New Federal, State Financial Aid Eligibility Tied to Students’ Educational Plans

There is an important emphasis in federal financial aid regulations that could cause your federal and state aid to be reduced if you enroll in ineligible coursework. 

Starting in the Fall 2024 semester, only courses that count toward your Student Educational Plan (SEP) can be counted toward enrollment status to determine eligibility for federal and state financial aid programs. For a course to be counted toward enrollment status for federal and state aid, it must be part of your SEP or be necessary to help you earn the total units required to complete your degree, certificate or transfer goals. Not paying attention to this rule could affect your full-time enrollment status and ultimately your financial aid awards.

Starting in the Fall 2024 semester, taking classes that are not in your Student Educational Plan (SEP) for your officially declared major may result in a reduction to your federal and state financial aid.

Purpose of the New Course Requirements

The U.S. Department of Education requires that institutions ensure financial aid funds are used to pay for courses that apply to a student’s educational plan. Until recently, technology has not been available to provide an automated way to check each student’s schedule each term. Sierra College will implement a new online tool in Fall 2024.

A Student Educational Plan (SEP) consists of courses required to complete a degree or certificate, inclusive of required coursework within the major/degree. The specific courses for a student are identified through DegreeWorks, our degree evaluation tool.

As a Guided Pathways institution, this isn’t just about financial aid, but rather ensuring our students are enrolled in the correct classes needed to graduate in order to progress towards degree completion.  

What Types of Financial Aid Will Be Affected by the New Rule?

Disbursement of federal and state financial aid programs (i.e., Pell Grant, Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG), Work-Study, student loans, Cal Grants, Success Grant, etc.) will now be based on coursework that counts toward the program of study.

State aid like the California College Promise Grant (CCPG) or the Sierra College Promise Grant, which waives course fees for eligible California residents, is not subject to the same regulatory restrictions. 

3 Steps to Keep Your Financial Aid in Check

1. Meet with your counselor to make sure your courses count

Our counselors are available to assist you with your short-term and long-term educational goals. This includes discussing the best program fit for you at Sierra College, and planning your courses each Fall, Spring and Summer to help you complete your declared degree or certificate as efficiently and effectively as possible. Schedule a counseling appointment.

2. Officially declare your major

It is essential that your major is officially declared and noted in your student record. If you have been planning to declare or change your major, but have not yet done so, you should consult a counselor immediately. 


  • Do not register for classes toward the new major until the update to your official major is reflected in your Student Educational Plan (SEP) found in mySierra and DegreeWorks. 
  • Courses can only be determined to be eligible based on the officially declared major(s) as noted on your student record. Changes cannot be made retroactively. 

3. Check your financial aid eligibility before dropping a class or changing major

Remember that dropping or not attending your courses can negatively impact your eligibility for current and/or future financial aid. It is important that you discuss your SEP with a counselor when you enroll each semester.

If your degree or certificate program is not listed correctly in mySierra, work with your counselor to make them aware of your request. 

Note: Do not register for classes toward the new major until the update to your official degree or certificate on record is reflected in mySierra. 

Financial Aid Awards Are Based on Assumptions

Financial aid awards assume that students will enroll full-time in eligible coursework during Fall and Spring terms. Enrollment levels other than full-time will create a recalculation of financial aid awards per term. However, in most cases, a student can enroll in less than the assumed full-time units and still receive financial aid. 

Enrollment Status TypesNumber of Units
Full Time12+
Three Quarter Time9 – 11.5
Half Time6 – 8.5
Less than Half Time0.5 – 5.5

If your financial aid has been reduced due to enrollment in coursework that does not apply towards outstanding requirements in your Student Educational Plan (SEP), you should schedule a counseling appointment to discuss your academic options. Otherwise, if you have questions regarding financial aid, contact Financial Aid.

FAQs About the New Financial Aid Rules

Find answers to our most frequently asked questions about the new financial aid rules.

Contact Us

Financial Aid Services — Nevada County

Nevada County

Building N1, Room 112

M-R: 8:30am-5pm; F: 8:30am-noon