The grades have come, and all is write with the world.

What are your favorite holiday tastes? Do you live for peppermint around the time of year? Is gingerbread your thing? Maybe hazelnuts or macadamia? Or is it really maple syrup that sings to you during this time of year? Whatever flavor it is, I hope you find a taste of it this holiday season.

But maple isn’t the only sap you need to worry about this season. Financial Aid also has something called SAP, and it isn’t quite as tasty.

Tree sap makes maple syrup, but what does Satisfactory Academic Progress make? More financial aid!

At this point in the year, you are likely about to receive your grades for the Fall semester. Before you put them aside and focus on next semester, you should look carefully at a few items related to your financial aid.

Federal regulations require that you make Satisfactory Academic Progress (or SAP) through your academic career in order to continue to receive financial aid. SAP is made up of three parts:

  1. Your GPA. Federal Regulations require that you maintain a cumulative GPA of at least a 2.0 (a C average). While each class doesn’t have to be above a C, it is important that your overall GPA be at least a 2.0.
  2. Your completion percentage. Another important measure is the percentage of courses you pass (with a D or better) compared to the total courses you attempt. This percentage must be 66.67% or higher. This calculation includes courses from which you withdraw as well as those in which you receive a final grade.
  3. How long it takes to complete your degree. There is a limit placed on how long you can receive Federal financial aid. This limit (150% of the length of your program) is usually measured in credit or clock hours since some students attend full-time and others attend part-time. As an example, if you are pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree which takes 120 credits, you must complete that degree before you reach 180 attempted credits (again including those credits from which you withdraw or fail).

So let’s say you had a difficult semester and you didn’t meet all of these requirements. What happens? I’m glad you asked.

  1. Warning. During the first semester after your GPA or completion percentage falls below the minimum, you will likely be placed on Financial Aid Warning. During this term, you can still receive your financial aid, but it is important that you work to bring your GPA and completion percentage up above the minimum thresholds before the end of your Warning semester. Otherwise you might wind up on:
  2. Suspension. Financial Aid Suspension occurs when you have two semesters in a row where your cumulative GPA and/or completion percentage fall below the minimum threshold. You may also be placed on suspension when you reach the 150% of your degree program. Under Financial Aid Suspension, your Federal financial aid is not available. Don’t worry though, because you have a chance to appeal and be placed on:
  3. Probation. Financial Aid Probation is a status given to students who have successfully appealed their SAP Suspension and are being given an opportunity to rehabilitate their GPA or completion percentage. During this time, students may continue to receive their financial aid as long as they continue to make progress under the terms of their approved appeal (usually you are not allowed to withdraw from a class, earn a grade lower than a C, or change your major).

The details for all of this can vary based on your institution, so make sure to look at your college or university’s SAP policy to make sure you understand how it works at your school. In addition, you may want to note that Financial Aid SAP works very differently than Academic Probation / Suspension, so be sure to make sure you understand how your academic decisions may impact both of these.

Now hopefully your grades were terrific this semester and you don’t need to worry about any of this. If you did struggle, though, don’t worry too much. Many students do, and by seeking out the help of an academic advisor, a learning support specialist, or their faculty member, they can be very successful. If you do have to write a letter of appeal for your SAP status, then be sure to offer full disclosure of what caused issues for you this semester and what changes you will make to ensure success next semester.

If you have questions about SAP (or want to tell me about your favorite holiday flavor), go ahead and post your question or comment below.

The only constant is change; and that changes constantly…

Heraclitus had it right. Change happens all of the time; our whole life is filled with change. Just the basic act of getting up in the morning causes a whole variety of changes in your life; every decision I make, every choice I choose, each brings about a variety of different options and closes a number of different pathways to me. Each decision (and even the decision not to decide) causes variety in my day.

Hey brother, can you spare some change?

If you like variety, you may want to work as a Financial Aid officer. We know change in our profession because it is an essential part of the work we do. When you work with partners as diverse as the Federal Government, State Government, College Foundations, Private Donors, and other sources for funds, there is a chance that every day will bring about a change in rules or regulations that govern how we award and disburse funds to students. This last week has been no exception.

I spent the last week in Reno, NV, at the Federal Student Aid Training Conference. This annual gathering of more than 5000 financial aid officers and partners from every state in the country (and several international attendees as well) is a massive gathering of those of us who work in the industry. This year’s conference (over 4 1/2 days) had more than 5 General Sessions (imagine 5000 people in one massive ballroom, and you get the idea), 32 concurrent sessions (several offered more than once to give attendees the chance to see them), 3 hands-on sessions, and 10 “Birds of a Feather” sessions for those from similar backgrounds to share news. All of the sessions are audio recorded so that several weeks after the conference is over, attendees and non-attendees can go back and hear what was said.

If you get the idea that this conference is a big deal, it is. Just follow the Twitter hashtag #fsatc2019 and you can read a number of updates from those attending with their comments about the content of the sessions.

While there were lots of interesting items shared, there were TWO BIG CHANGES which will impact each one of you, so I thought I would share those here. Sorry it took me a few days to get this update to you, but needless to say between the full conference days, the 3 hour time difference, and the high altitude (at over 4500 feet above sea level), my body needed its rest.

  1. Starting next year (2020-21), every student loan borrower will have to go through a new process. Before receiving any loan disbursement for the year, the student (or parent for PLUS loans) will need to log into the Federal government’s web site, take a look at their current balance for loans (including potential monthly repayment amount, current loan balance, and remaining eligibility) and confirm that they understand this amount and obligation before taking out additional loans.
  2. While we are on the subject of web pages, the government’s student financial and and student loan web pages are going through a major overhaul. This nextgen process will bring about a streamlined experience for consumers (students, schools, and loan servicers).

The video below explains both of these changes (and was shared at the conference). Also included is the newly announced chatbot (or virtual assistant) named “Aidan” (see 3:30 in the video).

The Digital Future of Federal Student Aid

Some other changes announced were much more technical, but these were the most important for you (and will have the most impact on you). What are your thoughts about logging in to confirm your loan balance before you receive your next loan for the year? While I agree it is good practice, I have lots of questions about how this will work for students. Stay tuned to the blog and I will share more news as it comes.

As you can guess, there are always more changes coming down the line!