By Ryan Laspina
Analyst, Red Flags and External Reviews at APUS
If you are attending a university for any other reason than to obtain a degree or certificate, you are in danger of losing your FSA eligibility.
The Department of Education (ED) determined that students who wish to qualify for Federal Student Aid (FSA) must show that they are attending college for academic reasons. Academic intent covers a variety of aspects, including classroom participation and acceptable utilization of FSA funding.
FSA Funds and Classroom Participation
To combat FSA fraud and abuse, ED called on universities to put plans in place that stop FSA funds going to individuals who are not attending a university for educational purposes. Every school has their own processes.
To earn your first FSA disbursement, you must demonstrate academic intent. Demonstrating academic intent includes signing a Master Promissory Note, signing a Verification Identity/Statement of Educational Purpose form and participating in your classroom on a regular basis.
For most brick-and-mortar schools, attendance and/or classroom participation is directly tied to a student’s FSA refund. You must attend class on a regular basis to receive your FSA.
For online schools that do not take attendance, students must demonstrate they have wholesome interactions in the online environment. This interaction includes forum postings, turning assignments in on time and so on.
Using FSA Refunds Properly
If you do demonstrate academic intent and receive FSA disbursements, you still have the responsibility of utilizing these funds in an appropriate way. FSA refunds should only be used for educational expenses.
Acceptable educational expenses include tuition and fees, books and materials for class, laptops and other school supplies, gas (if you’re a commuter) and daycare/babysitting fees while you’re in class.
Expenses that should not be paid with FSA refunds include rent/mortgage payments, child support, outlandish personal items, vacations and similar expenses.
Essentially, you should only spend your FSA refund money on expenses directly associated with attending your school. It should never be used as a main source of income. If the expense didn’t arise because you started attending school, then don’t use your FSA to pay it.
Academic intent is all about the integrity of the student. FSA abusers and fraudsters know what they are doing. If you are serious about earning your education, utilize your FSA refunds in an appropriate manner.