Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 9
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Financial aid office urges students to contact legislators, fight proposed Pell Grant cuts

Students understand the necessity of financial aid: without it, many brilliant and hard-working students would not be able to attend Whitman. So what happens when certain government financial aid is cut completely? Hopefully students won’t have to find out, but in an effort to balance the federal budget, the government is considering cutting financial aid funding in the form of Pell Grants and Washington State Need Grants.

When government spending is too high and the federal budget needs to be re-worked, education is an area that classically tends to get hit. The date for the decision about cutting Pell Grants is not known, but if students want to help fight for theirs and their peer’s financial aid, the time to make their voices heard is now.

Tyson Harlow, assistant director of financial aid services, explained what exactly the Pell Grant is.

“The Pell Grant is a need-based federal grant for students who come from families with fairly low income: what we call high-needs students,” he said.

The students that will be effected by the potential cut will be students with the most need. A Pell Grant cut means that the threshold for those who are eligible for financial aid will be lowered.

Marilyn Ponti, director of financial aid services, talked about how it would effect students seeking financial aid.

“[Legislators] are looking at reducing the income level, so for those kids whose income level is a certain amount, they would lower it, which means that even the really, really needy students are going to lose Pell Grants,” she said. “Somebody who was marginal before, maybe getting $500 or less in Pell Grant, could possibly lose it for next year.”

The impact of the Pell Grant cut would not be felt for current students making use of the federal grant. But if Pell Grants were to be cut in the near future, the next incoming class would feel its effects.

“Ultimately, as an institution, we’ll probably have less funds to spread out amongst all of our students, and it would just mean that were not able to help as many,” Harlow said. “It would probably have the greatest impact on the new incoming class, because we try to help our current students as much as possible.”

Senior Bryant Fong, former Opinion writer for The Pioneer, outlined the importance of the Pell Grant in the U.S. education system via email.

“America’s graduation rate from bachelor or associate degree granting institutions is only 40 percent according to the 2009 census report, which will only increase if the barrier to enter college is higher because of increasing costs. A study by Eric Bettinger found a significant positive correlation between application of Pell Grants and retention rate among low income students,” he said.

According to Ponti, in order to protect financial aid for future students, the most important thing students can do is to let state legislators know how important financial aid is to students.

“What happens is if the legislators don’t hear from us, they think everything’s fine, and they can make cuts. So we as an institution have to make sure that we are an advocate, and that we get out there and let legislators know that student aid is really important to us and that cuts could hurt our institution, in many different ways,” Ponti said.

Save Student Aid is a campaign advocating for the protection of federal student financial aid.   The campaign is an attempt to collect the voices of students, parents, and community members so that legislators deciding what to cut know just how important financial aid is to students across the nation.

In addition to this campaign, the Financial Aid Office hosted an event earlier last month in Reid Campus Center to collect student information and represent the importance of student aid visually.

“We had something down at Reid Campus Center the Friday before last where we had some info sheets, kind of like bio sheets, for students to fill out, so that we could create these things they call All-Star cards,” Harlow said. It’s kind of like a baseball card that would show the student, what type of aid they get, what financial aid means to them, all that, so they can hand those out to legislators in Olympia, to kind of put a face on the money that’s being considered for cuts.”

Harlow stressed that students hold the power in influencing legislation concerning the Pell Grant.   If students do not voice their opinions on essential subjects such as financial aid, then decisions will be made without taking their perspective into account.

“Students are really the best voices, and we recommend that students contact their legislators,” he said.

The Save Student Aid group website can be accessed at www.facebook.com/savestudentaid.

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