January 24, 2023

Well Intentioned, but Misguided: JBAY Reforms Outdated Academic Standards

Well Intentioned, but Misguided: JBAY Reforms Outdated Academic Standards

Andrea Dargo was putting her life back together. After abruptly leaving college and moving out of California due to domestic violence 10 years earlier, she enrolled in Cerritos College in Los Angeles County. Andrea knew that a college degree was essential to achieve long-term economic security for herself and her young children. 

Unfortunately, Andrea’s path back to college was not so simple. After initially being told she would receive financial aid, it was quickly rescinded because of her academic record from 10 years earlier. When she abruptly left school due to domestic violence, she had failed several classes and did not make Satisfactory Academic Progress, known as SAP. To make SAP, students must maintain a 2.0 grade point average and complete 67% of courses attempted. 

Things went from bad to worse for Andrea, who had lost her housing at the same time. She was living in a hotel with her family. “I was so close to giving up, but I didn’t have that option. Financial aid was the only way I was going to keep a roof over our heads.”

To do so, Andrea had to navigate the complicated SAP appeal process, made more so by the fact that her school was closed due to the pandemic. “One of the hardest parts of the process was showing documentation. How do I prove that that I was in a domestic violence situation? I was still being blamed for a relationship that I was in 10 years ago.”

Andrea is one of thousands of young people impacted by outdated SAP policies that disproportionately harm low-income students of color, including foster youth. JBAY is working to make college within reach for these young people by reforming SAP. Last week, JBAY released a new publication highlighting the impact of SAP and providing policy recommendations to reduce its impact. 

Gina Browne, Dean of Educational Services and Support at the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, presented on a web seminar that coincided with the release of the publication. She agrees with the need to strengthen and standardize SAP policies. “Ensuring equitable access to financial aid is critical to helping students address their basic needs. Stagnant policies do not close equity gaps.”

Although the process was challenging, Andrea remained persistent. In addition to maintaining good grades, she tried to connect with as many people at her school as she could. “I had no other choice but to continue the process, so that I could stay enrolled in college and provide for my family. It took two semesters before I was finally able to get financial aid.”

Andrea has found a passion in helping other students know about the resources that are available to them. She became a Student Wellness Ambassador, where she conducted outreach to students who were facing basic needs insecurities. She recently completed her Associate’s degree at Cerritos College and is planning to transfer to Cal State Fullerton.

Senior Project Manager Sarah Pauter leads the SAP reform work at JBAY. “Stories like Andrea’s illustrate the archaic nature of SAP policies and how counterproductive they are to achieving educational equity. Until they are reformed through legislation, campuses should leverage the enormous flexibilities they are granted under current federal regulations.”

The time for action is now, according to Sarah. “There is no reason a student like Andrea should be denied aid for multiple terms or be asked to produce documentation that is not only unreasonable but retraumatizing. I hope more campuses take the time to audit their current policies and financial aid appeals processes to help students maintain their aid and stay enrolled.”