Summary of Recent Interagency Discussion and Agreement on Issues Related to State Student Financial Assistance

Note: this guidance was issued in 2002; the State Education Department published revised rules and guidelines on home instruction requirements in 2005 in CEO memorandum 05-04.

CEO No. 02-06

TO: Chief Executive Officers of New York State Degree-Granting Institutions

FROM: Johanna Duncan-Poitier

SUBJECT: Summary of Recent Interagency Discussion and Agreement on Issues Related to State Student Financial Assistance

Representatives from the State Education Department, the Higher Education Services Corporation, and the Office of the State Comptroller reviewed and discussed issues drawn from recent audits of the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). The issues and the agreements reached are explained below.

Issues related to high school completion:

In 1996, New York Education Law §661(4) was amended and requires that students who received their first TAP award in academic year 1996-97 or thereafter "must have a certificate of graduation from a school providing secondary education, or the recognized equivalent of such certificate; or have achieved a passing score, as determined by the United States secretary of education, on a federally approved examination which demonstrates that the student can benefit from the education being offered."

Note: An ability-to-benefit test is not the equivalent of a high school diploma or G ED; rather, it is one way to establish eligibility for financial aid.

What is acceptable documentation of high school graduation?

Documentation is required; students cannot self-report. Although self-reporting may be acceptable for federal Title IV financial aid, Education Law specifies that a student must have a "certificate" of high school completion or the equivalent of such certificate. This requirement is interpreted to mean that the institution must maintain some physical evidence in the student’s file.

Best evidence: copy of diploma or final high school transcript
Next best: copy of 11th grade transcript plus letter or other document from the school confirming graduation

Are affidavits acceptable to document high school completion?

The State Education Department will develop and issue guidelines for degree-granting institutions concerning the proper procedures for using affidavits. Until the guidelines are available, institutions must assure that affidavits are obtained at the time of admission and are signed by the student, dated, and notarized. Affidavits will be acceptable to substantiate high school completion when there is documented evidence that an effort has been made to obtain a credential but extenuating circumstances such as a natural disaster, fire, closing of a school, or inaccessible foreign documents made it impossible.

Can prior college credits be accepted in lieu of a high school diploma or GED?

Section 100.7 of the Commissioner’s Regulations provides that a student can receive a high school equivalency diploma (GED) when the student has completed 24 college credits as a recognized candidate for a degree at an approved institution. If a student never completed high school or is otherwise unable to document high school completion, a college can admit a student who has completed 24 college credits as the equivalent of having the GED for TAP purposes, providing the credits satisfy the appropriate course distribution requirements specified in section 100.7 of the Regulations as amended in 1999. (The required distribution is 6 credits of English, 3 credits of math, 3 credits of natural science, 3 credits of social science, 3 credits of humanities, and 6 credits applicable to the student's program.)

Also acceptable for financial aid purposes would be a record of a prior degree earned by a student.

See section on admission/matriculation for more about the 24-credit GED.

What is acceptable documentation of a student having passed the GED test?

Students who pass the GED test receive a diploma from the State Education Department. For students who take and pass the GED test but are not yet old enough to receive the equivalency diploma, a copy of the Department’s official test score report/transcript indicating passing scores is acceptable for purposes of determining TAP eligibility. (A similar document (transcript) from the Department is acceptable for students who earn the GED by means of completing 24 credits but are not yet old enough to receive the diploma.) The institution must assure that the student has received the diploma before awarding a degree.

How should home schooled students be handled?

Home schooled students cannot receive a high school diploma. Only public schools or registered nonpublic schools are permitted by law and regulation to issue diplomas. Self-reporting of home schooling is not acceptable for financial aid purposes. To establish eligibility for State student aid, the following options are available to a home schooled student:

  • obtain a letter from local school district officials confirming that the student has received an education "substantially equivalent" to instruction given to students graduating high school in the public schools;
  • take and pass the GED test; or
  • achieve a satisfactory score on an ability-to-benefit test approved by the U.S. Secretary of Education.

