By Laina Sweetney

The spring semester has been a long relay race and the finish line is finally in sight. With just a few more weeks left in the semester, students have begun working closely with their academic advisors to select appropriate classes for the fall term. But this particular academic advising period proved more complicated than past semesters. The U.S. Department of Education has recently instituted significant changes in the interpretation and enforcement of their federal aid eligibility criteria. These requirements have the potential to affect students who are receiving federally funded aid in the form of the Pell Grant and subsidized federal loans.

In an attempt to combat the growing number of college students who are accumulating hundreds of credit hours without getting closer to graduation, the U.S. Department of Education now distinguishes between what is considered a full-time academic course load and a federal financial aid eligible course load. Although in the past it has been assumed that any course a student takes will advance them to graduation, the new criteria stipulates that students must be taking at least 12 credit hours that count toward their major, general education or elective requirements in order to remain eligible to receive federal aid. The emphasis is no longer on simply how many hours a student takes, but rather how many of those hours count toward degree completion.

“You can still take courses that don’t necessarily advance your degree, but it can’t be so many that you drop below 12 federal aid eligible credits per semester,” FSC Provost and Vice President of Academic affairs Dr. Kyle Fedler said of the new requirements. “The key is that 12 of your hours have to be courses you need to graduate. I think that’s the simplest way of putting it.”

Though the federal aid criteria were originally created to weed out students receiving federal funding without advancing toward a degree, many students who are not intending to game the system

are being caught in the crossfire. Federal Pell Grant recipients who are nearing the end of their academic careers, students who began their undergraduate careers with previous AP and IB credit and students who have changed their major are running into the most issues with the new enforcements. It is now very important for FSC students to be mindful about not fulfilling all of their general education and major requirements too early. Students have to be much more intentional from day one about developing a clear academic plan of action.

Dr. Fedler has been working closely with the FSC Registrar’s office to develop an electronic resource for students and faculty advisors. This resource will help identity when students have registered for a course that is not eligible for federal financial aid. The Registrar’s office is prioritizing Pell eligible students with high credit hours first and then working with the rest of the FSC student population. The ultimate goal is for students to not receive a bill requesting a refund of their Pell money because they unknowingly fell below the federal eligibility mark.

“If there’s one thing I would say to take away is that students need to work very closely with their advisors from the minute they get to FSC,” says Dr. Fedler. “Students have been caught in the middle of this and we’re really trying hard to keep that from happening. This is really important for us to get right.”

These new federal eligibility requirements only affect federal funding and do not impact Florida Southern’s merit and need-based grants and scholarships. Students who are not receiving the Federal Pell Grant or a subsidized loan are only required to maintain a full-time status of 12 hours–no matter what they are–to receive FSC aid. For more information about the impacts of the federal aid criteria please contact the FSC Registrar’s office.


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