EXPLAINER: UM financial aid policy change

Photo credit: Roberta Macedo

The University of Miami has indicated that students might not be able to fund their second majors or minors with federal or state financial aid. That entails any scholarship, grant, benefit or loan provided by the state of Florida or the federal government.

The new policy, first posted publicly earlier this March, would affect students receiving the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship, the FL EASE grant, Pell grants, all federal loans, the Florida Incentive Scholarship, the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, the Florida Supplemental Assistance Grant and Federal Work Studies.

UM has yet to send an email to the entire student body regarding the rule change. In its place, The Miami Hurricane has created this explainer to help students navigate the new policy as they choose classes for the fall 2024 academic semester, when enforcement of the policy will begin

This semester, some students received an email warning them that they were not in compliance with the policy. Presumably, a student only receives a warning email once they’re already in violation.

What does the UM policy officially say?

According to a recently posted tab on UM’s financial aid Terms and Conditions titled “:

“Federal financial aid regulations require that enrollment status (i.e. full time, half time, etc.) be based solely upon courses required for the student’s primary major and degree. This means that courses taken outside of the degree requirements will not count for establishing a student’s enrollment status for financial aid, and will not be considered in payment of Federal or state financial aid, including scholarships, grants, loans and work study. Students who pursue minors or second majors should be aware that this restriction applies to courses not needed for their primary degree and therefore may impact them as well. If a student has questions about their particular circumstance, they should speak with their academic advisor.”

The federal regulations have long existed, but UM is only now taking action to make sure its in compliance. Otherwise, the university could face fines.

How does that impact me?

Every undergraduate student at UM declares a “primary major.” Every student then must complete at least 120 credits as described by their primary major’s “Curriculum Requirements,” which can be found on the University of Miami’s Academic Bulletin.

For example, if a student’s primary major is international studies (course code INS), they must complete 36 credits of INS classes, along with their required 18 credits of Cognates and nine credits of math and writing requirements. The student then has 57 credits of electives left to complete their primary major, also known as their “Program of Study.”

Another example: If a student’s primary major is biochemistry (course code BMB), they must complete 70 credits towards BMB and 24 credits of Cognates and other requirements. They’re left with 26 credits of electives to finish their Program of Study.

Some students might accumulate credits in high school or at another institution that satisfy the major’s requirements. These would count towards the Program of Study as well. If a credit can’t be allocated to a specific requirement, it counts as an elective credit in the Program of Study.

If a student has used all of their elective credits and completed their primary major requirements, then they have officially completed their Program of Study. This would mean they can no longer use federal or state financial aid to fund their education at UM.

Using the Biochemistry major example, imagine the student also wanted to complete a second major in mathematics. They could take classes exclusively for their Biochemistry major, complete their general education requirements, then use their 26 leftover elective credits to take 26 credits of their math major. However, to complete the math major, they would have to take nine more credits of math. Those credits would be paid for out of pocket.

In a statement to The Miami Hurricane, UM advised students to reach out to their academic advisors with any questions.

Confusion abounds

The Miami Hurricane has received conflicting reports that students receiving grants and merit scholarships from UM have been told by their advisors that these forms of aid may or may not cover courses outside of the “Courses in Program of Study.” It has also received reports of students being told certain grants will not be impacted, when the policy indicates otherwise.

The Miami Hurricane has repeatedly reached out to Daniel Barkowitz, the assistant vice president of Financial Assistance and Employment at UM, and received no response. The Miami Hurricane also reached out to other top officials at UM for clarification on the policy, but were redirected to Barkowitz.