New College to report credit hours for financial aid purposes

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In order to comply with new regulations regarding the disbursement of financial aid monies, New College will begin reporting credit hours earned by each student to the federal government. While some members of the community were alarmed at the notion that New College could become more “conventional,” Provost Charlene Callahan assured the Catalyst that the new measures are for financial aid purposes only and will not affect the contract system.

“Every institution that allocates financial aid for the federal government has to be certified by the federal government,” she said in an interview. “They make sure that you can track student progress accurately and that students are aware of what’s expected of them. We were certified five years ago and we were up for recertification last year by the federal government. This time, a different set of auditors looked at us and said, ‘Wait a minute — what do you guys do?’”

Callahan said that the federal auditors were confused by New College’s atypical structure, its lack of grades and a formalized credit hour scheme as well as the role of the Student Academic Status Committee (SASC). “Students need to know when they are in good standing and the financial aid people need to know when they are in good standing or not in good standing,” Callahan explained. “So, it has to be really clear cut — if you do not do this then you are in not good standing. Our rules say if you fail a contract, you may be reviewable and you may be dismissible and you may be whatever, all depending on what the SASC does. Well, the federal government doesn’t like that.” Federal auditors instructed New College to streamline the processes undertaken when reporting a student’s overall standing with the school in order to bring them in line with new regulations.

“They’re sort of cracking down in terms of what we do in terms of student progress,” she said.

Another change being made stems from the reporting of credit hours due to revisions in legislation governing Title IV programs, which receive federal financial aid dollars. These changes are a result of the emergence of online schools like the University of Phoenix. “The federal government wants to say, ‘You must tell us what a credit hour constitutes and what your courses are in terms of credit hours,’ — even New College, now, has to tell them what our classes are worth in terms of credit hours,” Callahan told the Catalyst. “In our literature and everything, we brag about how we don’t ‘do’ credit hours, how we don’t accumulate credit hours. That rule goes into effect July 1 and every institution that gives Title IV federal financial aid has to obey all of those rules. So, we’re scrambling. We realized that if we can straighten out the credit hour rules, we can probably straighten out the policies and procedures and good academic standing definitions as well.”

According to documentation provided to the Catalyst, each “educational activity eligible for contract and transcript inclusion” — be it a tutorial, class or independent research project — will be defined for the purposes of financial aid to be “equivalent to four credit hours.”            Under the new guidelines, because federal aid is dispersed to full-time students (defined as those who take terms with at least 12 credit hours) and all New College students are defined as attending classes full-time, each student’s contract must contain “at least three academic units.” Additionally, a proposal has been tabled to create a second requirement for graduation that includes the successful completion of at least 31 academic units (along with the already extant requirement of having completed seven contracts and three independent study projects). This standard would ensure that the typical New College student would graduate having taken at least 124 credit hour equivalents, four more than what is required by federal and state law. This resolves a major loophole where a student could theoretically obtain a degree from New College having only taken 96 credit hour equivalents.

Provost Callahan said that the rules will not apply to those graduating this year but she would like to see them in effect for those graduating in 2012.

“It’s a slippery slope that we have to go down,” Callahan said. “We have to do that. Every contract has to have three things in it. It’ll be three units and it’ll fit to be 12 credit hours.”

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