State Grants for Virgina Residents
The VGAP and Commonwealth awards are administered by the public institutions. The 39 universities, colleges, and community colleges each receive a portion. The allocation is determined by a need-based funding formula developed by SCHEV, and it results in a fair and equitable distribution of the scarce funds.
Institutions begin awarding these state grants during the spring preceding the fall term. Awards are usually calculated for the academic year (fall and spring terms) and depend on several factors. Because it would take more than twice the money allocation to meet the needs of all "eligible" students, public institutions have to make decisions about how to award their share of the funds fairly while also complying with the rules and regulations of administering them.
Because these grant funds are "need-based" and the amount of the grant for a student is proportional to financial need, one of the criteria for eligibility (need) can be considered predetermined, based on the student's calculated EFC (expected family contribution as determined by the US Department of Education's federal processor from data submitted by the student and his/her family on the FAFSA).
Institutions in Virginia generally use the date the financial aid application (FAFSA) was received by the federal processing agency as a second way of rationing the grants- on a first-come, first-served basis. This is the reason institutions have "priority deadlines" for filing your financial aid application (FAFSA).
Here are some of the other criteria used to determine eligibility for state grants
- Date of admission to the institution.
- Other gift aid (such as institutional scholarships, athletic scholarships, funds from outside sources --"outside agency scholarships" from organizations, clubs, or sources found through scholarship searches).
- Enrollment level - whether you are taking a full-time course load, or less than full-time.
- Academic progress - for continuing students, certain completion and grade point average standards must be met.
Scott and Cindy are twins who will graduate from high school in the spring. They have applied to three public institutions in Virginia. Their financial aid awards are DIFFERENT. How could that be? Let's follow their admission and financial aid progress….
Scott applied to his first choice college (College A) in September of his senior year. When he had not heard from College A by mid-December, he decided it would be a good idea to apply to two other colleges to be safe. He applied to Colleges B and C in January.
Cindy applied to Colleges A, B and C at the same time in October of her senior year.
Scott and Cindy had both attended financial aid workshops and also had spent quite a bit of time in the library looking up scholarship sources and learning about federal financial aid on the internet. They knew about the FAFSA that must be filled out and submitted each year in order to be considered for financial aid, and they knew that timing was very important.
Their parents received their W-2 forms and other tax-related documents for the last calendar year on January 31. Scott and Cindy did all the house and yard work a couple of weekends later so their parents could have the time needed to work up their 1040 forms and use that information on the FAFSA. They completed and signed one FAFSA for each student, then gave the forms to them to finish, sign, and mail.
In April, Cindy heard from Colleges A, B and C. Scott heard from College A. All three of Cindy's financial aid packages were different, and they were also different than Scott's !
College A had awarded both Scott and Cindy student loans and a Federal Pell Grant for $950, but Scott was offered a VGAP grant for $3500 and Cindy was offered only $3000 in another state grant program, the Commonwealth award. Why the difference? Even though their financial situation was exactly the same, and even though both had been admitted in January to College A, Cindy's high school GPA cost her $500. In order to qualify for the VGAP grant, Cindy needed a high school GPA of 2.50 and hers was only 2.43. Scott, on the other hand, had a GPA of 3.8. The $500 difference was the allowance for books that is permitted in the VGAP grant calculation, but not permitted in the Commonwealth award program.
What about Cindy's financial aid at Colleges B and C? Both had notified her that she was eligible for a Federal Pell Grant of $950, but at College B she was eligible for a Commonwealth award of $2000, and College C did not offer her a Commonwealth grant at all. The reason: Commonwealth awards vary depending on financial need, and financial need depends on the cost of attendance at an institution. No Commonwealth award is permitted to exceed the actual cost of tuition at the institution. Whereas the tuition charge for a year at College A was $3900, the tuition at College B was considerably lower - which is the reason the Commonwealth award was lower.
College C did not include a Commonwealth award in Cindy's financial aid package because she missed the priority deadline for FAFSA receipt at College C.
Scott heard from College B in May. His application for admission was considered "late" and was delayed in processing. As soon as he was admitted in May, the financial aid office calculated his eligibility. Because the state grants had all been awarded to other students by that time, Scott was offered only a Federal Pell Grant for $950 along with loans and federal work-study.
Scott heard from College C in June. He had been unofficially admitted in March, but there had been a problem with his application regarding "domicile" - establishment of Virginia as his state of legal residence. His record had been placed on "hold" until the proper forms were been received so that billing and financial aid calculations would accurately reflect tuition charges. Scott was offered the same $950 Federal Pell Grant, but in addition to a student loan and work-study, he was offered a $4000 institutional scholarship based on his excellent high school grades and his test scores. He was not eligible for the VGAP grant at College C because all his "financial need" was met by the institutional scholarship.
As you can see, there are many factors involved in determining eligibility for the Commonwealth and VGAP awards. Whereas the Federal Pell Grant for both Scott and Cindy was available at each institution to which they were admitted, the state grant availability and amounts varied considerably because of program guidelines, date of admission to the institution, and the institution's priority deadline.
Next year, Scott and Cindy will need to complete the FAFSAs again, preferably earlier than this year. They will also be evaluated on their academic performance. They must be making satisfactory academic progress in order to be considered for financial aid.