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Posted on Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 5:54 a.m.

Headaches all around as Washtenaw Community College copes with new federal aid requirements

By Juliana Keeping


Students visit with financial aid advisors on the second floor of the Student Center at Washtenaw Community College on Thursday afternoon.

Melanie Maxwell I

Shelly McKinney spent part of an afternoon going back and forth between the financial aid office window and a nearby computer at the Washtenaw Community College Student Services building.

Her financial aid hadn’t posted and she didn’t know why; she needed to figure it out in order to register for a nursing class.

McKinney’s issue was that she hadn’t verified online that she’d started a new program.

That verification will allow WCC to track McKinney’s pace of completion, part of new requirements rolling out this fall under the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act. Students didn't have to take this step before this fall.

While the changes to the federal law aim to boost dismal U.S. college completion rates, the only thing they gave McKinney last week was a headache.

At WCC, there are headaches all around as the changes bog down staff and slow down services for students.

When McKinney identified and fixed the hiccup after about an hour of wrangling with the system, she jumped up and down when she confirmed her aid had posted online. She could take her course.

Those who haven’t verified programs by next week will be automatically dropped from classes, said Linda Blakey, the associate vice president for student services.

Situations like McKinneys are a common sight at student services just a week before the fall semester begins at WCC on Aug. 26.

Vexed students tell Blakey they are caught totally off guard when they discover they're not eligible for aid under various changes to the federal law. The school’s staff is struggling to keep up with the fallout, Blakey said. WCC began notifying students in the spring of a variety of changes that were coming; it appears many missed the memos.

Among the changes:

Students have to complete 67 percent of attempted credits overall with a cumulative GPA over 2.0 the semester prior in order to be eligible for financial aid. That includes transfer credits.

Before, WCC considered students' course completion rates on a semester-by-semester basis rather than over their entire academic career.

“Now we have to look at everything you’ve attempted,” when it comes to aid, Blakey said.

Students will be monitored more closely to make sure they’re completing their programs at the new pace of completion set by the federal government. If they take too much time or don’t take the right classes, their aid will be cut off, Blakey said.

“It forces students to focus on completing their program more quickly,” Blakey said.

That’s why as of last Thursday, more than 160 students had filed appeals for student aid — many dozens more than what’s typical for this time of year, Blakey said.

To be granted an exception on financial aid, a student can begin an appeal process. In some cases, that entails creating a progress plan with a counselor. When the school grants a financial aid exception, financial aid office staffers have to monitor each progress plan to make sure the student is making progress toward completion. That means by approving an exception, the department creates more work for itself.

A lot more work.

The school hasn’t added financial aid staff, Blakey said.

Financial aid and counseling report to Blakey. They are inundated with work on appeals, she said.

“We’ve had to schedule more people than usual in the advising area,” she said.

The deluge of appeals is slowing things down for students trying to get their courses and aid in order in the days before classes begin.

Nicole McElhaney is one of them. The 21-year-old home health aid has made six 45-minute trips to WCC from Wayne in three weeks to resolve a financial aid issue.


Nicole McElhaney, of Wayne, sits with her 9-month-old, Alaya, as she waits for financial aid assistance in the Student Center at Washtenaw Community College.

Melanie Maxwell I

If she can’t get financial aid for her full course schedule in order, she can’t start criminal justice courses. The program is tied to a new future for the mother of two.

She’s frustrated and stressed out, she said.

“I’m nervous,” she said. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to start school.”

Juliana Keeping covers general assignment and health and the environment for Reach her at or 734-623-2528. Follow Juliana Keeping on Twitter



Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 9:39 p.m.

As if registering for classes wasn't hard enough as it is. However, when I was a student at IU/Bloomington, there were no computers. We had to stand in a stadium, waiting in line for each took an entire day. Then, there was Drop and Add...held at a later the stadium. HUGE hassle.


Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 2:41 a.m.

Yeah. Those were the days, eh? IU had app. 45,000 students at the time. I remember, as a Senior, trying to register for a class I needed to take to graduate. It closed right when they got to me. I had to pull out the waterworks act. Not very feminist action, but it worked...LOL


Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 11:49 p.m.

I remember those days! EMU had the same process. I still have some of the punch cards!

Somewhat Concerned

Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 8:27 p.m.

