SANTA CRUZ, Calif. — At 19, Elizabeth Clews knew attending community college while balancing a full-time job and caring for a newborn would be hard. She was determined to try it.
After a few months, the single mom, who had just exited the foster care system, realized she wasn’t doing well enough to pass her classes at Ventura College. “All I could really focus on was taking care of my baby and making sure that I kept a roof over our heads,” she said.
Clews was convinced that she would be able to improve her performance if only she gave up work. But when she logged into the school’s online portal to register for a second semester, a message popped up that she described as saying, “You can enroll for classes, but you’re not gonna get financial aid.” Clews was in danger of failing to meet a standard called SAP, or “satisfactory academic progress,” which is attached to nearly all federal financial aid for higher education — including grants, loans and work study — and most state aid too.
“I didn’t really know it was a thing,” Clews said, “I didn’t understand any of the financial aid terminology.” But one thing she…