Over the past couple weeks, student newspapers and websites have been on high alert warning students of the potential aid cuts that are scheduled for March 1, as a result of the fiscal cliff sequestration that was moved back a couple months from the end of 2012 to the end of February. The concern is real. Unless Congress acts to avoid the automatic cuts, more than 8 percent will be hacked off current educational funding. This move will result in the loss of campus (and off-campus) jobs funded by the Federal Work Study (FWS) program.
Even more worrisome is the sequestration target that Congress has drawn on funds earmarked for Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG). Distribution of FSEOG funds is left largely to the discretion and professional judgment of on-campus financial aid administrators. They are tasked with allocating the money to the students with the most financial need. If the cuts go into effect, hundreds of the neediest students will be denied such funds, and many others will have their grants reduced. It’s against this backdrop that students are turning to campus media to voice their own opinions and concerns about the possible cuts.
Newspapers Decry Cuts
In a February 7 Daily Illini (University of Illinois) article, student journalist Lauren Rohr wrote, “despite a previous trend of increased financial aid dollars, possible cuts to federal programs could decrease the amount of aid available to students each year.”
In Rohr’s article, she notes that John Samuels, chief communications officer for Illinois Student Assistance Commission, warns that states — Illinois, for instance — are also unable to keep up with the financial needs of their students. University of Illinois students, for example, could see a reduction in state financial aid in addition to the loss of federal aid funds.
The article further points out that any cuts this year will not be limited to 2013-2014, but will affect future financial aid indefinitely — or at least until something more permanent is done about it. Among the students Rohr interviewed, one observed, “A lot of people do rely on financial aid in order to go to college, and if they don’t have that money, they’re not going to be able to get a good education. That could turn into a vicious cycle.”
University Website Promotes Student Advocacy
At Marquette University, in Milwaukee, the school’s Office of Public Affairs is urging students to “advocate for your student financial aid”. Although some of the information on the site could use an update, it is refreshing to see an administration backing students voicing their opinions on policy. Or is it?
Those cynics among us may see such school promotion of student advocacy as self-serving. Rather than offering to scale back tuition or cut fees in response to a potential cut in student aid, Marquette’s Public Affairs Office is asking students to save their own financial aid. So that they can use it to pay for tuition and fees. At Marquette.
Notwithstanding the source of their urgency, it is noteworthy that students are voicing real concern over the budget cuts. It’s just a little sad that in some cases the urgency may be fueled by more insidious institutional motives.
Local Television Warns Students
A local NBC affiliate in Tucson, Arizona, cautions that “More fallout from the fiscal cliff now hitting college students who may soon see major decreases in their financial aid.” In a story that aired on Feb. 8, the station interviewed University of Arizona students and officials about the impact the delayed fiscal cliff cuts may have on higher education.
According to one student interviewed, if the deadline passes and cuts are made, “It’s going to make it a lot more stressful for a lot more students who are still continuing their education trying to get a degree.” Many students have already followed advice, such as that posted on this site, to get their financial aid applications in early. But this year, getting a head start on your FAFSA offers no guarantee for your aid level.
In the KVOA piece, University of Arizona student Zoe Mullins says, “I’ve already received my award letter. I can’t imagine getting another saying sorry you’re award is gone.”
These times are unusual and, indeed, pretty stressful for students and parents. As Samuels pointed out in the Illini article,
“It’s really important for students to be paying attention to the financial aid situation because we’re at a time where the budget can change quickly,” Samuels said. “For students with need who are looking for better state funding or federal funding, this is probably the most complex and uncertain time, that I can recall, in decades.”