How Participating in Campus Protests Could Affect Your Financial Aid

Involvement in college protests could cost you your financial aid and more.
Profile photo of Kat Tretina
Written by Kat Tretina
Profile photo of Cecilia Clark
Edited by Cecilia Clark
Assistant Assigning Editor
Fact Checked

Many, or all, of the products featured on this page are from our advertising partners who compensate us when you take certain actions on our website or click to take an action on their website. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.

MORE LIKE THISLoansStudent loans

Nationwide, students have organized protests over the Israel and Gaza conflict, urging their colleges to divest holdings of Israeli-connected investments. But participation in a protest could lead to steep — and long-lasting — consequences, including criminal charges and loss of financial aid.

Though free speech is a protected right, protestors can be arrested. The Appeal, a nonprofit news organization, estimates nearly 2,500 campus protestors have been arrested nationwide since April 17.

But arrest isn’t the only potential consequence. For example, Washington University temporarily suspended 23 students after they set up an encampment and were arrested for trespassing. Three Vanderbilt University students were expelled after their involvement in a campus sit-in. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis warned students they could be expelled for protesting.

“While the First Amendment guarantees students the right to speak and even to protest on those campuses, the colleges may maintain reasonable 'time, place, and manner' restrictions on student speech in public areas of campus," says Amanda Nordstrom, a program officer for campus rights advocacy with the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.

Student financial aid could also be on the line. Review your college's code of conduct and financial aid agreements to understand what’s at stake. Here’s what you might face.

Lost institutional or state aid

Schools set their own policies regarding institutional financial aid, such as school scholarships or grants. Joseph Lento, an attorney specializing in student discipline defense and the founder of the Lento Law Group, says institutional aid can generally be canceled or denied at the school's discretion if you violate the university's code of conduct — even if you don't violate the law.

"Accepting financial aid and scholarships forms a contractual agreement between the student and the granting institution," Lento says. "As such, violating laws or campus policies can risk the continuation of a student’s financial aid."

States have their own policies, too.

"If a scholarship recipient is disciplined by the school as a result of a protest, they may lose their [state] scholarship as a result," says Lori Wurtzel, a Florida-based attorney and founder of the firm Wurtzel Law. This is especially the case if that discipline is part of an arrest and criminal charge. "For example," says Wurtzel, "Florida's Bright Futures Scholarship is not available to students who enter a plea to a felony charge."

Unsatisfactory academic progress

You must meet standards for satisfactory academic progress to maintain eligibility for financial aid. These standards are determined by benchmarks your college sets for grades and credits. If you don't pass enough classes or earn enough credits, you could lose financial aid eligibility.

The satisfactory academic progress requirement could pose a surprise to protestors, says Jill Desjean, senior policy analyst with the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, as schools like Columbia University warned student protestors they could lose credit for the current semester.

"If [the colleges] say they're doing away with this term, now you could be potentially bumping up against the [financial aid] eligibility in terms of not progressing towards your degree," Desjean says. You may be ineligible for financial aid as a result.

Federal aid limits

There are strict annual and aggregate loan limits on how much you can receive in Pell Grants and federal student loans, particularly for undergraduate students. If you’re suspended or lose credit for the semester, you could reach your limits before you finish your education.

For example, the aggregate limit for dependent undergraduate students is $31,000. If you need to retake a semester or transfer to another school, you may need to find other sources of financing, such as parent student loans or private student loans.

Student loan repayment

You still have to repay your loans if you’re not allowed to attend school. Federal student loans enter repayment six months after you leave school or drop below half-time status, so you may have to start making payments even if you haven't completed your degree.

Difficult and expensive college transfer

If you're expelled, you may be able to transfer to another college or university to finish your education. However, it's unlikely that all of your credits would transfer, says Desjean.

"Transferring credits isn't a seamless process," she says. "A lot of schools don't accept transfer credits from other colleges, so there's the disruption of trying to find another school to transfer to."

According to the news and analysis website Inside Higher Ed, nationally, students lose 43% of their credits when transferring. This could cause you to lose a lot of progress, leading to thousands of dollars in additional costs to finish your degree.

New legislation that affects your future aid eligibility

Individuals who have been convicted of crimes, incarcerated, and are now on probation or parole are still eligible for federal financial aid, including Pell Grants and federal loans. However, some lawmakers in states including California, Texas and Iowa have introduced legislation to change that. Under the proposed legislation, those who are convicted of crimes related to the protests would be ineligible for aid.

If you want to protest anyway

"It’s important for students interested in engaging in peaceful protest to familiarize themselves with the rules on their campus, as well as educate themselves on the legal basics so they can insist their rights are respected by college administrators and police," Nordstrom says.

You may be able to appeal if you’re involved in a protest and are suspended or lose your financial aid.

"Most university discipline codes allow a student to continue attending classes while a disciplinary decision is being appealed," Wurtzel says. "Conscious timing of appeals may help a student to finish a semester."

Every school has its own process for filing appeals, so consult with your college to learn about next steps. In some cases, a lawyer may help you appeal your case or have your financial aid reinstated on legal grounds.

Spot your saving opportunities
See your spending breakdown to show your top spending trends and where you can cut back.