The requirements were published and are not difficult to comply with. Other community colleges are not struggling to "cope" with them. Are WCC less able or willing to read the requirements? Are there really that many of them who don't have a 2.0 GPA but are still in school and still expecting someone else to pay for their education, whether or not they put in the effort to have a 2.0 - not the hardest hurdle to get over if you actually study.

Sofia Toti

Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 10:04 p.m.

Which other community colleges aren't struggling to cope w/ the changes?


Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 2:29 p.m.

People who know history are aware that America's wealth has been underwritten by a commitment to pluralistic education. This said, the world has caught on and is in many ways surpassing many of our best efforts. To remain viable our country has to exploit every opportunity to educate everyone who seeks to better themselves. This includes on-line institutions and resources that really could be an inexpensive way for wealth challenged people to increase their standing. There is also a pragmatic need to channel people into careers that are viable in the market place. Too many degree paths are leading no where [colleges don't want to admit as such because this would mean compromising established programs that need the revenue]. In effect the education needs to focus on where real jobs are likely to be. As far as tracking degree paths for students the financial aid system needs to correct its past practices as this has led to students getting aid, not knowing what they want to do, changing programs and dropping out without graduating- a tragedy for the student, school and taxpayer.


Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 2:25 p.m.

EyeHeartA2, There are so many different situations but if you worked with people trying to "make it" in college, particularly CCs,you'd probably get a clearer picture. There are many who have never had a family member in college. This puts them at a real disadvantage in the beginning because there's no one to guide them, no one to explain expectations. They go in blind. And if education isn't valued in their family unit, they really have an uphill battle. But they will fight to make it. Wanna give up on them? There are many who are working, often full time, in order to pay other expenses, and aren't prepared for trying to study and work full time. It's a major adjustment. They may stumble in the beginning. There are those who have young children and also work....and try to go to school. Especially in Ccs you see so many disadvantages. These are not people with "lack of gray matter",these are people who have to run faster, jump higher, and accomplish a lot more than the student who is hand held by mom and dad. There's no comparison.


Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 7:58 p.m.

I cited all three reasons in my original post: Life conditions Lack of motivation Lack of gray matter One of those three are the root cause of a 2.0 (really two point oh?) GPA. Bs Cs and Ds at a CC? Ouch. Completion rate of 67%? One of my room mates in undergrad got the boot from the U for a similar performance. One semester of "paper or plastic", a transfer to another school, a new attitude and he graduated with a good GPA and a good job at a fortune 500. Passing along poor performance does nobody any favors. The U did him a favor kicking him out. Dropping 1/3 of your classes in inexcusable. The cc should get on it before it gets out of hand rather than fix it once it is.

Stephen Landes

Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 1:39 p.m.

We need to have a national discussion about student financial aid and the cost of a college education. It seems that no matter how much money we throw at college education assistance the cost of tuition outpaces that of inflation. I think a fair question to ask is: does increased financial aid availability encourage colleges and universities to raise tuition because they know money is available to students -- are we feeding a perpetual cycle with all the aid money that is available to students? This isn't a Republican v Democrat question, but one of economics and markets. What incentive do colleges and universities have to control costs when they can be fairly certain that, due to our general belief in the benefit of education, society will keep adding funds to the financial aid pot? What could we do to break the cycle and at least hold tuition and other cost increases to the rate of inflation?

Sofia Toti

Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 10:02 p.m.

One thing to remember is that state support for higher education goes down faster & earlier than tuition costs go up. I suspect that the rich & powerful would just as soon have a large cadre of ignorant workers available; when "free loaders" become a sufficiently large percentage of the total population, government handouts will be cut off.

Jody Gore

Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 1:05 p.m.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) became available on January 1. Doing things last minute does often cause headaches. They are not always the fault of the process or safe guards in place however (or the College Staff).


Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 12:45 p.m.

A 2.0 GPA and 67% completion? They are actually getting a favor by being cut off. Who would want to hire somebody with that dismal of a record anyway? Now the "student" would just be stuck with loans to pay back and the taxpayer with the bill for the assistance given in addition to the loans. Whether the GPA is due to life conditions, lack of motivation, or lack of gray matter, perhaps the "student" would be better served taking some time off of re-assess what they are going to do with hand they were dealt. Throwing good money after bad is most likely not the answer.


Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 7:49 p.m.

Sorry, if that is your cumulative, you stink at school and need to regroup. Yes, GPAs do go up, but, like I said, you need to regroup and decide if that is what you really want to do. Perhaps a year of "want fries with that" will get you serious about college.

Kevin McNulty

Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 4:46 p.m.

Just because a student has a 2.0 GPA when s/he applies for aid for the next year does not mean s/he will have a 2.0 at the end of that year. GPAs do go up.


Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 12:15 p.m.

I applaud the attempts to curb financial aid abuse. I hope this doesn't end up with more uneducated and unemployed poor folks. I also sympathize with financial aid workers at schools, especially those with less resources, trying to manage the changes. As always the burden lies with the school...and it is a huge burden. And those who think these are "The ride at taxpayers expense" might stand to learn more about financial aid. First of all the vast majority of aid is in the form of a LOAN. Second of all, we are repaid, not only when the loans are repaid, but when these students become taxpaying citizens, instead of, as the Tea Partyers like to call them, freeloaders. So if you don't want to assist in loans for educating the poor, then accept a large majority of population becoming, Tea Party term "freeloaders." Don't talk out of both sides of your mouth....either support education or support unemployed, uneducated poor.

Not from around here

Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 7:15 p.m.

other four deleted comments prove that the powers that be do not like to be asked to explain their hypocracy.

Not from around here

Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 6:54 p.m.

two posts above this proves djack24 post.


Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 11:46 p.m.

If you read.....", instead of, as the Tea Partyers like to call them, freeloaders"...people who are unemployed and uneducated. Not financial aid recipients. Google it.


Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 9:33 p.m.

"Cash, we are all waiting for you to post proof that any member of the tea party called students on finacial aid "free loaders"" Count me in on that. I'm waiting for a link to be posted. On the other hand, I've had comments deleted countless times here for saying the same types of things, but less blatant about liberals. So comment rules should read say whatever you want about conservatives, but unjustified liberal comments will be banned immediately.

Not from around here

Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 8:07 p.m.

Cash, we are all waiting for you to post proof that any member of the tea party called students on finacial aid "free loaders" If not, contact the offices and tell them you told a little white lie and ask them to remove your post.


Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 5:02 p.m.

Mick52, You are incorrect. Sub loans are packaged as financial aid and are Title IV Federal Financial Aid. Yes,when you have to pay it back it IS financial aid. It is the largest percentage of financial aid awarded. You must be destitute to get a PELL or Perkins anymore. And scholarships are not as common today. If in doubt, Contact DOE. They will gladly inform you.


Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 4:37 p.m.

I just finished my masters and took out loans. Loans are NOT financial aid. I couldn't really afford college (it turns out). When I started just three years ago there was no question there would be jobs. Now I am paying off my student loans with savings I hoped I would have in retirement. Loans are available and easy to get. I was surprised I was eligible. Very generous too. When you have to pay it back it is not financial aid.

Smart Logic

Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 11:35 a.m.

Here is a reality of college: you have to jump through hoops regardless of how you finance your education. Here is a reality of the rest of life: you have to jump through hoops regardless of how you finance other major purchases like cars and houses. Ever try paying cash for a new car? It is almost as difficult as financing it. In a nutshell, get used to the red tape and learn how to work with it to accomplish your goals. Alternatively, use your higher education resource to help get through it. "An hour of wrangling with the system" doesn't sound too bad.

Steve Pepple

Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 11:27 a.m.

The story has been corrected to say students need to have a cumulative GPA over 2.0 the semester prior in order to be eligible for financial aid.


Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 11:13 a.m.

This is what happens when Government tries to fix something! Less government, less headaches, Less money for taxpayers!


Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 11:06 a.m.

The ride at taxpayers expense has to have some limits . Obama has a weird way of showing he has care and concern for the needy . Two years in a row section eight benefits have been cut also . This is the first time entitlements programs have ever been cut ! What's going on OBAMA ?


Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 12:06 p.m.

Ask the House where money bills are passed. Ask Boehner.


Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 10:41 a.m.

As a WCC parent, I'd like to add that the WCC Financial Aid staff are second to none - they are friendly, efficient, and care deeply that they resolve issues completely. For that, I say THANK YOU!