The period during which students at St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) can drop or add a course from their course schedules was shortened at the beginning of this academic year, sparking confusion from some students and faculty. The policy change comes as a decision made by the Office of Registrar at the recommendation of the Financial Aid Office.
On August 27, 2017, SMCM’s registrar, Nick Tulley, sent an all-student email explaining the change. The “schedule adjustment period” — commonly referred to as the “drop/add period” — was shortened from four weeks to two. Changing one’s schedule during the first week is free, but during the second week students are charged a $25 fee to change their course load. Prior to this school year, students had two free weeks followed by two weeks with a fee.
Tulley also sent a reminder of the policy change prior to the start of the spring semester.
“It’s a federal policy that the Financial Aid Office has to follow,” Tulley explained to The Point News (TPN), the policy is in place “to try and keep students … from enrolling full time and then dropping out but still taking the financial aid money.”
Tulley says that he referred to what other institutions do in order to set a drop/add period timeline. “I could not find another school that [had] four weeks [of] drop/add [time]. The typical is two or one week drop/add [period], which is why I took ours to two weeks.”
Rob Maddox, director of financial aid at SMCM, told TPN that his office recommended the change around a year ago, in the spring of 2017, to comply with “some of the federal guidelines we have to follow.” Maddox continued to say “it allows [the Financial Aid Office] to reconcile and put everything into place a little sooner.”
Tulley and Maddox both emphasized that the College was not breaking any rules, but rather acting to preempt any possible issues with audits in the future. If the federal auditors were to find SMCM out of compliance, then the SMCM would no longer be able to give financial aid to students which would, according to Tulley, “pretty much guarantee the doom of the College.”
Maddox told TPN that the financial aid regulation needing to be met is under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965. According to the United States Code, Title IV is meant “to assist in making available the benefits of postsecondary education to eligible students.”
Maddox also told TPN that the policy change was initiated due compliance necessities, but further clarified that this was not due to reprimands, rather to get out ahead of possible future audits.
“The next couple years will probably be tough; I’m not gonna lie,” Tulley told TPN in response to concerns about how quickly this change requires students to amend their schedule, “we will probably have to use judgment call to get through it.”
According to Tulley, the Integrated Computer System, commonly referred to as the Portal, was implemented in 1999. A updated system may make the process of registering for classes much easier and possibly quicker.
“We did not change [the drop/add period] to make it more difficult for students, faculty or any[one]. It was mainly a compliance reason … it wasn’t done to be spiteful.”