A Washington state Senate bill will require all students receiving the State Need Grant to take an additional financial aid class if passed.
Substitute Senate Bill 6121, Financial Aid Counseling, will require the state office of financial assistance to create a counseling curriculum. The course would then be made available, with a possible online option, to higher education institutions in the state. According to the bill, the curriculum would include information about the State Need Grant rules, scholarships, work study and salaries of various careers.
The bill has passed through the House of Representatives and is currently being voted on in the Higher Education Committee.
“Even though it’s going to cost a little bit of money, about $25,000 to $28,000, to set this thing up, everybody seemed to think it was a good idea to do it,” said David Frockt, district 46 senator and bill sponsor. “To give students more better quality information about their potential student loan debts.”
Tristan Hanon, ASWSU director of legislative affairs (DoLA), said he pushed for this bill because he wanted to work with Frockt and see financial aid reforms.
“One thing that I really like about this is that it focuses on helping students plan out their financial situation all through their four years of college,” Hanon said.
The program created by the bill would help prevent students from dropping out and the state from losing money by increasing awareness about the requirements listed for recipients of the State Need Grant.
“The universities would have to make the opportunity for the students to do it but then they can kind of choose how to apply it,” Hanon said.
He said a WSU example would be if new students completed the assigned course when they attend Alive! or during their first few weeks of school.
At a Coug Day bill summary workshop, Monica Santos-Pinacho, a senior WSU-Vancouver marketing major, voiced her disagreement with the bill.
“People that are State Need eligible, that are Pell eligible, that means they have a low EFC, estimated family contribution, in order to be eligible for these grants,” she said. “We can’t just tell them ‘hey, people who fall under this bracket they have to do this, they have to take this class.' We’re singling them out.”
Santos-Pinacho said she agrees with the point that students should be aware of the State Need requirements. A lot of students are not aware of the expectations of a grant until it is too late, she said.
“There’s a lot of good stuff in here,” she said. “We just need to be careful with how it is addressed and that we don’t single people out.”
Santos-Pinacho said if students must attend a class physically then the university is singling them out as low income. This may cause the students to feel embarrassed and the university cannot do that, she said.
“If you require them to do it online, people don’t have to know about it,” Santos-Pinacho said. “They will be able to do it, it will be easier for them to get it done.”
Hanon said he was concerned by the bill because if students do not have the opportunity to complete the assigned course before the first few weeks of class they will have to pay tuition before their State Need Grants funds have been processed.
He said he spoke with Frockt about alternative wordings to this line that would give students more time. The effect of these talks was the eventual removal of the line from the bill, he said.
“I’d love to see this pass because it is something I’m pretty proud of,” Hanon said. “It lets me say that I’ve had an impact on a piece of legislation and it’s a pretty big deal that something that concerned our students eventually changed the way legislation is.”