The sequester, a series of across-the-board governmental budget cuts totaling $85 billion, is upon us after Congress missed a Friday deadline to avoid it.
While every American will undoubtedly be impacted by the cuts, college students will face an added burden in specific ways.
The sequester is expected to drain the federal work-study program budget by $37.6 million and the funds for the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG) will be cut by almost $33.6 million, according to projections released by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA).
These cuts will affect the upcoming 2013-2014 school year, and individual colleges and universities will feel the results differently.
According to a report released by NASFAA to USA TODAY College, some of the nation’s schools are not projected to see any cuts to work-study or SEOG allocations, while others could see cuts in the realm of six digits.
The variation in cuts is due to how another law, the Higher Education Act, interacts with the sequester, said NASFAA President Justin Draeger.
The sequester outlines across-the-board, programatic cuts, while the Higher Education Act outlines specific allocation methods that give every school a certain “base guarantee” of federal aid, in addition to certain add-ons.
“Schools that, in the past, only used their base guarantees, aren’t typically seeing cuts because of the sequester,” Draeger said.
With the sequester deadline already passed, these cuts are official. While Congress could pass laws that replace some of the cuts caused by the sequester, the results of such acts aren’t known.
“If [Congress] replaces the sequester with something, it is really unclear how that can mitigate the cuts,” said Draeger, “but the cuts have already went into effect.”
And with Congress needing to pass a budget by March 27 or face a government shutdown, their energies may be focused on avoiding this next hurdle.
Draeger isn’t happy with the series of last-minute deadlines that Congress is repeatedly skirting.
“We have to move away from this environment where there is no predictability,” Draeger said. “How can we expect students and parents to make smart choices about going to college when we can’t give them exact numbers?”
Many colleges and universities won’t receive official details of financial-aid budgets, including sequestration cuts, before sending students their estimated financial-aid package.
For those trying to plan the exact numbers for college costs next year, Draeger says that it is important to look at any caveats in their financial-aid award letters.
“If a student’s letter says ‘pending federal funding’ it is important for them to reach out to their schools,” he said.
Many college students have expressed their frustration with Congress failing to stop the sequester.
“I think it’s really sad that these people in Congress couldn’t come to a simple agreement,” said Emma Carnine-Irwin, a second year student at Des Moines Area Community College.
“While the issue is not a simple one, Congress gets paid to complete tasks such as coming up with a plan to balance the federal budget. … Because of their unwillingness to act and compromise, Americans have to suffer,” Irwin said.
Jourdan Williams, who is a junior at Louisiana State University and an intern with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, was also unhappy.
“It’s unfortunate that we were trusting the leaders of our country to protect us from these cuts, but they failed to set aside their differences to get the job done,” said Williams. “Both sides spent way too much time pointing the blame in the other direction and not enough time figuring out solutions to stop sequestration.”
In addition to the government shutdown down later this month, deadline duress continues into the beginning of July when interest rates for the federally funded Stafford Loan are set to increase unless Congress acts.
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