Changes in Eligibility for Federal Student Financial Aid to Impact Thousands of Hudson County Community College Students

September 4, 2012

Jersey City, NJ – For the past several weeks, administrators and staff at Hudson County Community College (HCCC) have been working non-stop in an attempt to prevent thousands of students from being dropped from enrollment due to changes in criteria for financial aid from the federal government.

HCCC President Dr. Glen Gabert said the changes in eligibility for grant and loan funding are substantial and will impact about 1,500 students immediately. He noted that the College’s Division of Student Affairs has been working since June to notify students of the changes and to assist them in finding the financial means to continue or to begin their studies.

Dr. Gabert said Hudson County Community College has one of the most proactive and successful Financial Aid Departments, and that its staff is doing everything possible to reduce the effects of these new regulations on HCCC students.

“When we learned of students who lost eligibility or were in danger of losing eligibility, we immediately notified them via phone, email and snail-mail so we could begin the appeal process with them. We even utilized an outside firm that specializes in outreach to contact them. However, only about 30% of those students have replied.” he said.

As legislated, the new federal financial aid rules affect who is eligible for financial aid as well as how much federal aid some students may receive, how long they will be able to receive aid, and the interest rate at which loans have to be repaid. The following are the changes that are having/will have the greatest impact on HCCC students:

  1. The maximum Pell Grant will remain at the current level of $5,500 for the 2012-13 academic year. Currently, a family with an annual income of $32,000 or less automatically qualifies for the full amount. However, the new legislation lowers the annual family income threshold for Pell Grant eligibility to $23,000. 90% of HCCC students receive Pell Grants.
  2. Students will have a shorter time frame during which they are qualified for Pell Grants. In the past, students were eligible to receive the Pell for up to eighteen (18) semesters. The new legislation cuts that time back to just twelve (12) semesters (a loss of three years of studies). This new rule is effective immediately and since it is retroactive, it is sure to affect hundreds of students, many of whom are pursuing their studies part-time because of economic and other constraints. It also impacts those students who require pre-college programs such as ESL and developmental reading, writing and/or mathematics.
  3. Prior to July 1st, students who did not possess a high school or GED diploma were able to enter into a higher education institution by passing the Ability to Benefit Test (ABT). Now, students who do not possess a high school or GED diploma are not eligible for federal financial aid.
  4. The interest rate on the subsidized Stafford loans, in which the first disbursement is made on or after July 1, 2012, and before July 1, 2013, have a fixed rate of 3.4%. Unsubsidized Stafford and graduate Stafford Loan rates will be locked at 6.8%.
  5. The area that is of most concern to HCCC deals with Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) as it has the largest potential impact on Hudson County Community students, and it renders approximately 3,000 of current students ineligible for federal aid.

Under the new regulations, a student who is receiving federal aid of any sort, and 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. Additionally, a student who does complete all of their coursework but whose grade point average drops will automatically have the federal aid rescinded. The conditions that affect the aid (GPA, pass/fail, incomplete, withdrawal, taking a class a second time) are reported through the federal system.

It is the Federal Student Aid division of the U.S. Department of Education that revokes federal student aid NOT Hudson County Community College. The student may appeal the revocation in writing and with proper documentation. However, the new regulations place responsibility for the appeal on the student, and failure to file an appeal without the required documentation results in an automatic loss of aid eligibility. When an appeal is granted, the student must sit with a counselor and develop a remedial academic plan in order to continue to receive aid. If the student fails to file the appeal or develop the plan of correction, the federal aid will be lost.

Dr. Gabert said these new regulations were instituted by the federal government, and Hudson County Community College and all other higher education institutions must fully comply with them. “Obviously, we are extremely concerned about the effects these new regulations are having on our students — and as you have seen a very, very substantial number of students are affected. There is also a ripple effect with this in that, because our enrollment numbers will fall off, our revenues will also decline, and so we are already examining areas where we will have to cut back,” he stated.

Hudson County Community College is working with students who are no longer eligible for federal financial assistance to scholarships so as not to put them into 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 financial aid for our students,” Dr. Gabert continued.

The President said the College also sent a letter last week informing area elected officials, school officials, directors of the Hudson County Community College Foundation, College staff and enrolled HCCC students about the changes and the effect they are having on students and the College itself.

Students, families and school officials who need more information on this matter are asked to contact the Hudson County Community College Financial Aid Department at (201) 360-4200.