This fall the University of Maine adopted a financial aid proration policy. To prorate means to proportionally divide something. If you have certain types of financial aid and take less than 15 credits per semester, you will receive less aid based on that enrollment level. This news was received with mixed feelings from students.
“If you have financial aid and [are] applying for study abroad, you have to take at least 15 credits abroad, which isn’t recommended,” third-year student Maryam Kashkooli said. “You are there to take a few classes and experience studying abroad. Financial aid is necessary, but you’re ruining their experience.”
Kashkooli is planning to study abroad in Austria next spring.
Financial aid proration does not affect all students with financial aid, only those with certain types of aid, generally university merit and need-based aid. However, even within that subgroup, there are some forms of aid that are not subject to proration and some that are. There are also differences for continuing students and first-year students.
Continuing students on a merit scholarship signed a contract with the university — as long as they maintain 12 credits per semester, they can keep their scholarship at the full amount.
“We’re not going back on that,” Sarah Doheny, director of financial aid, said. “We didn’t feel like we could go back on our word to students.”
If you are a first-year student this fall, then the same type of aid is subject to proration when you take less than 15 credits.
Several students confused financial aid proration with UMaine’s new Flagship Match program. Starting this fall, qualified out-of-state first-years pay the same tuition and fee rate as their home state’s flagship institution.
“They are not related except that flagship scholarship is a type of aid that gets prorated,” Doheny explained. “It’s very easily misinterpreted or misunderstood.”
So why was financial aid proration implemented at UMaine? It is a common practice in higher education to prorate aid.
“UMaine is a little behind on the game, I would say, having not done that previously,” Doheny said. “Believe it or not it is a more equitable distribution of aid to students.”
In the past, if a student enrolled for 15 credits and dropped out of five, the federal government reduced the student’s aid. The state of Maine reduced the aid based on that enrollment level, UMaine did not.
Let’s say two students filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and their financial standing is the same. If student A takes 15 credits at UMaine and student B takes 10, both of them could be receiving the same amount of university gift aid, when student B is paying for five more credits.
“That’s not really equitable, and not the best use of our aid. As a public institution, we have a limited amount of aid for a lot of students,” Doheny explained.
The Office of Financial Aid is also trying to partner with the Think 30 Initiative. Think 30 is an initiative that encourages students to complete 30 credits per year. Graduating in four years, saving money and reducing debt are the intended benefits of this initiative. In the past UMaine did not have institutional aid offered for students taking summer courses.
“We want to find a way to rectify that,” Doheny said. The financial aid office is promoting taking 30 credits throughout the year. If your aid was reduced in the fall semester, but you plan to take summer courses, you can use the prorated aid toward summer term’s tuition and fees. Winter session, for academic and financial aid purposes, is part of spring semester. There isn’t financial aid specifically offered for winter term, but your spring aid can apply to it. Any aid that is reduced in fall or spring semesters can be put toward summer term.
“We wanted to make some aid available to students who choose to take summer courses. We didn’t have additional funding for that, so this [proration] helped us do that,” Doheny shared.
If you are continuing student and think that your financial aid will be prorated for next semester, you are encouraged to talk to the financial aid office at Wingate Hall.
“It’s really important for students to come and talk to the financial aid office so we can do the math,” Doheny said. “We can look at their specific financial aid award and determine if they have an aid that’s subject to proration, and determine what the amount will be based on their enrollment. We don’t want them making academic decisions without understanding what it [proration] actually means for them.”
Every student’s financial aid package is unique. If you have questions about financial aid proration, please call the Office of Financial Aid at 207-581-1324.