cumulative completion rate, they will lose financial aid eligibility or be placed on suspension after a certain number of semesters, Blakely said.

Stalnaker said the college expects to see students that were put on an academic success plan in spring 2011 doing better after seeing an academic advisor and receiving additional resources.

The plan has worked for Ybarra.

“I’m doing a lot better than I thought I would,” she said.

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