Changes to financial aid rules create challenges for NJC music programs

By SARA WAITE | | Sterling Journal-Advocate
PUBLISHED: May 19, 2022 at 7:17 p.m. | UPDATED: May 19, 2022 at 7:18 p.m.

May 20, 2022
News-NJC Concert Band during the Spring Ensemble 2022

he audience at Northeastern Junior College’s 2022 Spring Ensemble Concert on May 7 heard the results of a semester of work by the Concert Band, Contemporary Choir and Jazz Band, as well as a student band, The Chill Table, made up of work-study students in the music program.

They also heard a message about a new threat to the Liberal Arts Program.

Starting with the coming fall semester, new rules will be in place about how federal financial aid can be used, Liberal Arts Department Director Celeste Delgado-Pelton explained. A new audit system, referred to as the Course Point of Study (CPoS), will be in place to review each student’s course load and any classes that are not part of the student’s degree program can not be paid for using the federal funding.

Delgado-Pelton told the Journal-Advocate that she understands why the new restrictions are being put in place, namely to address the mounting problem of unpaid federal student loan debt.

“The idea was probably initially good,” she said.

However, one unfortunate side effect is that students who are not music majors — most of the students participating in NJC’s band and choir programs — won’t be able to use their federal aid to cover the cost of taking those classes. That means a business student wanting to play in the band or a nursing student wanting to sing in the choir would have to cover those costs out of pocket. The same limit would apply to, for example, non-art majors wanting to take a class like photography or painting.

The limits fly in the face of the liberal arts philosophy, Delgado-Pelton said; that is, providing a well-rounded education to produce well-rounded people. Beyond that, she added, many students struggle with mental health issues and for some, music is an outlet that helps relieve stress. She recalled that students used to be given options for electives as part of their general education requirements that allowed them to explore possible career interests or just build skills for hobbies they could enjoy for the rest of their lives.

During the concert, Delgado-Pelton announced that she and Lee Lippstrew, the NJC band director, had worked with the NJC Foundation to create a music ensemble scholarship that can cover the cost for non-music majors wanting to join a choir or band class. Such courses are mandated to be a single credit hour — no matter how much time is spent working on the materials — which comes out to around $180 per semester. She said the purpose of the scholarship fund is to ensure that any student who wants to join a band or choir can do so, and she invited the audience to contact the NJC Foundation if they are interested in donating to the fund. Those who want to ensure students are able to take other interest-based classes that will no longer qualify for federal aid could also work with the Foundation to set up a similar fund.

If interested in donating, you can contact Vivian Hadley or Erin Owens at the NJC Foundation at 970-521-6777.

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