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When financial aid checks arrive, students vanish, writes Julie White, a community college instructor, on The 2-Year Track. The college gets the aid money, deducts tuition and sends students the rest in a “refund” check to cover living expenses.

Of the 27 students who originally enrolled in my course, I have 16 in class today. As I hand back the first test of the semester, I remark that maybe a lot of people have spring fever on this sunny day. One of my students suggests a different reason for the high number of absences, saying, “Well, refund checks were sent this week. By next week, there won’t be any problem finding parking on campus.”

college financial aid checks
Joe May

Vanishing students may have problems with child care, medical issues or work demands, she writes. But there is an upswing in disappearances when the checks arrive.

Louisiana’s technical colleges, which focus on job training, cost only $450 a semester for full-time students. Pell Grant recipients collect about $2,500 for living expenses, 79 percent of the grant.  “We see a pattern of people getting Pell checks and immediately dropping all their classes or they stop going to class,” says Joe May, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System. “They’re enrolling not to get an education but to get a check.”

After two semesters of failed or dropped classes, aid recipients lose eligibility for more grants. They have to enroll on their own dime and raise their grade point average to a 2.0 (C) to qualify. Most don’t try.

Vanishing students are less common at Louisiana’s community colleges, which charge more for tuition and return only 38 percent of the Pell Grant to enrollees. May hopes to discourage aid abuse by raising technical-college tuition to 55 percent of the Pell Grant.

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