Enforcement of financial aid policy detrimental to student education

Two years ago, financial aid in New York took a small step forward when policy-makers enacted the Excelsior plan that eradicated tuition for certain lower income students. In the fall 2018 semester, students learned that financial aid at Geneseo would be taking five steps back with the so-called “Students on Track” plan. 

The SOT program, to be implemented in fall 2019, will track students’ credits to determine whether they are “full-time” or “part-time,” according to the college’s webpage on the topic. With full-time status—12 credits of “degree applicable coursework”—students can access state financial aid. 

While students may still access certain federal financial aid programs if they do not hold what the SOT program considers full-time status, losing out on state financial aid such as the Excelsior program would sincerely hamper these students.

Although the basic system of full-time status as a requirement for state financial aid has been in place for years, the real problem in the SOT technology is the ability of the college to track and limit aid to only degree-applicable coursework. Specifically, the program would not count any coursework done exclusively for a second major or a minor as part of the necessary 12 credits—they would be counted as electives, useful only in the leftover space between the primary major, general education requirements and the 120 credits needed to graduate. 

The enforcement of this restriction could effectively prevent students from studying multiple disciplines over their four years at Geneseo and may lead to students sticking with majors that don’t align with their interests. 

The program has a certain logic to it. Policy-makers might believe that forcing students to stick to one major will help them in the long run by making them spend less time dawdling at college, leading them to focus on beginning their career with their chosen discipline. 

But a key strength of four-year colleges like Geneseo is that they open students up to different ideas and values over the course of multiple years. Closing off that side of college to students with different financial situations and effectively restricting them to only one discipline creates an asymmetrical system. 

Many students could probably share their own stories of a shift in their degree plans in their first, second or even third year. As some students lose the ability to alter their discipline, their college education can become less valuable. 

If a student spends a year as one major before realizing they don’t really care about its material, they may not be able to find another discipline that fits them better given the new strictures. The liberal arts should be allowing its students to expand and discover, not simply follow whatever path is shortest.

The only students who could proceed under the new system as effectively as under the old system are those who have managed all their time successfully and who are completely confident in their career path. In other words, many college students won’t fit this model.

The fault in this change apparently lies at the feet of the law-makers who created the system rather than with the administrators who enforce it. Either way, Geneseo students should do what they can to advocate for a system that tries to give a commensurate education to all students regardless of their economic background.