For many college students, politics take a backseat to full-time jobs and homework. Many individuals striving for higher education understand that universities collectively struggle with budget cuts. What remains largely misunderstood is the jargon: many individuals do not know what the word “sequester” means or how it affects them.
The $86 billion sequester, which took effect March 1, is the result of the federal government approving a series of spending cuts to further balance the nation’s budget. Higher education is one of the areas affected heavily by the cuts, stripping millions of dollars from financial aid programs students rely on.
Students who rely on federal Work-Study Programs will soon face a reduction in the amount of money available to them. Students who take loans to help pay for college will see an increase in loan origination fees, which will total $82 million. Other indirect effects could come from a $71 million cut to student aid administration funds.
The Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program, which assists individuals with low income to pay for their undergraduate education will be affected by the sequester as well. There is, however, a slim silver lining for those who use financial aid to go to school: students who are eligible for the federal Pell Grant will not be affected by the budget cuts.
While some are breathing a sigh of relief that they can rely on the Pell Grant, students in California are bracing for another heavy blow to their higher education. For the 2011-12 academic years, CSU Trustees agreed to a tuition increase of 23.2% followed by a 9% hike which took effect in fall 2012. These tuition hikes were accompanied by a 5% cut the Cal Grant Program. Students can expect to see about $500 less awarded to them than the previous year.
Though the Cal Grant Program will be awarding less money in 2013, the qualification to receive a Cal Grant became more demanding. The required GPA to receive Cal Grant A increased from 3.0 to 3.25, while the Cal Grant B GPA requirement increased to 2.75 from a previous 2.0. While students attempt to figure out how they will afford their education amidst the budget cuts, others attempt to grasp the gravity of the sequester on the American economy.
“I don’t think anyone quite understands how it gets resolved,” House Speaker John Boehner admitted in to David Gregory in an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press. He then went on to say that he’s unsure if the sequester will damage the economy. The irony of this statement is baffling, considering that on Feb. 20, Boehner wrote an article in The Wall Street Journal claiming that a “dramatic new federal policy is set to go into effect that threatens U.S. national security, thousands of jobs and more.” Boehner goes on to say that the sequester is “an ugly and dangerous way” to cut spending in the United States. Millions of students who are feeling the sting of the sequester are inclined to agree.
What are students who rely on financial aid to do? With no safety net for students in sight, applying for scholarships has never been more vital. Also, having a voice has never been more vital as a student in the U.S. The sequester affects education, national parks, border security, NASA, public housing support and military research. Chances are very high that even if you’re not a student, the sequester will affect you. Speak up. Write your representative regarding the budget cuts. Perhaps as a collective, we can remind Congress that they sit in elected seats.