Students Receiving Federal Aid Are Not Making Satisfactory Academic Progress:

Tougher Standards Are Needed

HRD-82-15: Published: Dec 3, 1981. Publicly Released: Dec 3, 1981.

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Each year, the government provides billions of dollars in financial aid to students seeking a postsecondary education. GAO visited 20 institutions of higher education and reviewed more than 5,800 randomly selected student transcripts to report on the academic progress requirements of federally funded student aid programs.

There are no uniform requirements among the three federal agencies who administer the major higher education programs regarding the satisfactory academic progress of students receiving financial aid. GAO found that many students receiving financial aid were not making satisfactory progress. This resulted mainly from school standards that allowed students to remain eligible for aid without proving that they were moving toward a definite goal, with adequate grades, and at a reasonable rate. In general, fewer instances of poor progress were noted among Veterans Administration (VA) aid recipients than Department of Education or Social Security Administration recipients due to the more stringent requirements set by VA. Nonenforcement of academic progress standards is a major problem. Nine of the schools visited were not enforcing their published standards. GAO estimated overpayments of about $1.28 million for schools which had not enforced their standards for Education aid recipients. Weak and nonspecific federal requirements have led to abuse of the student aid programs. Tighter academic progress standards would save federal funds now being paid to students not making satisfactory progress. With a uniform federal policy, schools would encounter fewer differences in the requirements for administering the agencies' programs, and federal agencies would be better able to coordinate their efforts in setting requirements and monitoring their enforcement. Also, students might be encouraged to enroll in programs which are more suited to their abilities.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Matter for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: Congress should amend the Social Security Act to require students receiving postsecondary education benefits to maintain satisfactory progress in the course of study pursued according to the standards and practices of the school attended. Congress should also amend the Social Security Act and the Higher Education Act of 1965 to authorize the Departments of Health and Human Services and Education to issue regulations setting forth general requirements for institutions of higher education to follow in establishing progress standards.

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The SSA financial aid program is in the second year of a 3-year phaseout period. Program expenditures will be minimal from now to the program's termination. The Department of Education states that it will be able to issue regulations without congressional action.

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Administrator of Veterans Affairs should issue regulations, supplementing those now in effect, to require institutions of higher education to include provisions in their academic progress standards which would require students to move toward graduation or program completion at a reasonable rate.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: No action will be taken at this time because VA does not agree that action is needed. The action will be discussed with VA again when Education issues regulations.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Health and Human Services and Education should issue regulations setting forth general requirements that institutions must meet in establishing academic progress standards for postsecondary students receiving Education and Social Security Administration financial aid. These regulations should specify that an institution establish, publish, and enforce academic progress standards for students receiving the aid. The institutions should also be required to show how the academic progress standards relate to the schools' probation/suspension policies and what a student has to do to have financial aid reinstated.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Education issued regulations on October 6, 1983.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Health and Human Services and Education should issue regulations setting forth general requirements that institutions must meet in establishing academic progress standards for postsecondary students receiving Education and Social Security Administration financial aid. These regulations should specify that an institution establish, publish, and enforce academic progress standards for students receiving the aid. The institutions should also be required to show how the academic progress standards relate to the schools' probation/suspension policies and what a student has to do to have financial aid reinstated.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) should ensure that the Department of Education, the Social Security Administration, and the Veterans Administration coordinate their efforts in setting and enforcing requirements for academic progress standards under student financial aid programs in an effort to improve administration at both the federal and institutional levels.

    Agency Affected: Veterans Administration

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Because the SSA program is being phased out and VA does not agree with the recommendation, only the Department of Education will take action on the recommendations. Therefore, there is no need for OMB to ensure agency coordination.

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