As across-the-board cuts to government agencies are set in motion, South Carolina university administrators, students and parents are bracing for the effects of impending reductions to financial aid and work-study programs.
The automatic federal cuts, totaling $1.2 trillion over 10 years, call for an annual reduction of roughly 5 percent for non-defense programs.
In South Carolina higher education, this means around 830 fewer low-income students will receive aid and around 270 fewer students will get work-study jobs that help them pay for college, according to a White House report.
The University of South Carolina, which has typically 650 to 750 work-study students a year, has not yet decided how to deal with the reductions, said Ed Miller, director of financial aid.
“We will have to make a decision whether to offer the same amount of money to fewer students or lower the amount of money for the same number students,” Miller said. “Depending on the amount of the cuts, we will probably go with the former.”
The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant is another program slated for cuts, but Miller said he does not yet know how much it will be affected.
Miller wanted it to be clear that the government budget cuts will have no bearing on the awarding of scholarships, which come from the university as opposed to the federal government’s need-based grants.
The Pell Grant, a federal program that provides billions of dollars to low-income students, will remain untouched until at least the 2014-15 academic year. If the grant doesn’t remain excluded from the cuts, it could cause “significant problems later,” Miller said.
About 27,000 of USC’s 31,000 students receive some sort of financial aid, with more than $400 million spent on financial aid last year.
Miller said that the financial aid pool typically grows every year and that he doesn’t anticipate a significant reduction.
“At this point, I would tell students they are not going to see dramatic effects, but that doesn’t mean they should be complacent,” he said. “What worries me is that the people in Washington aren’t doing their jobs.”
Miller urged students to tell their legislators “not to do anything to affect the money they get for education.”
The College of Charleston is losing six to eight work-study positions next year and $30,000 in Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, according to Financial Aid Director Don Griggs.
Those changes amount to 6.4 percent and 8.5 percent of each program, respectively. “It’s not significant, but it’s something,” Griggs said.
“I think the untold story is that 2013 to 2014 is the first year of 10 years of reductions,” he said. “So we will see further reduction in subsequent years.”
The same goes for Clemson University, where Elizabeth Milam, senior associate director of financial aid, said the cuts are not extreme, “but every little bit for a student does hurt.”
Milam said the Office of Financial Aid has not made any firm plans for dealing with reductions to work-study or supplemental educational grants, which the university partially subsidizes.
“We anticipate turning more toward institution funds, but no decisions have been made on that,” she said.
Calls to South Carolina State University and Coastal Carolina University financial aid offices were not immediately returned.
Because cuts are relatively small, affected students could make up the difference through scholarships or they might consider community college as a financial back-up plan, said Jean Smith, a guidance director at Dreher High School.
“We always recommend students going into college fill out the FAFSA see what they do qualify for,” Smith said, referring to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
Although work-study reductions will not affect students who already have a work-study job, Melkya Thomas can empathize with the difficulties of students not being able to get one.
Thomas transferred from Francis Marion University, where she was denied a work-study, to USC two years ago. She now works 13 hours a week in the camera room of the journalism school.
“If I didn’t have work-study, I wouldn’t be able to eat or anything else,” Thomas said. For those students who get left out of work-study, she said, “It’s going to hurt and leave them to fend for themselves.”