Older students who don’t have a high school or general equivalency diploma will find it much harder to afford college after July 1, when federal grants and loans for those students disappear.
The financial help has been a boon for a small group of mostly nontraditional college students, many of whom are seeking a degree or job training.
“All you need to do is to look at our high school graduation numbers. You can only imagine how many people are out there without high school diplomas,” said Eugene Padilla, student services vice president at Central New Mexico Community College in Albuquerque.
For decades, students without a diploma or GED have qualified for federal aid by taking the so-called “ability to benefit” test, which determines whether they are fit for college. That program will disappear as of July 1, leaving those students without options for low-interest government loans or grants.
It was eliminated last year when Congress cut the Pell Grant program.
At CNM, it means the loss of more than $977,000 in federal aid to about 240 students a year who have no high school degree or GED but who pass the ability to benefit test, Padilla said.
The test measures skills in math, English and reading. Most students who pass it are still considered below college ready and usually take developmental courses, Padilla said.
However, CNM has set aside funding from the CNM Foundation and will direct employees to help students find other funding sources. He said CNM’s affordable tuition will help keep them in school.
Other schools around New Mexico predicted bigger problems.
“The impact for the individual student is going to be severe,” said Scott Whitaker, director of financial aid at Santa Fe Community College. Whitaker said although a vast majority of community college students have high school diplomas or GEDs, a small group of nontraditional students will be affected.
Cheryl Drangmeister, an associate vice president, said the program’s elimination will limit access “for students who go through a less traditional path to get a degree, and of course community colleges (are a) place where you see lots of those students.”
At the Albuquerque branch of Pima Medical Institute, a for-profit college, 3½ percent of students don’t have high school degrees or the equivalent, Chief Operating Officer Fred Freedman said. “As of July 1, (students) simply won’t likely be enrolling because they won’t have access to student grants or student loans,” Freedman said. “They aren’t going to be able to afford school without those (federal) loans.”
About 30 of the 850 or so students at the Albuquerque branch don’t have diplomas or GEDs. Pima accepts such students only for its certificate degree programs, such as the medical, veterinary and dental assistant programs.
“What’s unfortunate about this change in policy, in many cases, it’s an older student coming back for their diploma, changing jobs, or retraining or looking for a better opportunity for themselves or their family,” Freedman said. “They’re really going to be the ones who are going to be losing. It’s unfortunate, and I think there’s some unintended consequences that will have a negative impact on the worker looking for retraining."