June 21, 2023

Breaking Barriers to Financial Aid: JBAY Keeps the Dream Alive

Breaking Barriers to Financial Aid: JBAY Keeps the Dream Alive

Giving up her dream of a college education was never an option for Elizabeth Clews, a Youth Advocate at John Burton Advocates for Youth.

That was her message during the June 21st policy hearing of Assembly Bill (AB) 789, which will increase college retention and completion by helping students maintain financial aid. JBAY is a co-sponsor of AB 789, together with 8 leading college access organizations. 

Elizabeth lost all financial aid after struggling to meet Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP). She had recently aged out of foster care, lost her job and was living in a car with her infant daughter. But under the existing SAP policies, there was no option to consider these dire circumstances. 

According to Elizabeth, “I made the decision to drop out because I knew I couldn’t afford the cost, and I didn’t know I had the option to file an appeal.”

Five years after this experience, Elizabeth decided to try again and found that the criteria to prove a “special circumstance” still had not changed. But Elizabeth wasn’t giving up.  

“I was determined to be successful. I had to attend school for two years while paying tuition and fees out-of-pocket, and eventually, I was able to transfer.” She currently attends the University of California Santa Cruz, majoring in history and education.

Elizabeth is happy that she remained on track educationally, but knows that is not possible for many students. Additionally, current SAP policies added an extra 7 years to her undergraduate education. “I can’t help but imagine that had it not been for SAP-related barriers, I might have already graduated by now and be in a career.”

Joining Elizabeth at the hearing was Dr. Christina Tangalakis, Associate Dean of Student Financial Aid at Glendale Community College. At the hearing, Dr. Tangalakis explained that she has witnessed the disproportionate impact that SAP policies can inadvertently impose on our minoritized student populations.

Dr. Tangalakis implemented the approach included in AB 789 to prevent students from losing financial aid at Glendale Community College and found that it was a success. “These modifications, which were adopted without additional cost or staffing, resulted in a 30 percent decrease in the number of students not meeting SAP.”

According to Dr. Tangalakis, reforming SAP is critical to ensure equitable access to higher education. “We know that SAP dismissal status has a devastating effect on student persistence. By eliminating the barrier of a SAP dismissal and the subsequent need to appeal for reinstatement, we have eased an unnecessary burden to student success by simply leveraging the federal flexibilities granted to us in current regulation.”

Thanks to Elizabeth and Dr. Tangalakis, AB 789 passed successfully out of the Senate Education Committee. From here, it will move to Senate Appropriations and if successful, on Governor Newsom’s desk.