What is a “Satisfactory Academic Progress” Policy for Financial Aid?

Have you heard the term ”Satisfactory Academic Progress” or SAP? SAP pertains to financial aid eligibility and discussions of the policy are a result of federal regulations incorporated into the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, which require students to be making Satisfactory Academic Progress in order to continue to receive federal financial aid.  This federal aid includes all Direct Student Loans, Pell Grants, Federal Work Study, Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, Perkins Loans and Parent PLUS Loans.

Changes to this regulation are designed to prevent students from indefinitely continuing to receive federal aid and to ensure “program integrity.” Essentially, it is intended to prevent a school from allowing your student to continue to accumulate debt while not making adequate progress toward the finish line.

The primary change to this law is a no tolerance policy which no longer allows for an automatic warning period with continuation of aid.  In other words, at many institutions in the past, students who failed to meet SAP policy standards were granted an automatic grace period during which time they could work towards returning to good standing while still receiving aid.  New regulations require that students who fail to make Satisfactory Academic Progress automatically lose their aid immediately.

Satisfactory Academic Progress is determined by three factors.  Students must achieve a minimum Grade Point Average (GPA) which is required for good standing at their institution.  (For many schools, this is a 2.0 on a 4 point scale or equivalent, although there may be a slightly lower standard for first-year students.)  Students must be progressing on pace toward graduation (usually completing a minimum of 67% of attempted credits during a term).  Students must complete their degree within 150% of the required credits required for a degree.  (For example, if 120 credits are required for graduation, students must complete their degree within 180 attempted credits.)

Each school adapts these requirements to fit its own calculations and degree requirements, but the principle standards remain the same.

Students are reviewed at least annually for compliance with SAP.  Those who have not achieved required standards lose federal aid, but may appeal to continue.  The standards for granting appeals are more restrictive than in the past, but include death of an immediate family member, serious illness of the student or an immediate family member, extreme circumstances beyond the student’s control or some undue hardship.  Documentation is usually required.  The deciding committee at each school determines whether they believe that the circumstances will continue to interfere with the student’s progress.

This policy may seem harsh, and the appeal process can help, but it is important for students and parents to understand that this policy is intended to protect families from ever increasing debt if students cannot complete their degree.Students whose appeals are granted may receive a semester of probation during which they will continue to receive aid.  They will need to achieve Satisfactory Academic Progress by the end of that semester.

For some students, for whom it may not be mathematically possible to achieve SAP by the end of the semester (because their GPA was too low, for instance) the college will create an Academic Plan which will contain clear and limited  conditions and expectations for what the student must accomplish within a determined timeframe.

Federal SAP regulations require that institutions monitor student progress carefully.  They are intended to ensure that students are making reasonable progress toward a college degree in order to receive federal aid.

If your student receives federal aid and is struggling, work closely with the financial aid office and any support personnel at the institution to help you and your student understand the specific requirements and processes at the school.  If you know that your student is struggling, don’t wait until the official letter arrives.  Begin to work early to understand what is involved.  Help your student understand what may be at stake.

This article is intended to be an overview of SAP Policy only.  Please check with your student’s institution for specific explanation of regulations and processes.

Related Articles:

What to Do If Your College Student is on Academic Probation

How to Help Your College Student Use the Appeal Process Effectively

Should My College Student Withdraw from College?

Talking to Your College Student About Grades

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