When Florida A&M University lost nearly 1,000 students at the start of last fall’s school year, it found a significant number of the students were casualties of the federal government’s new and tighter rules governing Parent Plus Loans used by thousands of parents to help pay college costs.
While the U.S. Department of Education, administrator of the PPL program, eventually bowed to demands that the new rules be revisited, it’s still unknown how many families had their loan applications reconsidered and approved.
Today, as FAMU and many other HBCUs heavily dependent upon federal aid for their students rev up their recruiting efforts for the fall, there’s new attention being focused on fixing the damage done by the PPL rules changes.
Meanwhile, many of the same institutions are pondering how the most recent layer of bad financial news — the across-the-board federal budget cuts called sequestration — will impact them.
“Everyone is really looking at their budget and their enrollment because tuition is really going to drive that budget,” said Dr. William Hudson, FAMU vice president for student affairs, offering an overview of what many heavily tuition-dependent institutions are monitoring as they gear up for the next school year.
Hudson and several others interviewed said they are making extras efforts in conjunction with the Department of Education to make sure students whose families’ PPL applications were rejected last year know there is an appeals process by which their applications can be reconsidered.
The institutions are trying to raise more money through university alumni associations and friends so by late summer, the institutions will be in a better position to offer financial aid to students facing unexpected financial shortfalls at enrollment time, as more than 13,000 did last fall when they learned their family’s PPL loan application had been rejected.
Separately, the widely respected Thurgood Marshall College Fund reportedly is trying to get the U.S. Department of Education to ease its new rules a bit by assigning some of the PPL loan applications a “grandfather” clause status that is renewable under the old rules, if the applicant had been approved for a loan prior to last year. Neither Thurgood Marshall Fund nor Department of Education officials responded to calls last week about their efforts to help students.
While institutions like Morehouse College, FAMU, North Carolina A&T and Howard universities were hit especially hard by the new PPL rules, institutions that lost smaller numbers of students due to PPL issues say their efforts this season have been beefed up in anticipation of greater need due to PPL loan restrictions, the federal budget cuts and increasing inability of students to pay.
“We’re being as out-of-the-box thinkers as we possibly can,” said Ohio’s Central State University President Dr. Cynthia Jackson-Hammond. She said 95 percent of Central State’s 2,100 students are Pell Grant eligible and come to the school in financial need. Last year, Central State lost 60 students due to PPL issues.
Hammond, who praised the Thurgood Marshall College Fund for its help, said Central State is “finding ways” to help its students get summer internships to raise funds for their fall college costs and is “looking at ways to eliminate unnecessary cost” as a means of controlling expenses.
Hammond said she would be happy if the net result of these enhanced efforts helps her maintain the 2,100 student enrollment count she has today. “That will be a plus,” she said.
At Delaware State University, where new efforts are also underway to raise more scholarship money, university spokesman Carlos Holmes said the tuition-dependent institution has not been hard hit by any one loss of funds. The larger picture looks a little different, he said.
“All of this can have some impact on graduation and retention rates,” said Holmes, referring to the loss of a student temporarily or permanently due to financial considerations will eventually impact an institution’s four year and six year graduation rates.
Delaware state is also anxious about the potential impact federal budget sequestration will have on its research grants, an answer it may not have until late summer when various agencies send grant funding notices.
“We don’t know what the future’s going to be,” said Holmes. “We’re just trying to be proactive. … We can be very cost-effective in what we are doing and be ready to make adjustments.”
At FAMU, it’s an all-out effort to have an enrollment rebound. The university is talking with its alumni association about ways to boost the $2 million in scholarship aid given each year. Out-of-state students are being reminded they can apply for a waiver of the out-of-state tuition rate. The university has hired two debt management counselors to help students better manage their financial affairs in a way more likely to help them avoid having to drop out. Meanwhile, the university is working with the U.S. Department of Education to collectively help students with PPL issues.
“We have been very aggressive with students,” said FAMU’s Hudson.