Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Psychology, Leadership, and Higher Education

First Committee Member

Federick Ngo

Second Committee Member

Stefani Relles

Third Committee Member

Lisa Bendixen

Fourth Committee Member

Magdalena Martinez

Number of Pages



Understanding the link between financial aid and college attainment is particularly important for the Federal Pell Grant program, the nation’s largest financial aid program. Many studies have shown that the Pell Grant program increases retention, persistence, and graduation rates for undergraduate students (Castleman & Long, 2016; Evans & Nguyen, 2019). Nonetheless, 80% of Pell recipients do not go on to complete a college degree within four years (Goldrick-Rab et al., 2016). One possible reason for this outcome is the way the Pell Grant program is constructed and implemented. While the Pell grant starts out as a need-based aid, it becomes performance-based aid due to the Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) requirements. If students do not maintain a certain GPA or meet certain enrollment thresholds, they may lose their aid. This can have negative consequences for low-income students and the institutions they attend (Campbell et al., 2015).The purpose of this study was to examine the experiences of Pell-eligible students who lose financial aid due to the SAP policy. To address the limitations of existing scholarship, I conducted a survey of financial aid recipients with the goal of understanding postsecondary goals, outcome expectations, financial decisions and stress, and how these are related to losing aid. Using a sequential explanatory mixed method, I then conducted interviews with 13 students, including four who lost aid due to not meeting SAP requirements. This mixed methods approach provided a more complete picture of the experiences of students who lose financial aid. The reasoning for merging both types of data is because the use of quantitative or qualitative data alone is not enough to highlight the experiences of students who become ineligible for financial aid by the SAP policy. The findings indicate that the SAP policy requirements turn what is a need-based aid program into a performance-based program, and this shift influenced students’ decisions and subsequent academic performance. Losing financial aid creates stress, weakened motivation, and led students to question their connection to the institution. The conversations with students also revealed important insights into the experiences of losing aid. Whether it was the initial surprise at first of losing aid or the lack of communication or the limited supported the students believe they have, all of it makes a difference. Even though the SAP policy evaluates the students’ performance, it creates requirements students must satisfy in order to continue to receive the financial aid that was initially offered. The ability to receive the financial aid award, then having it removed due to ineligibility, brings into question the validity of the SAP policy and whether it is truly effective for today’s college students.


FAFSA; Financial Aid; Pell Grant; Policy; Satisfactory Academic Progress; Student Aid


Education | Educational Administration and Supervision | Education Policy

File Format


File Size

2600 KB

Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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