Home Trends in Higher Education What’s the Scoop on Federal Aid Roadblocks for Transfer Students?
What’s the Scoop on Federal Aid Roadblocks for Transfer Students?

What’s the Scoop on Federal Aid Roadblocks for Transfer Students?


Last week, Juana Sanchez and Lara Couturier wrote an article for Inside Higher Ed, reporting how the design of federal financial aid does not easily accommodate transfer students who move from one institution to another.

Nearly 40 percent of first-time students change institutions and nearly half of all bachelor’s degree graduates earn credits from community colleges, according to Ms. Sanchez and Ms. Couturier. Additionally, there are at least 15 million adults who have earned college credits but have not completed a degree. Looking at all of the facts, the authors conclude that the majority of today’s college students are likely to be transfer students.

While students may opt to move from one institution to another, their financial aid may not. The authors googled “transfer students” and “financial aid” and found out that transferring while using financial aid is not easily completed.

Quoting the Federal Student Aid site, the authors write that:

  • Most financial aid will not automatically transfer with you.
  • If your account is not settled, your transcript may be withheld.
  • Federal student aid loans automatically enter repayment status when you withdraw from one school to transfer to another.

Transfer processes are complex according to Ms. Sanchez and Ms. Couturier. Transfer students face a high degree of credit loss and receive unclear information about how many credits will be counted, how much time it will take to complete their degree, and how much they can expect it to cost.

Add to these issues the situation where the tuition at a new institution is higher than the previous institution, and the barriers to transfer may seem insurmountable. In addition to barriers in the federal aid program, the authors write that state financial aid is not designed for transfer students either. Only three states have aid designed for transfer students.

Ms. Sanchez and Ms. Couturier note that the Tackling Transfer Policy initiatives sponsored by the Aspen Institute are examining financial aid policies with the intention of making recommendations to Congress and the Biden administration. They add that they hope that policymakers at the federal and state levels take action to ensure that students transferring have actionable information and that aid is set up to follow students as they move from institution to institution.

Having examined adult college student persistence issues for nearly two decades, I agree with the observations of Ms. Sanchez and Ms. Couturier. At the same time, it’s time that federal student aid (and state aid) change to follow the enrollment patterns of non-traditional, mostly part-time adult students.

To receive federal aid benefits, students have to be enrolled at a minimum as a half-time student. To maximize benefits, students have to be enrolled full time. Transfer students, particularly those who work full-time, may want to try out their new institution and may not want to enroll in a full course load until they complete a course or two.

Add to that consideration of the fact that federal aid enrollment requirements look for students to comply with terms typical of a traditional academic year. Working adult students are more likely to enroll in courses whenever it meets their schedule. That schedule may or may not fit into the academic year terms mandated under federal student aid requirements.

Student aid programs at the federal and state level have been designed for full-time students who matriculated in college from high school. I concur with the authors that it’s time that Congress and the White House recognize the challenges encountered by transfer students and modify the federal aid rules to accommodate the needs of transfer students.



Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In September 2019, Dr. Boston retired as CEO of APEI and retired as APUS President in August 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. For four years from 2009 through 2012, APEI was ranked in Forbes' Top 10 list of America's Best Small Public Companies. During his tenure as president, APUS grew to over 85,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 100,000 alumni. While serving as APEI CEO and APUS President, Dr. Boston was a board member of APEI, APUS, Hondros College of Nursing, and Fidelis, Inc. Dr. Boston continues to serve as a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), a member of the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, and as a member of the board of New Horizons Worldwide. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. In August 2020, the Board of Trustees of APUS appointed him Trustee Emeritus. In November 2020, the Board of Trustees announced that the APUS School of Business would be renamed the Dr. Wallace E Boston School of Business in recognition of Dr. Boston's service to the university. Dr. Boston lives with his family in Austin, Texas.


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