The latest communication from the University administration on the issue of the 'X' grade and financial aid eligibility is confusing. The suggested threats to aid eligibility as a result of using such grades are vague, though the communication implies that they are beyond the control of the University and a consequence of federal regulations. The policies online seem clear both about the use of the “X” grade and its relation to financial aid eligibility.
Federal Aid policies require that institutions develop a set of eligibility requirements that meet certain standards (which the UO policies apparently do). They also specify processes for reviewing eligibility on a regular basis and making a determination about Student Academic Progress (SAP) (see http://ifap.ed.gov/fsahandbook/attachments/1415FSAHbkVol4Ch3.pdf). Under the UO policy, “X” grades are treated as “non-passing” grades and these do not count toward SAP. The concern expressed by the administration is that “X” grades could affect a student’s academic progress. According to the Federal guidelines, reviews of SAP (for programs lasting more than one year) may take place annually at the end of a financial aid pay period (though they may take place more frequently). The specific UO review policy is not included in the public Financial Aid website. However, federal regulations permit institutions to place students who are determined not to be making satisfactory progress on financial aid warning for one term. Students may then demonstrate satisfactory progress according to the institution’s standards. Students who lose financial aid eligibility may appeal: “When a student loses FSA eligibility because he [sic] failed to make satisfactory progress, if the school permits appeals, he may appeal that result on the basis of: his injury or illness, the death of a relative, or other special circumstances. His appeal must explain why he failed to make satisfactory progress and what has changed in his situation that will allow him to make satisfactory progress at the next evaluation.” The UO apparently allows appeals (and in the case of “X” grades apparently routinely responds to them by asking students to prove “participation”). Under the present circumstances, awarding hundreds or thousands of “X” grades would lead to a daunting number of appeals, but such appeals appear to be possible under current UO policies and federal regulations.
The financial aid system is complex and it is possible that UO financial aid professionals could provide additional information about the use of “X” grades, eligibility, appeals, and so on, that would lead to different conclusions. However, given the federal regulations regarding student financial aid eligibility, it appears that the University administration, through the financial aid office, is primarily responsible for determining eligibility and providing a system of appeal for responding to special circumstances. Existing UO policies and federal regulations then would appear to make the use of “X” grades a “viable” (though potentially time- and resource-consuming) option.
The financial aid system is about access to higher education and depends upon transparency, with clear enforceable rules and appeal processes to ensure that the system serves the needs of our students. It is important that communications on these matters are clear and consistent. It is important that the University administration take seriously their responsibilities in the present situation and make sure that our students (graduate and undergraduate) are the central concern.