Committee for Griffon Gateway program overlooks IRS tax law

Institutional

The committee who put together the Griffon Gateway Program (GGP) worked hard to give all incoming freshman a fighting chance to succeed at Missouri Western but may have inadvertently placed a hardship on some parents and students.

For the purposes of scholarships and grants, students at Missouri Western are considered full-time if enrolled in 12 or more credit hours. However, under the new GGP guidelines, which will be enforced beginning with the fall of 2007, students who meet certain criteria are required to enroll in the program with no more than 11 credit hours. This puts them at a part-time status, and their parents will not be able to claim them as a dependent on their federal income tax return.

“I was not aware of (the IRS guidelines for dependents),” said Tyson Schank, communications and Web coordinator in the admissions department and also a member of the GGP committee. “That’s good information to have.”

Under the residence test, the IRS considers a student who lives on campus as an exception under the “temporary absences” clause, and therefore parents may still claim a student who lives in the dorms, as long as that student is a full-time student for at least five months of the year and meets the other criteria. The institution determines full-time status, according to Web site.

Ironically, this same definition of a dependent person for Missouri Western employees is set out clearly in the 2003-2004 College Governance Advisory Council report dated July 23, 2004, which states that a dependent is defined as “A child under the age of 24 and a full-time student for at least five months out of the calendar year and is claimed on the employee’s tax return.”

Still, somehow the committee overlooked this requirement when restricting GGP students to a part-time status of 11 hours.

“We weren’t aware of that necessarily,” Dean of Student Services Paul Shang said. “If we need to re-examine it, we certainly will.”

Although the IRS dependent qualifications were overlooked, the committee was aware that some parents’ insurance policies require a student to attend full time in order to extend coverage to them.

In a document generated by the admissions office entitled “Griffon Gateway
Program Talking Points,” dated June 5, 2006, it states that students may purchase an insurance policy through the university. In addition, the admissions office has another attempt to get students in the GGP insured under their parents’ policies.

“For insurance providers, [the office of admissions] has a letter that the students
can send to the insurance company that basically says that the university looks at them as full-time students,” Schank said.

However, the decision of whether to extend dependent coverage to an individual who is not a dependent under IRS guidelines may not rest solely with the insurance carrier. Many employers pay for the insurance premiums of its employees and their dependents.

In addition, many parents and students will lose more than just medical insurance with the loss of the dependent exemption. Tax benefits like the Hope Tax Credit, and in some cases an earned income tax credit are in jeopardy. Some employers also offer other perks such as tuition reimbursement and life insurance for dependents.

Financial aid packages should not be affected for the GGP students who do not receive a Federal Pell Grant, according to the Talking Points document. Students who do receive the Pell Grant will not lose it entirely; it will be prorated based on the number of credit hours the student takes on.

Schank said that the main objective of the GGP is to get the students to increase their retention rates into their second semester and beyond. He also said that the state only looks at first time, full-time freshmen when determining an institution’s retention and graduation rates.

“By limiting the credit hours, we allow them not to take [math] their first semester,”
Schank said.

The Talking Points document states that the limited number of classes also allows students to focus their efforts and have more out-of-class time to use resources such as the Center for Academic Support, which offers free tutoring.

In order to continue their enrollment at Western, the students have requirements
they must meet. Students who do not meet these requirements will be put on probation and possibly suspended pursuant to the guidelines in the university catalog, Schank said.

“[Probation] is a heads up,” Schank said. “Typically they have another semester to bring their GPA up before they’re put on suspension.”

In addition, GGP students must meet with their academic advisor at least once every month, according to the Talking Points document.

“Admissions determines who is in GGP, and then I automatically become their academic advisor,” said Rosalie Guyer, A+ program coordinator.

A+ students are exempt from the GGP because they are tracked through that program.

According to Talking Points, a student will successfully complete the GGP and be able to enroll in 12 credit hours when they satisfactorily complete nine credits from the developmental courses and are in good academic standing at Western with a GPA of 2.0 or higher.

Shang said that as far as he’s concerned, none of the enrollment policy changes at the university are a move toward a minimum ACT in the future.

“Of course, we are always talking,” Shang said. “But the open-door policy is tradition and part of who we are.”

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