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New policy announced
on grad student aid

Doctoral students in the research phase of their program must now be registered for full-time coursework to be eligible for financial aid.

A new interim policy, which took effect July 1, prohibits students from having their advisors sign a registration card indicating they are full-time students. The policy will remain in effect while the University seeks a more permanent solution.

The so-called "continuing registration" procedure enabled students to be eligible for full financial aid but, because it provided no record of credits on their transcript, now threatens the continuation of federal aid for students.

In February, the U.S. Department of Education told the University that its procedures were out of compliance with their regulations, says James Henkel, associate dean of the graduate school. "If we do not get on board now, they could declare us ineligible for need-based aid, which would take away tens of millions of dollars a year in aid to all students."

To rectify this situation, graduate students applying for work-study money this summer had to register for at least five credits of coursework. Because graduate courses are limited during the summer, the graduate faculty council created two new five-credit research courses, Grad 395 and 495, Henkel says.

Caroline Miner, president of the Graduate Student Senate, said she and others were concerned about the change because of sparse summer offerings. "Once the administration realized this was a problem they took immediate measures to solve it," she said. "In the short run, the new policy has delayed the processing of summer aid but in the long run this new policy will have no effect on us."

The interim policy may not fully solve the problem, Henkel says, because of the satisfactory academic progress limit which allows students to take up to 150 percent of the number of credits required for the degree. To earn a doctorate you must complete 44 credit hours. "Picture a student taking nine credits per semester plus five in the summer to remain full-time. These students will be finishing their coursework in two years, which only gives them about another two years to finish their dissertations before they run out of the number of credits they can take and still be eligible for financial aid" says Henkel.

"The most optimistic time to degree is five or six years and it is often longer," Henkel says. "Even students who take the five or six years will exceed the satisfactory academic progress limit if they have to take 23 credits a year."

Not only will students be facing the pressure of finishing their degree in four years but the financial responsibilities could be great, particularly in the case of a student who does not have a grad assistantship. "Such a student would now qualify for more aid, so it would put an even bigger strain on the University's limited financial aid resources," Henkel says.

One way Henkel hopes to avoid this problem is by creating a research course that does not carry any credits but declares that the University is supporting a student doing full-time research.

If the Department of Education doesn't approve of this plan, Henkel says, another potential solution may be to redefine full-time status.

The graduate faculty council may decide that those students who have finished all of their coursework and have nothing left but their dissertation only have to take three credits a semester to be considered full-time, he says. In that case, Henkel says, UConn may begin to charge students for using the University's resources to complete their field work, as already happens at many other institutions across the country.