Super Committee cuts threaten higher education budget


After the Super Committee’s failure to make appropriate spending cuts, an unspecified amount of federal funding for higher education will be slashed during the 2012-2013 school year.

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the automatic spending cuts will reduce most non-defense discretionary spending, like federal student aid, by 7.8 percent in fiscal year 2013 alone, according to fastweb.com, a website that provides resources for paying for college.

The remaining $2.3 billion in annual federal student aid funding — excluding the Pell Grant — next fiscal year will see about $183 million in cuts to programs, like Federal Work-Study, SEOG and TEACH Grant programs, according to fastweb.com.

The potential cuts in January 2013 could also restructure student loans by eliminating the six-month grace period allowed before initial payments and reducing the funding for research grants, said Matt Cordeiro, Rutgers University Student Assembly president.

“This is a total and utter failure and a bad example of leadership,” said Cordeiro, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. “People prefer communism over the United States government right now. They’re sending the wrong message to kids.”

He said the specific consequences of the cuts are unclear but are likely to affect the 86 percent of undergraduate University students relying on financial aid and funding for research.

“It will be interesting to see what happens,” Cordeiro said. 

He said the Congressional Super Committee, a bipartisan special joint group formed to compromise on planned cuts like this one and increase revenue, has put pressure directly on students.

Joe Cashin, corresponding secretary for RUSA, said the Pell Grant, which provides grants to low-income students, and Stafford loans, a type of low-interest loan for eligible students, are resources the government might cut.

According to fastweb.com, the maximum Pell Grant will be cut by approximately $310 in 2013-14, since each award year spans the last quarter of the previous fiscal year and the first three quarters of the current fiscal year, affecting about 9 million students.

RUSA teamed up with the United States Student Association in their postcard campaign, a national effort that sent about 20,000 postcards to members of the Super Committee, 2,000 of which came from the University, he said.

“With the postcard campaign, we were trying to say to Congress, ‘Don’t balance the budget on our backs,’” said Cashin, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore.

John Connelly, vice president of RUSA who also helped work on the postcard campaign, said he focuses on telling other students what is happening in Washington, D.C.

“The problem is that people don’t understand when they hear about the Super Committee or the debt ceiling,” said Connelly, a School of Arts and Sciences junior. “It sounds lumpy and hard to understand, but students need to get involved.”

Connelly said to get involved in issues dealing with the national budget, which could affect anyone with financial aid, students should find out who their representative is and their responsibilities in our nation’s capital.

Connelly, who is organizing a workshop called “A Practical Guide to Changing the World: Student Empowerment Project,” said students should advocate for themselves, a viewpoint echoed by other RUSA members.

“I think from a student standpoint, it’s scary,” Cashin said. “Overall, all you might see are students that rely on the Pell Grant and Stafford Loans not returning to school.”

Rebecca Pero, an affiliate of the National Queer Student Coalition for the United States Student Association, which also helped with the postcard campaign, said she thinks students’ knowledge of the issue is disheartening.

“When I was asking students to fill out the postcards, I thought they would be more aware,” she said. “They absolutely weren’t. I had to explain things like the Pell grant and the TRIO program.”

Pero said the TRIO program, which assists low-income students, helps them transition into higher education and Pell Grant is a term families should be familiar with.

“It starts in the classroom,” said Pero, a School of Arts and Sciences junior. “I triple major and take a wide range of classes in economics, sociology, but the only conversation about these issues happens in my humanities classes.”

She said even with RUSA working to raise awareness, students still need multiple forms of outreach to learn about national issues.

“There isn’t enough activism nationally,” Pero said. “I think this will push it in their faces, and this will become a priority.”

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