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VVC looks to curb grant abuse
"About 60 percent of all students who start college programs don't finish it." — Peter Allan, executive vice president of instruction and student services at Victor Valley College
VICTORVILLE • When she began attending college, Hillary Vairin said she quickly learned some tricks about how to "work the system." Little did she know her plan wouldn't be as fruitful as she hoped.
Vairin’s plan was to get her elective courses finished first and build up her credits so she could qualify for an earlier priority registration date, as core classes were in high demand and the few available slots filled up fast.
But Vairin, 20, learned that those seats in core classes are quickly filled by students who never show up or who drop classes just weeks after the semester begins, leaving her with nothing to do but take more elective courses to keep her full-time status.
“About 60 percent of all students who start college programs don’t finish it,” said Peter Allan, executive vice president of instruction and student services at Victor Valley College. “They (students) borrow a bunch of money and get grants, but won’t finish. And we’re trying to remedy that by helping them understand the rigors of college the first year.”
Thanks to state and federal grant money, students who qualify for financial aid can attend college with little to no out-of-pocket money, and there are no requirements in place for grant funds that ensure students actually complete their classes.
Financial aid fraud has become a troubling trend at four-year universities, two-year community colleges and especially at for-profit schools, according to Allan, especially with the recent increase in the demand for funds.
According to the Student Financial Aid Report released by the California Community College’s Chancellors office in August, community college financial aid recipients have doubled from $610,000 to 1.2 million, and financial aid dollars have nearly tripled, from $895 million to nearly $2.6 billion over the past eight years.
“It can be devastating for people,” Allan said, explaining that it makes it difficult for serious students to get the courses they need and for students who may be predisposed to quitting. “What we need to do universally, is help them understand what it takes to pass and develop the skills they need to pass.”
Both Cal and Pell grants — which do not have to be paid back — can be abused by students who don’t use the money for education.
“It’s really, really, really infuriating,” said Vairin, who plans to transfer to Humboldt State in 2014, but needs one four-unit anthropology class to be considered full-time to get her grant money and financial aid. “I’m on the wait list, and I’ve seen it happen — people sign up and then drop. It’s like that movie ‘The Hunger Games’ — at the end you get to see who’s survived. By the end of the semester, the seats are empty.”
In the meantime, Vairin will have to take yet another elective if she does not get her anthropology course, lamenting about how that money will be essentially wasted on another class she does not need.
Allan said that VVC has developed plans to mitigate this problem by tailoring a program for high-risk students who drop out.
“The good news is that community colleges in general have a higher success rate than propriety colleges,” Allan said. “Our primary job is to develop a study plan and an education plan — they will drop out if it doesn’t interest them.”
The school has also adopted a 30/70 disbursement method that ensures students who abuse grant money cannot make out with the entire amount. The plan gives students 30 percent of their grant money the first month of classes and the remaining 70 percent of their funds the final two weeks of the semester.
Lynnea Lombardo may be reached at (760) 951-6232 or at LLombardo@VVDailyPress.com.
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