Release Date: May 2, 2019
BUFFALO, N.Y. — There are two kinds of information gaps for students navigating the frequently intimidating cost of going to college, says Nathan Daun-Barnett, associate professor and chair of the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy in the University at Buffalo’s Graduate School of Education
The first information gap affects aspiring students hoping to get into colleges and universities and looking for money to make college more affordable and reasonable, says Daun-Barnett, PhD, who has been instrumental in establishing College Success Centers at seven Buffalo public schools to help hundreds of low-income, underrepresented students navigate the college-choice process each year.
The second one is just as important and often overlooked, according to Daun-Barnett. This information gap affects students enrolled in higher education who have already been awarded and are receiving financial aid.
“The gap in information doesn’t go away when these students actually get to college,” he says. “There are different challenges students face then.”
He has examples. One of the graduate students working with Daun-Barnett dropped several courses this semester for health reasons.
“On that level, it made sense,” Daun-Barnett says. “But he didn’t think how it would affect his financial aid. You drop your classes, and you no longer have what is known as the cost of attendance, which includes tuition, fees, room, board, books and related expenses.
“We had given him a tuition waiver to cover the cost, and the government wanted the money back. He had qualified for financial aid through the federal government, on subsidized loans, and he’s no longer eligible. So these loans have to go back.”
Undergraduate students face similar risks. Each year, numerous UB students lose their New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) aid, he says.
“In the past, several hundred students lost their TAP each year,” Daun-Barnett says. “This year, the numbers nearly doubled. Part of that had to do with the way we changed our procedures. But some of it had to do with policy, and how complicated it is.”
TAP requires students receiving aid to complete at least 12 credits considered degree-applicable, according to Daun-Barnett. That means these courses have to apply to their major, or their overall degree program.
So after two years of undergraduate work, students frequently don’t have much flexibility left in their schedules, Daun-Barnett explains.
“You really have to take everything toward your degree,” he says. “So if you don’t take 12 credits each semester toward your degree, you’re going to lose eligibility for TAP.”
“Five of my interns lost their financial aid like that, and these are folks who I am training in financial aid,” he says. “So understanding the implications of your non-monetary decisions is important as well.”
Hoping to bridge that information gap for students already enrolled in classes, Daun-Barnett compiled a quick list of important points to remember:
Financial aid advice for current undergraduates
Also, you should know how much you will need to earn in order to pay back your loans, Daun-Barnett says. Loan-repayment calculators can help with this, he says, adding that all students should complete financial aid exit counseling upon graduating.