Financial Aid Officers Scrambling to Deal With 33,000 Students Losing Campus Jobs

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by Tina A. Brown

They held out hope that Friday’s cuts in the federally funded work-study program would never be enacted. Now that it has come to pass, financial aid officers at colleges and universities across the country are bracing for the fallout when some 33,000 students lose their campus jobs.

The severity of those cuts is being called “devastating” at some historically Black colleges, who serve needy students already scrambling to pay for tuition. Conversely, at larger traditionally White institutions, the impact won’t be as daunting because those universities have larger coffers and other student employment programs, financial aid officers say.

Nationally, the impact of the cuts varies from state to state. According to the U.S. Department of Education, about $1.2 billion was granted to students on 713,000 campuses during fiscal year 2010-11. “Federal work-study would be cut by $49 million, eliminating 33,000 students from participation,’’ federal officials say.

According to statistics released by the White House, students attending college in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico would be affected by what President Barack Obama called “self-inflicted wounds” created by the Republicans’ “cut-only approach” to trim the federal deficit. U.S. House Speaker John Boehner has countered that the cuts are necessary to curb “out of control spending.”

Students in California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Puerto Rico would be hurt the most with 1,000 or more students in each state losing work-study grants, the White House report says.

Some financial aid officers at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania and Texas Southern University, both historically Black universities, expressed their discontent with the sequestration process late last week. But officials from New York University and the University of California say they will develop plans to absorb the cuts to lessen the impact.

“Our students will be severely impacted,” says Michelle Burwell, the director of financial aid operations at Cheyney.

Nearly 300 of the college’s 1,200 students are employed by the federal work-study program. “This will be devastating to the folks here. [The sequestration] is like confiscating the students’ rights to an affordable education.”

“I’m upset. [Congress] doesn’t understand the impact at HBCUs,” Burwell says. “We don’t have resources to make up the difference. This is a shame. It isn’t a place where they should be cutting funds.”

Burwell posted a notice to students Friday on the university’s website, alerting them that the changes in funding were coming. She invited students to a workshop to discuss what the cuts might mean to them. “I had to write something. The students need to know,” Burwell said.

Steven Heuer, director of government relations at New York University, says the university is preparing to offer fewer work study slots to the approximate 3,800 students who are receiving the aid. The university expects a $400,000 cut of its $7.9 million work-study grant program.

“It’s quite of few students who will be losing. It’s devastating if you are one of those students. We’re a big school, and we’ll be able to manage,” says Heuer.

The sequestration law has caused “a lot of anxiety” for students and their families at the University of California, says David Alcocer, director of student support at the college.

“What we are trying to do is help people put this in context,” Alcocer says. “These cuts won’t shut our doors, but it sets a precedent for rolling back [federal funding.] There’s a risk of perpetual cuts, and we want to maintain federal support for access to college.”

About 12 percent of the estimated 200,000 students attending the University of California receive work-study grants. Alcocer says the university doesn’t know the exact numbers, but it expects the work-study program will be trimmed from $500,000 to $800,000. Those cuts won’t mean those students can’t find other jobs offered by the university system.

Though cuts in the federal work-study program seem small in a big budget, James Douglas, the spokesman at Texas Southern University, says it’s not something people in this country should take lightly, “It’s devastating not just for Texas Southern but for everyone in the country.”

Douglas was hopeful late last week that some sort of compromise would be reached. But he held a jaundiced view about the impending cuts if they take effect this spring. “I don’t think both [political] parties understand that this would be a disaster if they let this happen,” he says.

Texas Southern’s financial officer Hasan Jamil says 402 students at the university receive part-time jobs from the federal work-study program, and 52 of them now face losing those jobs. Eighty-five percent of the students at Texas Southern receive some type of financial aid, Jamil said.

“Cutting one [work study position] is too many. Students won’t be able to go to college,” Jamil says, adding the university does not have a rainy day fund to make up the difference.

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