Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Washington state looks to significant cuts in education, Whitman feels impact

The Washington state Legislature has proposed a plan to trim Washington’s budget dramatically for the coming fiscal year, including large cuts in higher education spending. These cuts are in line with the education cuts Governor Chris Gregoire proposed in January, which included the discontinuation of certain state-funded scholarship programs.

One such program is Washington Scholars, a state merit scholarship awarded to two students in each legislative district. The scholarship provides up to 7269 dollars per year for students attending a private four-year college in Washington state. This scholarship and similar state programs are considered by Whitman to be outside scholarships. According to Marilyn Ponti, director of financial aid, these outside scholarships provide many students with funds that allow them to afford a Whitman education. Although these scholarships will be continued for students already  receiving  them, the Higher Education Coordinating Board of Washington has said that award amounts are likely to be reduced, and the program could be eliminated in future years.

Sophomore Helen Jenne was able to come to Whitman in part because of Washington Scholars. She said that it was easier for her family to finance a private school education with the scholarship, and is concerned about the possibility of its removal.

“When I received this scholarship, I factored it into all four years when thinking about what the total cost of Whitman would be to my family,” she said. “If they suspend this scholarship for my last two years at Whitman, it will feel like a broken promise.”

Jenne’s story is not uncommon among Whitman students on state-funded scholarships. Many states are cutting education programs now and trying to scale back educational spending. Jenne said that fellow Washington Scholars mobilized last year to stop similar cuts to the program.

“It was also proposed to suspend funding for the program last year,” she said. “A Washington Scholar who attends the University of Washington, Sarah Hann, contacted me and other Washington Scholars via Facebook to encourage us to send e-mails to our senators and representatives.”

In part because of these efforts, funding for the program continued last year. With cuts looming again, Jenne said that efforts to lobby the state Legislature are continuing this year.

Ponti said that unfortunately, many students don’t take the time to contact their representatives about the importance of funding higher education.

“We never get the 50 to 100 students we really need to make our voices heard at a state level,” she said. “I really wish students would take the time to look up their legislators information and speak up about the proposed cuts that will impact them.”

ASWC Finance Chair Matt Dittrich noted that Whitman budget feels some of the effects of the state’s struggles.

“We are not being directly squeezed, but indirectly, we feel the tightening and are doing our best to cut a new notch in the belt,” he said. “Student trips, research projects and initiatives are becoming increasingly dependent on ASWC as state grants evaporate and student financial burdens increase.”

Ponti explained that because Whitman is a private school, its financial situation is not affected by the state budget cuts as much the budgets of state colleges.

“We are very thankful that we can afford to be generous with students as far as scholarships are concerned,” she said.

Perhaps the greatest danger to Whitman posed by state budget cuts is the potential cuts which may occur for state need grants. Whitman currently receives 400,000 dollars annually from Washington state government to fund part of the tuition for students who demonstrate financial need. In the state of Washington, over 22,000 students who qualify for state need grants are not able to  receive  them because there simply isn’t enough funding. Whitman is projecting its budget with the assumption that the 400,000 dollars will still be provided next year, so any cuts in need grants by the state government would make providing enough scholarship money for all Whitman students more of a stretch.

After the governor’s budget is proposed and the legislature submits their proposal, the two groups work together to come up with a final budget proposal. The extent and nature of education cuts should be clear by early March.

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