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After the University of Michigan chose to extend the add/drop deadline for classes until April 21, financial aid recipients — both on merit or need-based aid — received a mass email from the University on March 24 reminding students to seek out resources from the Office of Financial Aid if needed.
While extending the drop deadline was meant to provide academic flexibility, according to Kedra Ishop, vice provost for enrollment management, students receiving University aid were warned about the potential consequences of dropping below the 12-credit-hour requirement for full-time student status.
Despite different financial aid packages varying in eligibility requirements, including credit hours, the last part of the email noted that the amount of aid a student receives can be impacted by a change in full-time status.
Though the email said aid “can be impacted,” the message created confusion among aid recipients who interpreted the message as stating students with any form of need or merit-based aid will risk losing their financial package if they choose to drop below full time.
Public Policy junior Molly Macleod, recipient of the University of Michigan Grant, was initially misled by the email. After moving off campus, Macleod dropped a minicourse and lost her on-campus job, but remained a full-time student. While Macleod’s specific grant does not require full-time status during a typical school year, Macleod assumed this message applied to her.
“I read the email and I thought that I have to remain full time, otherwise I won’t get my financial aid,” Macleod said.
In an email to The Daily, Tammie Durham, assistant vice provost and executive director of financial aid, said financial aid will not be impacted for students who drop below full time.
“During this winter term, students who are unable to complete a full-time course load because of Covid 19 who started the class prior to the pandemic will not experience adjustments in their aid,” Durham wrote. “All students interested in federal financial aid will be considered as long as they are enrolled in a minimum of six credits during any given term. This is not a change in policy.”
According to the Office of Registrar website last updated on March 27, undergraduates who withdraw from a course after March 10 through the last day of classes will not receive a “W” on their official transcript indicating dropping the class; however, a “W” will appear on the student’s unofficial transcript.
Durham said the University sent the mass email cautioning students receiving financial aid about the risk of dropping below full time prior to President Trump signing the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act into law on March 27. The act outlines a monetary relief package which in part provides the University with funds to support students reliant on financial aid.
“We did intentionally send that email to help students plan in case federal relief was not made available to colleges and universities,” Durham said. “Thankfully, since that email, the CARES Act has provided flexibility for those students impacted by Covid 19.”
During any particular school year, students receiving need and merit based scholarships are required to meet federal as well as University set guidelines specific to their scholarship, known as Satisfactory Academic Requirements. These guidelines can include volunteer hours, academic grade point average and minimum credit hours. The CARES Act now ensures that throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, students receiving financial aid will not be penalized for not fulfilling these requirements.
In Section 3509, the act states that in determining whether a student maintains satisfactory academic progress, “an institution of higher education may, as a result of a qualifying emergency, exclude from the quantitative component of the calculation any attempted credits that were not completed by such student without requiring an appeal by such student.”
Angela Morabito, U.S. Department of Education press secretary, reiterated the purpose of this act in an email to The Daily.
“We know that this national public health emergency has created challenges for students and we are continually working to provide institutions and students with the flexibility they need as they make the transition to distance education,” Morabito wrote.
Students who assumed they could not drop below full-time credit status due to the initial email sent on March 24 can still withdraw from a class due to the University-wide add/drop policy extension.
Macleod said the University’s lack of clarity regarding required credit hours is placing a further burden on students with financial aid.
“I think it’s incredibly misleading,” Macleod said. “I think they are concealing some opportunities for people, that they don’t have to stay full time necessarily to keep their scholarships. But by sending a mass email to everyone saying that you have to stay full time, that just kind of closes some doors for people.”
LSA junior Amytess Girgis is another student who misinterpreted the email by the University. Girgis is a recipient of the Penelope W. and E. Roe Stamps Scholarship merit-based scholarship. Under federal guidelines during a typical school year, students receiving this scholarship are required to maintain full-time status.
Girgis felt this message was particularly damaging due to the uncertainty many students with financial aid feel due to job losses, moving and a quick transition to online classes.
“The impression to me was just that a lot of students, including myself, who are thrown into this confusing COVID situation, who are suddenly spending a lot more time than they normally would taking care of family members, taking care of themselves, moving, working, are scared because they read this email and think that there is absolutely no way they can cut back on their course load,” Girgis said.
Girgis attributed the misunderstanding to poor communication by the University.
“This is a communications issue,” Girgis said. “I wish that the University had been smarter about how they relate these messages and had done it with a bit more caution in how they word their emails.”
Reporter Callie Teitelbaum can be reached at email@example.com. Reporter Jenna Siteman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.