Sequester hits work-study funds — and impacts this family

The sequester has hit home for me.

We’ve joined the 37 percent of Americans who said in an ABC News/Washington Post poll earlier this month that they’ve been hurt by the sequestration — the $85 billion slashed from the federal budget March 1. My daughter, who’ll be a junior this year at a private liberal arts college in Missouri, just heard from the financial aid office that because work-study funds for this year “have been significantly reduced,” she probably won’t get a job under the federal program which pays a portion of the cost of campus jobs for students.

(Dennis R.J. Geppert/AP)
(Dennis R.J. Geppert/AP)

It’s because of the sequester, the financial aid officer told me.

My daughter had hoped to earn $150 to $200 a month from a work-study job on campus (she doesn’t have a car) to cover her groceries and incidentals; she lives in a university-owned apartment and buys the cheapest meal plan. (From what I hear of the food in the cafeteria, that’s a wise choice. At least she can identify the items she cooks herself.)

We’ll figure something out: She’ll find another type of job or she’ll borrow more, adding to her burden of student debt when she graduates. We’re struggling ourselves after four layoffs in four years, due to the off-shoring of computer programming jobs, or my husband and I would help more than we already do; we also have a son in high school.

Cutting work-study funds — which are not a handout but require a student to earn the financial aid award — seems counterproductive for a society that purports to value education and to offer the American dream to all. We’ve been fed the line that education is the way out of poverty and the path to a middle-class income and lifestyle, but with college running at least $20,000 a year or more — and that’s for a public state school — who can afford higher education but the already wealthy?

Not every school’s work-study funds have been affected by the sequester. University of Missouri spokesman Christian Basi told me my alma mater was “not seeing any cuts” this year. Not so for other schools, according to an article on diverseeducation.com:

“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.”

Let me repeat that number: 33,000 students will no longer have a work-study job. “This is a really big deal for those students who have work-study jobs,” said David Tjaden, chair of NEA’s Student Program. “For some of them, it means going to college or not.”

For those who think the impact is only felt by low-income kids who aspire to go to college, think again. “The resulting deep cuts carry the very real threat of significant harm to the ongoing economic recovery and our current and future competitiveness in the global economy,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a Senate subcommittee hearing on appropriations  last summer.

Next year’s outlook appears much worse. Bloomberg reports the Department of Education faces a 26 percent cut. How can work-study and Pell Grants and other financial aid programs for college students survive?

That leads many of us to wonder: Is a college education worth the hefty price tag? How will my daughter pay back the $20,000 plus she’ll have in student loans? And this is a hardworking student who has half of her education paid for with merit scholarships.

But college involves so much more than just taking classes. Staying in their parents’ house and taking online courses, while a cheap alternative, fails to provide students with those real-life experiences that teach so much more than what’s in books.

Like learning to budget resources. Does she see a movie this weekend and live on ramen noodles? Or eat better and skip the film?

Let’s just hope she learns how to budget better than our Congress has.

Diana Reese is a journalist in Overland Park, Kan. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.

 

Diana Reese is a journalist in Overland Park, Kan. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.
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