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What is the Federal TEACH Grant? Who Qualifies?

The Federal TEACH Grant Program is an excellent avenue for future teachers who are passionate about serving in high-need communities, and want to lower the cost of their education. If this sounds like you, keep reading to learn more about this program. 


What is the Federal TEACH Grant?


At its most basic, the Federal TEACH Grant provides you with money—roughly $4,000 a year—for your commitment to teach a high-need subject in a low-income area for at least four years after graduation. 


What makes the Federal TEACH Grant Program particularly appealing is that it’s not a loan forgiveness program, but a grant. This means that you don’t need to take out loans upfront and work towards qualifying for debt relief. Instead, the TEACH Grant offers you scholarship money upfront, and only transfers to a federal student loan if you fail to meet its conditions.  


Who Qualifies for the TEACH Grant?


Basic eligibility: Because the TEACH Grant is a federal grant, you must also meet basic eligibility requirements for federal funding. You’re also required to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine if you qualify for the grant and how much funding you’re eligible to receive. 


Academics: To qualify for a TEACH grant, you must meet some academic benchmarks, namely scoring in the top 25th percentile in at least one portion of a college admissions test, such as the ACT or SAT, and maintain a minimum GPA or 3.25.


Institution: In order to receive a TEACH Grant, it’s vital that you participate in a TEACH Grant-eligible program at a TEACH Grant-eligible school. In general, only programs leading to a bachelor’s or master’s degree (or a post baccalaureate program) that prepare you as a highly qualified teacher in a high-need field are eligible; however, the schools participating in the program determine which of their programs are TEACH Grant eligible. It’s a good idea to consult with the financial aid office at the school you’re attending, or planning to attend, to get a better understanding of their particular TEACH Grant program. 


Service: A TEACH Grant award is dependent on you signing an Agreement to Serve (ATS) which details your commitment to the program. The ATS states that you must work as a full-time teacher for at least four academic years after exiting the TEACH Grant program, and you must perform this service within eight years. You must also teach at a low-income elementary school, secondary school (public or private), or educational service agency in a high-need field. 


Administrative: Lastly, there are some administrative requirements you need to take to ensure you receive your TEACH Grant. It’s crucial that within 120 days of completing your TEACH Grant program, you write your TEACH Grant servicer and tell them that you’re working as a full-time teacher or planning to do so. Following the initial letter, you must follow up every year with documentation showing that you’ve completed a year of teaching service or that you intend to fulfill your obligation.



What Degrees and Programs are Eligible for the TEACH Grant?


According to the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), 572 institutions of higher education participated in the TEACH Grant program in the first quarter of the 2017-2018 academic year. It’s important to note that these institutions choose which of their programs are eligible for a TEACH Grant, and you should understand that programs designed for the TEACH Grant are specifically constructed to prepare students for teaching high-need subjects. Consequently, just because a subject is TEACH Grant-eligible at one university, it may not qualify at another. 


What is the TEACH Grant Service Obligation?


At its simplest, a TEACH Grant awards teachers money for college in exchange for four years of service in a high-need field in low-income areas. But, how are “high need position” and “low-income area” defined? 


High-Need Fields: High-need fields include bilingual education, foreign language, mathematics, reading specialist, science, special education, or any other fields that may have shortages depending on location—they must be listed within the Teacher Shortage Area Nationwide Listing for the state in which you teach. In addition to teachers, the list includes other important school personnel such as administrators and faculty. For example, in 2017-2018, the State of New Hampshire was suffering a deficit of Business Administrators, Library Media Specialists, School Psychologists, and School Social Workers. 


Low-Income Communities: You can find more information on high-need schools on the Teacher Cancellation Low-Income Directory (TCLI) and at the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE).  


What Happens if I Can’t Fulfill the TEACH Grant Service Obligation?


If you fail to meet the requirements of your Agreement to Serve, your grant is transferred into an unsubsidized federal student loan. Most importantly, it does this without any penalties for breaching the agreement. 


If there is a justifiable reason for your inability to meet your service obligation, such as getting ordered into active duty or a medical emergency, the TEACH Grant programs will suspend your commitment. In extreme cases, such as becoming permanently disabled, you can get released from your TEACH Grant obligation. 


Pay Attention to the Details of the TEACH Grant


A 2018 report from the Department of Education found that 63% of TEACH Grant recipients who were required to start teaching prior to July 2014 saw their grants converted into loans by 2016. What makes this statistic truly shocking is that when first receiving the grant, 89% said they were likely or very likely to fulfill the Agreement to Service. 


A follow-up with those students whose grants converted to loans found that one-third hadn’t finished their degree or weren’t working as teachers. Another 39% were working as teachers, but not in qualifying positions. Most eye-opening is that 32% said they didn’t understand the service requirements they were agreeing to. Grant recipients were further confused by the requirements of their agreement—19% said they didn’t know they were required to submit paperwork to certify their service annually, 13% didn’t certify because of obstacles they ran into during the process, and 9% didn’t certify simply because they forgot.


There have been numerous reasons outside of a student’s control for the large amount of these grants converting. However, with thousands of dollars at stake and considerable time spent in a TEACH Grant-eligible program, it behooves students to fully understand what they’re signing up for and what their commitment will be going forward. 


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Short Bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.