THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF Education has been working overtime to implement a complicated new grant program that provides up to $4,000 a year for aspiring teachers.
Congress created the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant last year as part of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act. It sent the DOE and financial aid offices scrambling to develop regulations and practices to properly distribute grants when the program officially begins on July 1. One DOE official said the process was like "putting together a bicycle while riding it."
Those at campuses opting to participate should be preparing now, setting up systems and procedures to enable the registrar's, admissions, and academic offices to work with the financial aid office on program implementation and operation. These offices can share the considerable burden of administering TEACH Grants and reduce the risk of students being harmed instead of helped by the program.
The TEACH program is like a loan forgiveness program turned on its head. It offers a grant with the potential to become a loan, or, as it is commonly referred to by administrators, a "groan." Grant recipients must fulfill a four-year teaching obligation at a low-income school in a subject designated as "high need" within eight years of leaving the program for which they received the TEACH Grant. If they don't, the grant is permanently converted into a federal loan, with interest accruing from the date the "grant" was given.
Not confused yet? To be eligible, a student must have and maintain a 3.25 grade point average or score above the 75th percentile on an admissions test (e.g., ACT), and be enrolled (or intend to enroll) in a TEACH Grant-eligible course of study.
Higher ed institutions are responsible for informing students about the program's intricacies and providing counseling to recipients. Also, IHEs must determine and track students' eligibility. The financial aid office can't do all this alone.
The FAFSA, which contains a check box to indicate interest in TEACH grants, is a good place to start. But that's only a first step. The financial aid office must consult with the registrar's, admissions, and academic offices to ensure that interested students meet all the requirements.
Once candidates are identified, start informing them about the program. Its complexity, as well as troubling estimates of the large number of recipients who will fail to complete the teaching obligations, suggests that students will need as much information as possible, as early as possible.
The financial aid and academic offices will track grant recipients. The financial aid office will work with the academic and registrar's offices to ensure that campus systems identify which courses of study are TEACH-eligible.
Financial aid office staff must be informed of any TEACH recipient who leaves the program, so that the appropriate counseling can be provided within required time frames. Recipients who leave school without completing the program must inform the DOE within 120 days where they are now fulfilling (or still plan to fulfill) the program's teaching requirements. Financial aid offices will rely on other offices to help track students' enrollment in TEACH-eligible courses of study. Students leaving a TEACH-eligible course of study can be informed and hopefully avoid having their grants mistakenly converted to loans.
The goal should be to have as many eyes, ears, and mouths monitoring and advising students as possible. Campuses with a counseling culture, where students can receive timely information about TEACH Grants from various offices, will maximize the benefits of the program and minimize the drawbacks to their students.
Haley Chitty is assistant director of communications at NASFAA, www.nasfaa.org.