Pending federal budget cuts threaten loss of student grants

In Wisconsin alone, 95,023 college students are currently receiving or waiting for financial aid.

That entire group, according to the Higher Educational Aids Board of Wisconsin, could potentially lose a portion of their aid due to pending federal budget cuts.

If approved, the congressional legislation would cut funding from the Federal Pell Grant Program, which provides need-based grants to low-income undergraduates. This would result in a maximum of $4,705 rather than $5,550 in financial aid per individual each academic year, with no funding for summer school programs.

It would also eliminate the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, which serves the same purpose as the Pell but allows award amounts to be determined by individual universities. Approximately 4,000 colleges nationwide participate in the FSEOG grant program, according to the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities’ website.

Although the House of Representatives already passed the legislation, the Senate has yet to vote.

Justin Draeger, president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, recently wrote a letter to Congress expressing his concerns regarding the Pell Grant and its continued funding for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year.

“Any changes to Pell funding at this point could disrupt, delay or halt low-income students and families’ higher education aspirations,” Draeger said in the letter.

So how would the potential budget cuts affect Marquette?

According to Susan Teerink, director of the Office of Financial Aid, Marquette currently has 1,563 recipients of the Pell Grant program for the 2010-’11 year. She said there are 548 Pell Grant recipients who receive the FSEOG as well.

“The cuts will make it financially more difficult for some students to either enroll in college or enroll full-time,” Teerink said. “If the cuts go through, students will probably need to look to other sources, including family resources, earnings from part time jobs or student loans.”

She did, however, say federal cuts would not impact other Marquette financial aid dollars.

If the federal government cuts funding for financial aid due to budget constraints, it could raise the question of whether or not Wisconsin will do the same to combat its $3.6 billion deficit.

The Wisconsin Tuition Grant, which applies to permanent state residents and ranges from $250 to $2,900 per academic year, must be approved by the state government to remain at its current level. Cullen Werwie, spokesman for Gov. Scott Walker, said in a statement that the governor plans to keep the grant at its current level.

Even with Walker supporting the grant, some feel it is important to ensure elected representatives are aware of the situation regardless.

Steve Schultz, manager of governmental and community affairs in the Office of Public Affairs, said the school is leading advocacy efforts toward the issue. One of these efforts involves joining the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities’ Students’ Day in Madison on April 7 to show support for continued funding.

“The governor has proposed holding the funding level on the state funded Wisconsin Tuition Grant for now,” Schultz said. “But the legislature needs to hear how important it is to keep it as well.”

As part of the effort, Marquette offers numerous ways on its Office of Public Affairs website in which students can support the cause without traveling to Madison in April.

Tips include e-mailing elected representatives regarding why grant programs are important, posting a video on YouTube, calling local representatives’ offices or simply writing a letter expressing how financial aid plays a role in college life.