Student financial aid faces large cuts from sequestration

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Barring a last-second deal, $85 billion will be cut from the federal budget starting tomorrow as a result of the failure to reach a budgetary agreement by President Barack Obama and Congress during the last two years. The cuts would take effect over the next seven months and could have a direct impact on Marquette students and Wis. residents.

According to the Marquette Office of Public Affairs webpage, 1,567 Marquette students received almost $6.3 million in Pell grants, and 545 students received $1.24 million in Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants funding for the 2011-2012 academic year.

If the cuts go into effect, students could lose up to $876 per year in federal aid, according to the Student Aid Alliance. In response, the Office of Public Affairs circulated a petition advocating protection of federal student aid against cuts.

In a forum for strategic planning with students last October, University President the Rev. Scott Pilarz expressed his concerns about the potential effects of sequestration on student aid.

“It keeps me up at night,” Pilarz said at the time. “Quite honestly, it is one of the things that literally keeps me up at night – worrying about what might happen if Congress starts to roll back federal financial aid.”

The White House released a state-by-state breakdown Sunday of exactly where each state would lose federal funding.

Wisconsin would find itself among the hardest hit states, potentially losing about $13.5 million in federal funding. Public education would bear the largest share of the cuts, at $8.5 million. According to the report, about 120 teacher and aide jobs are at risk, meaning about 10,000 fewer students could be served. In addition, 550 fewer college students would receive federal aid, and 420 fewer students would receive federal work study.

Under the Budget Control Act of 2011, Federal Pell Grants will remain safe from sequestration. However, according to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrations, student loan origination fees would increase by 7.6 percent. Origination fees for federal Stafford loans would increase to 1.076 percent.

College of Arts & Sciences sophomore Kyle Whelton has followed the proceedings of sequestration closely.

“Congress has been behaving extremely irresponsibly in regard to sequestration,” Whelton said. “Especially in terms of federal financial aid, which is imperative for higher education in the United States.”

Congress returned to session Monday after a week-long recess, and little progress has been made. In opening statements to the House, Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer said a deal must be reached because the country’s well-being depends on it.

“House and Senate Democrats have each proposed balanced alternatives that combine smart, targeted cuts in spending and tax expenditures,” Hoyer said. “I would hope the Majority Leader, Mr. Eric Cantor, would bring that to the floor.”

Rep. Gwen Moore (D), who represents Milwaukee, is a member of the House Budget and Finance Committee and echoed this sense of urgency.

“I am doing everything in my power to avert the sequester, but the Republicans have the ball in their court,” Moore said. “Democrats have made consistent attempts at bipartisanship and believe that these cuts will be devastating to families across the country. We’re waiting on Republican leadership to act.”

Speaker of the House John Boehner reciprocated the blame toward Democrats in a press conference on Monday.

“You know, the president proposed the sequester, yet he’s far more interested in holding campaign rallies than he is in urging his Senate Democrats to actually pass a plan,” Boehner said.

With little evidence of that Congress will reach a deal before the Friday deadline, President Obama will meet with the top four Republican and Democrat leaders Friday morning to discuss final options to avoid fallout from the deep spending cuts.

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