Satisfactory Academic Progress: Making Financial Aid Work for Today’s Students

A satisfactory academic progress, or SAP, reset can make college more affordable for low-income Americans, especially the 39 million with some college and no credential (SCNC) population. Higher Learning Advocates’ analyzed how in a new higher education policy brief, Satisfactory Academic Progress: Making Financial Aid Work for Today’s Students.

In the brief, we highlight how a student’s eligibility for federal financial aid relies on SAP, defined as maintaining a minimum 2.0 GPA and passing enough classes to graduate within 150% of the expected timeframe. While the SAP requirement served a purpose when it was established 47 years ago, our research explains how SAP records have become a hidden barrier for returning adult students, especially the SCNC population. We also provide a roadmap of recommended federal policy changes and clarifications to help “SAP-ed out” students return to school.

Students Speak Out on Resetting SAP

Meet Andrea Dargo, a student at Cerritos College in Norwalk, California, who recently completed the arduous appeals process to reinstate her financial aid after she was placed on academic probation 10 years ago.


The Disproportionate Impact on Underserved Students

Re-enrollment of the SCNC population, a diverse group of Americans of which nearly 45% are Black, Hispanic, and Native American, has become a growing priority for institutions of higher education (IHEs). Other key points in the brief include:

  • Among those students who failed to meet SAP standards, roughly 77% were students from low-income backgrounds who lost their Pell Grant award.
  • Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous American students failed to meet SAP more than twice the rate of their white peers.
  • Expunging SAP records can particularly impact returning adult students who face challenges that may affect their academic performance, such as trouble securing stable and affordable child care, job loss, financial duress, or other circumstances outside their control.
  • Innovative responses by IHEs with proven solutions to current SAP challenges.

The brief is also released as part of HLA’s Widen the Path campaign, working to break down barriers between higher education and the workforce.

Download the full SAP policy brief

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