Students throughout Washington and even nationwide are at high risk for losing their financial aid unless they speak up about their need to receive state funding. Since legislators increased the State Need Grant in 2011, the new revenue forecasts force lawmakers to find $2 billion to cut in Washington’s state budget, according to Savestudentaid.org.
Governor Chris Gregoire has called a special session of the legislature to begin on Nov. 28, leaving students with little time to voice concerns and make a difference in the decisions made by the legislatures.
With two-thirds of the budget unable to be reduced, higher education and student-aid programs are left in the final third, and remain at high risk.
As 2,725 Whitworth University students received some form of financial aid this year, all should be concerned about no longer receiving the financial help they have been provided.
In August, the governor’s idea of a 10 percent cut equaled a total of $22 million from Washington state agencies in the annual State Need Grant reduction.
With the $22 million cut, more than 6,000 students who would normally be granted financial aid could go unserved. When added to the 26,000 whom are already unserved, that’s over 32,000 students missing out on funds.
Director of Financial Aid Wendy Olson said she understands the risk students are at, and the measures that need to be taken to reduce the risk of losing financial aid.
With the struggling economy to blame for the great imbalance, students could lose their financial aid at a time when many need it most.
“The deficit in the state budget is because people just aren’t earning as much,” Olson said. “With unemployment and property taxes, the slower economy isn’t able to provide the government with the income it needs.”
Also at risk of being cut are student’s work-study positions funded by the state.
This year alone, Whitworth received a total of $163,765 to fund off-campus employment for students, with 120 Whitworth students taking advantage of the work-study program.
With the budget cuts occurring at a federal level, private schools are far more at risk than public state universities, Olson said.
Freshman Ronni Taylor fears the new budget cuts. She said she doesn’t know how she would be able to put herself through school without the extra funding.
“I work every weekend to pay for my schooling, but it’s hard,” Taylor said. “If I lose out on financial aid next semester, I don’t think I would be able to swing the cost of Whitworth.”
One proposal has been that only public university students will have State Need Grant funds, an idea Olson doesn’t see working successfully.
“If we can’t give the needy students of private universities the State Need Grant, many of these students will have to go to the public universities,” Olson said. “That will just give the state schools higher cost than what it would have cost to provide a State Need Grant for a student at a private school in the state.”
Tuition is already a challenge, as many Whitworth students depend on a total of $2,572,570, all state grants and scholarship programs combined.
371 Whitworth students received aid through those funds this academic school year, meaning they may no longer be able to receive the same financial help they receive now.
Whitworth has 355 students who receive funds through the State Need Grant fund, but are capable of losing up to $2,396,380 of that this upcoming year.
Freshman Cassaundra Kreider is a student who is concerned that Whitworth may not be a possibilty without financial aid.
She said the shortage of funding may not only cause her to lose money, but also may cause her to lose the chance to continue her schooling at a private university.
“Obviously Whitworth isn’t an inexpensive university to attend,” Kreider said. “I love the school, it’s absolutely perfect but that doesn’t mean I can necessarily pay the tuition without some help.”
While Kreider said she feels blessed to have found Whitworth, she fears that transferring to a public university may be her only option in the future if she doesn’t receive as much financial aid next year.
“Although Washington State [University]has never been where I wanted to go, I may not have any other choice,” Kreider said. “Trust me, I would much rather be a Pirate then a Coug, but it’s hard financially.”
In order to make an impact and have the voice of the students heard, Olson urges students to write to their legislatures telling them personal stories of why they need the financial aid.
An online petition and access to contacting legislatures themselves can be found online at SaveStudentAid.org.
“It’s very important that students act on this cause,” Olson said. “It really will affect their futures.”
By Sydney Conner