There are many pathways out of poverty of which education is a prime route. But, I can think of at least two people in my neighborhood who can’t go to community college or any college for that matter. Because of the way that FAFSA is set up, an F or W (withdrawn) on a college transcript is irrevocable. If it weren’t for my family I probably wouldn’t be walking in graduation ceremonies and would not have been able to go to community college either.
Many people do not do well during their first attempt at college. And those who fail or withdraw from too many classes can become almost permanently ineligible for financial aid. When this barrier goes up and no aid money is available, it keeps willing and capable students out of classes. For some of us, any tuition bill is out of reach. The students who are refused aid have no chance to improve their academic standing.
Imagine my surprise as I re-enrolled in college a couple of years ago when I learned that I was still being held responsible for bad grades that I got when I was 18-years-old. That was nearly 15 years ago. Given my past and present financial situation, I had no idea how I was going to pay for college without financial aid. Fortunately, after a couple of months of consistent persuasion some of my family members came around. They believed in the power of education and decided to help. Not everyone is that lucky.
However, after going part time for seven semesters and receiving a C as my lowest mark, I am still ineligible for financial aid and still will be when I earn my diploma. I filed an appeal to FAFSA and lost because of past grades. My completion rate is too low.
The classes that I took 15 years ago are just as much a part of me as it is for the people who completed their associate or bachelor’s degree in a more timely manner. I still remember from sociology that if you complete a bachelor’s degree you will on average earn one million more dollars over the course of your life time. That isn’t to say that you’ll be rich. One million divided by 50 years is only an extra $20,000 a year. Although this does add a certain level of economic comfortability.
The things that most of us learn at school become ingrained in our personalities and change our decisions and who we become. To say that someone who learned something new many years ago no longer deserves credit for it denys the wisdom that age gives us, and how we grow because of what we’ve learned.
What is needed is a change in the system. A 30-year-old or someone at any age shouldn’t become permanently ineligible for financial aid because of something they did fresh out of high school when they were 18. Also, no one should lose credit for previous work. I think that the solution is to have a financial aid grade forgiveness program. If a student goes to MassBay and gets five failing marks their first semester, it’s important to determine the reason they are failing. These are 18-year-olds who don’t know who they are or what they want, and often make mistakes. We all did. So why shouldn’t former wayward students get a second chance at academic success if they and/or their life circumstances have improved?
Five years could be a good amount of time to wait for FAFSA grade forgiveness, on the condition that a student has begun to show true maturity. This could be demonstrated by having held a job consistently as well as other accomplishments. Why should capable people without resources, yet who are motivated to learn be denied a chance? They certainly have earned and deserve a second chance.