Students With Double Majors Face Financial Hardship Due to Recently Enforced Regulations

[Clarification: The financial aid policy at the heart of this article is not a “new” policy, but rather an existing federal policy that is only now being enforced due to the introduction of Degree Works, the new degree auditing system.  We have replaced “new regulations” with “newly enforced regulations” in order to clear up any confusion. 

SUNY Oneonta did not write this policy, as one student quote suggested. The quote was inconsistent with the rest of the article, which clearly states the policy was not written by SUNY Oneonta. The misinformed student quote has since been removed.  

The State Times apologizes for any confusion and encourages students to meet with their financial aid advisors to discuss how this policy will impact their financial aid package.]

Campus News
Monica Dore and Cady Sharp Kuzmich
Staff Writer and Editor-in-Chief

Newly enforced regulations have changed the way students with dual majors, as well as students with minors and concentrations, receive financial aid. This spring semester, SUNY Oneonta is enforcing a policy stating that students can only receive financial aid for their primary major. In the past, financial aid was granted to qualifying students for both majors.

This policy is not new, and was not written by SUNY Oneonta, but is rather mandated by state and federal regulations. According to the Student Association President, Kai Malik, this “federal policy had to be enforced when the college switched from Arrow Sheet to Degree Works.” With the switch to Degree Works, it became easier to see what classes count towards completion of a student’s primary major—”a component lacking in the previous the arrow sheet system,” according to Malik.

Malik added, “According to the federal policy, if a student is not registered for twelve degree applicable credits (DAC) within a given semester, the status will be reflected within his/her financial aid bill.”

Bill Goodhue, director of SUNY Oneonta’s financial aid office expressed sympathy for students who have been impacted by this change in aid eligibility, and said that it is the institution’s “utmost goal to help every student succeed.”

These regulations state that students cannot receive financial aid for coursework that is not required for a primary degree. Required coursework includes major-related work, general education and any elective credits needed to complete a degree.

These policy changes were a surprise to many Oneonta students, who say they were not made aware of the policy updates during winter break.

“I had no idea. I don’t remember getting any email about a change,” said Colleen Hannon. Hannon is a sophomore Child & Family Studies and Psychology dual major. She added, “This is a big issue, and some students really need the aid to get through the school year. They need to be aware of these changes.”

SUNY Oneonta senior business major and women’s studies minor Erin Ruth sympathized with students who had to stop attending SUNY Oneonta early due to the policy.

“I have heard of students that were so severely impacted by this change that they were not able to return to SUNY Oneonta in the spring, as they had planned to in the fall,” said Ruth.

“Not only did this abrupt policy change throw a wrench in students’ plans, but it also inhibits students from achieving their overall academic goals, which raises another issue. If a student is enthusiastic enough to pursue a minor, a dual major, or even a more ambitious course load, and is refused, what does that say about us as an institution?  It seems on the surface that students who depend heavily on financial aid will be discouraged to pursue higher learning.”

Former SUNY Oneonta student Frank Funigiello completed his major last semester but was using this spring semester to complete two minors. Unfortunately for Funigiello, his plans were abruptly halted. Over the winter break he was told that he did not have the financial aid to come back for this semester.

“I was caught off guard and [was] upset to find out out that I wasn’t going to get financial aid this semester. I would have had to been informed last spring in order to do something about it,” he said.   

Like many students, Funigiello made his plans around the academic year and signed a year-long housing lease. Without due notice, Funigiello was unable to find anyone to take over his lease. He is now paying rent in Oneonta even though he no longer lives here.

Still, he took it all in stride. “I’m just glad and lucky I was able to graduate with ease without having any major problems. It was a tough spot to be put in, but I’m glad in the end it worked out,” said Funigiello.

“I hope something can be done to inform students receiving financial aid well in advance so this doesn’t have to happen to anyone else,” he added.

Goodhue addressed this complaint by saying, “Ultimately, it is the student’s responsibility to be aware of the regulations affecting your financial aid eligibility, and it is the Financial Aid Office’s responsibility for applying the rules that determine aid eligibility.” He added,  “The financial aid staff worked diligently, one on one with those students over the break to help them understand the situation and stay on track toward degree completion.”

Goodhue attempted to reassure students by saying, “The financial aid office will continue to work with students toward the completion of a degree in as short a time as possible and with the least possible debt.”

He acknowledges that these changes are complicated to understand, and suggests students meet with their financial aid advisors to discuss any questions. He added that with planning and collaboration between students and their academic and financial advisors, many students will be able to complete a second degree, minor or concentration during their time at SUNY Oneonta.

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For more information, check out our brief interview with the director of SUNY Oneonta’s financial aid office, Bill Goodhue.

State Times: Could you give me an overview of the policy?
Goodhue: Financial aid eligibility for any given term is based upon enrollment. Enrollment is defined, by regulatory bodies, as credits required for your degree (Degree Applicable Credits).  Degree-applicable credit is any coursework specifically required to meet the minimum number of credits to complete your degree as published in the College Catalog.  This includes required work in the major (your primary major), related work, general education, and electives sufficient to bring a student to the credits necessary to complete a degree. Twelve (12) degree applicable credits is considered full time. You cannot receive financial aid for coursework not required for your degree. With careful planning, many students can complete a second major, minors or concentrations. Others, especially those who bring credit earned while in high school, may complete their degree in less than 8 semesters.

State Times: I understand this is an old policy,  why is it being put into effect now?
Goodhue: These regulations are not new and the college must comply with federal and state regulations. What is new are software tools and processes that assist us with compliance. Additional software and process will further streamline this process in the coming semesters.

State Times: From what I have heard, dual majors are only able to receive financial aid for their primary major; is there more to it than this?
Goodhue: Within each degree program there are opportunities for electives. With careful planning, many students can complete a second major, minors or concentrations.

State Times: Some students believe there should be a “grandfather clause,” so students who were unaware of the policy and who are already dual majors would not be affected. They think new dual majors and incoming freshman who are aware of the policy should have to follow it. What is your take on this?
Goodhue: The college must comply with federal and state regulations. We always recommend you meet periodically with your financial aid counselor to review your academic plans and the effect on financial aid eligibility. You may find additional information on these requirements, in addition to many others, in our web space. Ultimately, it is the student’s responsibility to be aware of the regulations affecting your financial aid eligibility, and it is the Financial Aid Office’s responsibility for applying the rules that determine aid eligibility. Our utmost goal is to help every student succeed. The financial aid office will continue to work with students toward the completion of a degree in as short a time as possible and with the least possible debt.

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