Attending Class Affects Federal Aid


Published: October 20, 2010

Have you noticed that professors have become stricter with taking attendance this semester? That’s because it isn’t just something that might factor in determining your grade—it’s something directly related to federal financial aid and is closely monitored by the government.

This year, the government is paying closer attention to whether students receiving financial aid actually complete their courses.  If they don’t, the money given to the University by the government must be returned.

Blue sheets, attendance rosters used by professors, are the way Fordham determines who is showing up for class, which in turn tells them if they need to return financial aid to the government for a student not attending.

“Attendance has become a big ger deal this year,” Dean Mattson, associate dean at Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC), said. “The federal government has gotten much tighter about returning financial aid money for students that don’t attend. This means we need to identify these students right away, and return the money.”

An e-mail sent to professors said, “Federal regulations require that we monitor students who have received federal funds and ceased to be enrolled prior to the end of the period of enrollment.”

“Our bookkeeping on this has not been great and we need to work on that,” Mattson said. He explained, “We would lose millions of dollars—a whole category of federal funding” if records are not accurate

“What is important,” said Patricia Peek Ph.D., associate director of Admission, “is that if a school is out of compliance more than once it could become ineligible to offer its students federal financial aid.  At Fordham, that would be an impact of over $170 million dollars.”

According to Peek, federal regulations are in place that mandates the University determine how much federal aid to return to specific government programs if a student withdraws just after 60 percent of the semester.

Last year, approximately 60 students had federal aid returned. In August of 2009, Peek said, “52 students withdrew, which resulted in a return of $134,566 in federal financial aid.”

If a student did begin classes and attended for at least two-thirds of the semester, they are entitled to receive some financial aid.  If it is determined that a student did not attend class, financial services must, according to Peek, “complete an audit of the federal aid awarded and determine how much financial aid the student is eligible for.”

While adding or dropping one class won’t affect your financial aid, if your enrollment is in error, refunds must be made. “Fordham is required to back out the aid and return it to the federal aid programs,” said Angela Van Dekker, assistant vice president of Student Financial Services. “The student is not [attending class] and therefore not entitled to financial aid.”

Although this blue sheet roster system has always been in place at Fordham, the government has become stricter this year with monitoring “for-profit” schools, many of whom have been suspected of abusing a student’s financial aid by keeping it.

Mattson, who has been sending out e-mails every week urging professors to return their blue sheets, said, “My impression is that this had to with the for-profits school argument… Taking financial aid from people who are not showing up and making money from it. They made the date [to return blue sheets] sooner for this in response to alleged abuses in for-profit sector.”

So what does this mean for students who do drop out of their classes? Will it be challenging for them to receive federal aid in the future? According to Peek, it depends on the aid programs.

“Students that continue withdrawing from all of their classes or even some of their classes in the long run may not make academic progress. Each school has defined GPA requirements and course completion requirements in their catalogues.  If they are not making progress according to the school’s policy, they might not be eligible for aid.”

Peek said that some federal loans, like New York State Tap, require students to finish a minimum number of credits in order to receive aid. Other loans, like Stafford, put a limit on the amount you can take out.

“When students don’t earn the credits they attempt, they may use up their loan eligibility before they graduate,” Peek said.

Although heightened focus has been placed on the importance of recording attendance, Peek said that only 70 percent of the blue sheets have been returned so far.