Grants, Loans Cut
Students face reduced Pell Grants, higher costs
Marcus Clem | copy editor
The sequester has arrived, and, coupled with an overall increasingly dry fiscal climate, it is likely to cost Pittsburg State students.
The announcement on Friday, March 1, that no compromise had been reached between President Barack Obama and the leaders of the U.S. Congress alarmed many throughout the nation. Without a compromise, cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011 take effect this year.
“It really makes me wonder about the viability of our system,” said Bert Patrick, professor of Spanish.
The act, which was commonly known as the “Fiscal Cliff” before a delaying action was passed in January that cushioned the cuts, was an attempt by congressional leaders to get a better deal.
The idea was, if enough cuts were made to key expenditures favored by both Democrats and Republicans, congressmen would be forced to compromise and reduce the nation’s deficit in a sustainable way. That idea failed.
The money slows here
The cuts, which will come in annual phases of $85 billion for the next 10 years, affect virtually every aspect of the federal government’s discretionary spending, the part of the budget that Congress elects to spend through appropriations, as opposed to mandated costs that are tied to programs like Medicare and Social Security. Those programs are unaffected.
Tammy Higgins, director of financial assistance, says that next year, there’s just going to be less money available for students across several programs.
She says that the Office of Student Financial Assistance knows now that the Pell Grant program, which gives money to college students based on need, will be cut by 5.1 percent starting in the 2013-2014 academic year.
Also, the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program, which provides up to $4,000 annually to college students in need, may see cuts starting in the 2014-2015 academic year. Subsidized and unsubsidized federal student loan recipients may also see an uptick in the national default rate, which could leave less money in the pockets of students on loans, Higgins says.
In addition, future applications to the Afghanistan Service Grant program, which assists the children of fallen veterans of the Post-9/11 wars, may have a harder time getting assistance, she says.
“We don’t have an exorbitant amount of money,” Higgins said. “There will be a smaller pool of money overall, and that’s really how PSU is affected. There’s nothing we can do other than write to our congressmen. At this point, we’re just rolling with the flow.”
The cost to students
That’s what Danielle Coy says she will have to do, as she relies on the Pell Grant to avoid debt as much as possible, at least until graduate school.
“Getting loans now is not really an option,” Coy, junior in psychology, said. “People shouldn’t have to be in debt to get an education and get what they need to be successful in the world. The way I was raised, it doesn’t make sense to take on debt just so you can go to school and do what you want to do.”
Cord Stanley, a cadet in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) who may enter active-duty service in the U.S. Army on graduation, says he is less alarmed.
Stanley, senior in history, says that the budget cuts may prompt a temporary furlough of the ROTC program’s civilian employees, but probably will not directly affect cadets or the cadre of military personnel that train them.
However, he says, people would have been more outraged and more likely to pressure their congressmen if the cuts had hit closer to home.
“I would have liked to see cuts to things like Social Security, Medicaid or Medicare,” he said, “where it’s really going to kick people in the pants to motivate their congressmen … if the intent of the sequester was to motivate Congress to come up with a budget, I think they picked the wrong set of cuts.”
Mark Peterson, assistant professor of political science, says that because of these cuts, some students face an uncertain future.
“In the grand scheme of things, for a few students, this is going to tip the balance in their ability to go to school,” he said.
A broader problem?
Because of a variety of factors: including the economy, a tapering-off of support from the state, and increased enrollment and associated costs, cutting any support to students is a bad idea, Peterson says.
“In terms of the country, cutting back on education money is insane,” he said. “That’s how you train your work force and get people to be able to think, to communicate and to reason.”
However, he says, the state government holds responsibility for most of the costs financially strapped students have to deal with.
The state is providing less and less support for higher education, he says. Income tax cuts in the ‘90s and the following economic decline started a trend of tuition hikes, one that is set to repeat itself.
“We are having another big tax cut and tuition is going to go up. This is very, very simple math,” he said.
As for the federal government, Patrick says the sequence of events that have led to the implementation of the sequester cuts has him disillusioned.
“To be elected, particularly to Congress, you have to play to your base,” he said. “The unfortunate consequence of that is, if congressmen are willing to dialogue with colleagues across the aisle, that is, compromise, they’re usually quickly turned out of office.”
Going forward, he says, that might make basic issues like fiscal security permanently unsolvable.
“Have the present conditions created a situation in which we can’t successfully deal with the problems that we confront, because our governmental system does not lend itself to that? Do we need to rethink the process?”