University of Maryland officials have predicted that federal cuts in student aid programs totaling $6.6 million will force as many as 1,500 students to make do without financial assistance this fall.
"This is the biggest drop I've ever experienced, and I've been here since 1970," said Ulysses S. Glee, director of financial aid at the university.
Last year more than half the 36,000 students at the College Park campus received some form of financial assistance. What effect the decreased amount of aid money will have on enrollment is uncertain, as students do not begin registering for the fall term until next week.
But Glee said budget cuts in five major programs could touch as many as 6,000 Maryland students and may price students from low-income families right out of the university.
It is a fear many education officials share. A report released this month by the National Institute of Independent Colleges and Universities found that last year the number of students on aid at private colleges declined 5 percent while enrollment climbed 2 percent.
"The problem we're facing is that students will shift down," said Pat Smith of the American Council on Education. "We've had higher-priced schools saying they're not getting as many applications from students from lower-income families."
At Maryland, the financial aid office started a newsletter called Cashflow in an effort to find new ways to meet the financial aid pinch on campus, and director Glee says the office's counselors are taking a new tack.
"Our whole philosophy has changed," Glee said. "We tell parents and students they have got to carpool and buy used books. We're telling them pets are expensive, that they have to shop at discount stores, eat less and do things differently."
The largest cuts at Maryland have been made in two entitlement programs, the guaranteed student loan program and the Pell grant program. But the university is also bracing for a reduction of upwards of 20 percent in its work-study program, a popular form of financial help since 1964.
Under work-study, the only aid program requiring recipients to work, students are paid a minimum wage for 15 to 20 hours' labor a week at jobs that vary from lab assistant to typist. Maryland may have to eliminate as many as 150 of the 575 work-study jobs available on campus last year.
The Department of Education estimates that a $22 million cut in funding for the work-study program eliminates 40,000 work-study jobs this year for students at more than 3,000 universities and colleges around the nation.
At Maryland, the program is one of three so-called "campus-based" programs, meaning those that are controlled directly by the university. Campus-based aid programs primarily benefit students from low-and middle-income families. Glee said the university has been able to scrounge up money and jobs from other sources, but faces a net loss of at least $400,000 in campus-based federal aid.
Various departments of the university are also going to be hurt from the cuts in the work-study program. The admissions office, for instance, needs 16 students to answer phones, file applications and speak with recruiters at high schools. In this austere fall however, the office has been alloted eight.