Valley Works: Financial aid changes

FRESNO, California

The tightening of financial aid guidelines is part of an effort to make sure students receiving federal financial aid complete their education. But some educators say the new rules could block the pathway to a better job for those without a high school diploma.

Maria Melgoza, 52, is hard at work preparing to take a test that will help her get her GED, completing high school is something she knows she should have done thirty years ago. Maria has learned that without that piece of paper her options are very limited.

Melgoza said, "If I want a good job, an office job or a little career you don't have it because the first thing they ask you is where is your high school diploma."

And because of new federal guidelines, those without a high school diploma or GED are not only having their options for higher education severely limited but they are also no longer eligible to receive federal financial aid. Lizette Haros, with the Institute of Technology explains how it use to be.

Haros said, "Anyone that was wanting to further their education could take an assessment test based on the successful completion of the test they are able to enroll and receive federal grants that is no longer the case."

As of July first it is no longer enrolling students who don't have a high school diploma. Heald College, another for profit institution said it stopped the practice one year ago because this group of students were very high risk. They are more likely to default on their loans and not complete their education. Carolyn Pierce, president of Heald's Fresno campus said the colleges were being blamed for the outcomes.

Pierce said, "And Heald could not take that risk that we were going to penalize for helping these students."

Community colleges may be the last hope for many of these students who will still face some restrictions.

Kira Tippins said, "I definitely think we are going to see a difference in our student population."

Tippins, Director of Financial Aid and Scholarships for Fresno City College says while students without a high school diploma will still be able to enroll in classes, they will not be eligible to receive financial aid, such as the pell grant, money they use to buy books, supplies and pay for transportation.

Tippins said, "Without financial aid, what we here from a lot of students is they would not be able to afford it on their own."

And with the economy in a slump more students than ever are depending on financial help.

Melgoza said, "Right now I have a part-time job and I'm barely making it and financially I couldn't afford to go to school."

Fresno City College says a small group of students who are already enrolled in classes may still be eligible to receive financial aid, but it will be done on a case by case bases.

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