Possible decrease of federal aid pending in House

by Travis Reed

For Amanda Hall, the financial aid she received this year isn’t enough to cover her school expenses. She might be forced to drop out of school as she waits for outside loans to arrive, if they ever do.
“I’ve had to apply for other loans. So far they haven’t gone through, and right now I’m fighting it so that I don’t have to drop out,” said Hall, a Carlson School of Management sophomore.
Unfortunately, the situation might be worsening.
A recent report by the Student Aid Alliance, a coalition of 60 higher-education organizations, indicates that pending legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives could cut student-aid programs as much as 18 percent.
The spending bill was pushed through a House subcommittee Thursday and awaits further action in that chamber before an Oct. 1 deadline for appropriations bills.
The 18-percent cut is a grim statistic for a national student population that receives nearly 75 percent of its aid from the federal government.
But the coalition’s report outlines an alternative proposal that, if adopted, would increase funding for grants, federal work-study programs and Perkins loans by $29 million in Minnesota. Nationwide, the proposed increase would total $1.5 billion, less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the national budget.
At least some of the report’s concerns were validated Thursday, as the House Appropriations Subcommittee negotiated the higher education budget.
“They wrote a bill at a decent level, but they did it all with budget gimmicks. They provide some money for this year, but they take it out of next year’s education budget,” said Stephanie Giesecke, director of budget and appropriations for Washington-based National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.
The prospect of cuts in federal funding might be particularly daunting in Minnesota, where Gov. Jesse Ventura has vocally opposed student-aid funding for higher education.
In spite of the proposed cuts, some officials urge students not to be concerned.
“The governor’s statements reflect his own opinion. The state of Minnesota is one of the most generous states in the country in terms of aid that it provides for students,” said Nancy Sinsabaugh, interim director for the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid. “I don’t hear a chorus of people agreeing with Governor Ventura, so I’m personally not too worried.”
But not worrying might be easier said than done for the 37,000 University students who receive financial aid.
Even if the proposed cuts are not successfully negotiated in Congress, many students might be left without a steady supply of aid. Because the federal government has not adjusted the Pell Grant for inflation, it has declined in value 35 percent since 1980.
The decline has caused borrowing to skyrocket, and now student loans comprise 80 percent of all financial aid at the University.
But students who are not able to receive loans are in an even more precarious position.
Tonya Hill is a University graduate student who expects to end her collegiate career with debt as high as $60,000 or $70,000. For Hill, a single mother, it is important that she receive all the financial aid that she can.
“If they do cut financial aid, it’s really going to affect me,” Hill added.

Travis Reed covers student life and welcomes comments at tree[email protected]. He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3235.