By Mary Boynton
The U.S. Department of Education 2018 budget plan, released this spring, proposes to eliminate or reduce funding for more than 30 programs, including a few that are crucial resources for some Western students paying tuition. The proposed budget is still awaiting approval from Congress.
“Approximately two out of every three Western students receives some form of financial aid through grant, scholarship, employment or loan programs,” Paul Cocke, university director of communications and marketing, said in an email.
The department plans to cut the Federal Work Study program funding by 49 percent, increase the loan repayment cap from 10 to 12.5 percent and cut all funding for the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program.
The budget plan proposes to decrease funding for the Work Study program by almost half, from $1.1 billion in 2017 to $553.7 million in 2018, according to the budget plan summary. During the 2015-16 school year, there were 228 Western students employed part-time through the Work Study program to help pay for tuition, Cocke said.
Ashleigh Bobovski spent two years as an undergraduate student at Western employed under Work Study and said without the program, paying for college would have been impossible.
The Work Study program gave Bobovski the opportunity to work with various academic departments at the university and she said it gave her a gateway for her future career.
Babovski said she doesn’t know how she would have paid for college had she not been offered the Work Study program, because in Bellingham it’s hard to find an off-campus job due to the large amount of college students.
“Each year, the different financial aid that I had decreased, and the work study was what I used to help pay for everything,” Bobovski said. “I’m the oldest of five children, so my parents weren’t able to help me.”
If the budget plan is approved, Western’s estimated total loss in student aid will be $2,131,681, according to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) website.
Stephen Payne, assistant director of federal relations for NASFAA said the administrators were particularly troubled by the size and scope of the proposed cuts to federal student aid in Betsy DeVos’ budget proposal.
“NASFAA and our members feel that investment in student aid are investments in the future prosperity of the nation,” Payne said. “Federal student aid programs provide access so that students can pursue a meaningful degree and thereby contribute in many ways to the economy.”
The Department of Education’s plan is to simplify funds for education in order to save $143 billion over the course of ten years, according to the budget plan summary.
Payne said NASFAA does not support cuts to student aid, regardless of the policy idea regarding simplification.
If the budget plan were to be approved, it is estimated that Western would lose $689,616 in grant aid for Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, a program that 2,885 Western students used this past year, Payne said.
Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant is a program to help undergraduate students with exceptional financial need and is awarded by the university’s financial aid office to select students who need it most, according to the Federal Student Aid website. This grant does not have to be repaid.
A student eligible for the program can receive anywhere between $100 and $4,000 per year depending on the individual’s financial need and circumstances.
The 2018 budget plan proposes to eliminate the funding for the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant because “it’s largely duplicative of the Pell Grant program.” However, according to the Federal Student Aid website, the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant works differently from the Pell Grant, in that it provides aid to every eligible student and does not have to be repaid in the future.
“NASFAA and our members feel that investment in student aid are investments in the future prosperity of the nation. Federal student aid programs provide access so that students can pursue a meaningful degree and thereby contribute in many ways to the economy.”
Stephen Payne, NASFAA assistant director of federal relations
The U.S. Department of Education gives a specific amount of opportunity grant funds to each participating school, and once all of the funds have been awarded to eligible students no other awards can be given that year, unlike the Pell Grant which can be awarded to a student year round.
“Although Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant isn’t one of our larger grant programs, it is nonetheless an important resource for approximately 2,800 Western students with exceptional financial need who receive these funds,” Cocke said.
According to the College Success Foundation, 10.7 percent of low-income students in the U.S. will graduate from college, compared to 80 percent of high-income students.
“It helps probably the most at-risk group of college students, and it’s a way for students to gain some important connections that can help them in their future careers,” Bobovski said.
The budget plan proposes to create one repayment plan to pay back loans, while in the past there has been more than one option for students to pay their debt after graduation.
By requesting to eliminate the standard repayment cap of 10 percent of one’s discretionary income, the repayment cap is proposed to be 12.5 percent of one’s discretionary income paid each month.
Cocke agrees that financial aid and grants is essential to making higher education more accessible.
“Additional funding is needed to make college more affordable, improve access and increase persistence to graduation,” Cocke said. “Preferably aid that does not require repayment with preservation of subsidized loan programs and student debt forgiveness for borrowers who enter public service.”