More information about home schooling can be found on the Department’s web site. 
The address is:

How should foreign credentials/transcripts be handled?

If not in English, foreign credentials must be translated. Unless there are faculty members at the institution qualified to interpret the credential, all foreign credentials should be evaluated by an evaluation service.

Issues related to admission/matriculation:

How do students who do not have a high school diploma or GED but plan to earn a GED by completing 24 college credits satisfy the requirement in the Rules of the Board of Regents (§ 3.47(a)) that specifies that evidence of a preliminary high school education must be presented prior to beginning degree study?

For students who plan to pursue a GED by means of completing 24 credits in the appropriate distribution of courses, the requirement in Regents Rule 3.47(a) can be satisfied by an institution assessing a student’s capacity to undertake college study and maintaining documentation that demonstrates the student’s capacity. This approach can also be used to admit home schooled students who were unable to obtain a letter from the school district attesting to the substantial equivalence of the home schooling. Such students must earn a GED prior to being awarded a degree.

How strictly should a college be held to its description of admission requirements in the catalog?

The requirement for documentation of high school completion or receipt of a GED is strictly applied, since this requirement is specified in Education Law.

Institutions are advised to review their catalogs and assess whether the description of admission requirements needs to be revised so as not to restrict a college’s ability to consider a variety of factors in assessing a student’s admissibility. Thus, if a college catalog states that it requires SAT scores, then it must have evidence that the student has submitted SAT scores. If, however, the college catalog indicates that SAT scores may be one of a number of factors considered in making admissions decisions, the college is free to consider the scores or not.

What documentation is required when a student completes one degree program and then continues to take additional courses at the same institution?

The college must be able to document that a student who has completed all requirements for the program in which the student initially enrolled has formally applied to pursue another degree or certificate program. The document can be an application, a change of program form, or other written record developed by the institution to establish that the student is a formal candidate for a subsequent degree or certificate.

With reference to declaring a major, what is meant by the "beginning" of the sophomore (two-year programs) or junior (four-year programs) year?

The State Education Department’s 1984 memorandum entitled Guidelines on Matriculation and Approved Program for Purposes of State Student Aid explained that a student could defer declaring a major until the beginning of the sophomore year in two-year degree programs or the beginning of the junior year in four-year programs. To satisfy this requirement, students must declare a major within 30 days of the end of the institution’s established add/drop period of the first semester of the sophomore or junior year, as appropriate. In order to assure compliance with this requirement, it is suggested that institutions advise students of the need to declare a major as soon as possible, preferably no later than the end of freshman year in two-year programs or sophomore year in four-year programs.

Academic transcript issues

How should the term and cumulative grade point average be handled when a student repeats a course previously failed or earns a higher grade after repeating a course?

The term grade point average when the original grade was earned cannot be changed. If a course is repeated and F's are earned more than once in the same course, all F's must remain on the transcript and be included in the term grade point average for the term in which they were earned.

The subsequent grade--whether passing or failing--can either replace or be averaged with the prior grade in the cumulative grade point average from the term in which the course is repeated forward. The cumulative grade point average cannot be recalculated retroactively to the term when the student first took the course as if the student had originally earned the subsequent grade.

Note: When a student repeats a course in which a passing grade was earned initially but the student is retaking the course to earn a better grade, the repeated course cannot count as part of the student’s minimum full-time course load for TAP purposes and cannot be used to meet the pursuit of program requirement.

How should program changes be treated?

If a student who is in good academic standing changes programs, only the credits applicable to the new program requirements are counted in determining whether the student meets the credit accrual and cumulative grade point average requirements for satisfactory academic progress for financial aid purposes. The student can be repositioned on the progress chart based either on the number of award payments the student has received or the number of credits earned that apply to the new program, whichever is to the student’s benefit.

Should you have questions concerning this memorandum, please contact Ms. Jeremy Weis, Associate in Higher Education, Office of College and University Evaluation, at (518) 474-5109 or via e-mail at

cc: Academic Deans
Financial Aid Officers
Directors of Admissions

Last Updated: February 4, 2013