Fears loom over sequestration cuts

Without serious Congress renegotiation, another “fiscal cliff” crisis could disrupt federal education funding.

The sequestration policy, a group of automatic across-the-board spending cuts that total $1.2 trillion and are scheduled to last from March 1 to 2021, will shave close to $85 billion from the federal budget, according to the Los Angeles Times. This will cover a 5 percent reduction across the board to both education and defense spending.

In response, Chancellor Rita Cheng said the university is requesting a modest tuition increase, which will be proposed during Thursday’s Board of Trustees meeting, to offset any funding losses.

“We are following the sequestration issue very closely,” she said. “The combination of possible federal and state cuts to higher education will certainly impact the university.”

Along with a tuition increase, Cheng said the university’s hiring freeze, which University Spokesman Rod Sievers said requires the university to approve individual hires, would continue as well.

While the sequestration policy will affect what federal aid students receive, it won’t be as simple as a 5 percent reduction of all campus-based aid, Financial Aid Director Terri Harfst said.

“I saw a formula that is being proposed for campus-based aid reductions, and SIU would not see as large a reduction as originally forecasted,” she said. “Regardless of the outcome, the Financial Aid Office is always available to assist students in funding their education.”

Harfst said it’s hard to say what will happen for individual students until it’s known whether the cuts will happen.

“Each situation may be unique, depending on the amounts and types of financial aid that has already been awarded,” she said.

According to an Inside Higher Education report, many federal cuts will affect federal work study programs and other federal financial aid offered to universities by 8.2 percent across the board.

However, Harfst said any potential tuition increase may not affect current students. The university complies with an Illinois law that freezes tuition rates four years after their initial enrollment, which guarantees a static tuition rate that doesn’t change. This program, called Truth In Tuition, has been in effect since the 2004-2005 academic year, she said.

The Truth In Tuition program does not apply to graduate or professional students, and an undergraduate student’s college-career tuition unfreezes after his or her fourth year, Harfst said.

Along with the hiring freeze, Cheng said the university will do its best to avoid staff loss.

“We are also working to contain costs while continuing to provide a quality education,” she said. “These steps will help us avoid layoffs.”

Citing continued employment fears, faculty who were asked for their thoughts on the university’s future declined to comment.

Some students who receive financial aid, as well as some who don’t, say they are concerned about their education’s future.

Theresa Bates, a junior from Charleston studying management, said she is concerned she will be unable to afford university attendance if her federal aid is reduced.

“I don’t have a job, and my aid covers tuition and room and board with just enough extra for books and some spending money,” she said. “If my aid goes down, I’ll have to get a (private) Sallie Mae loan or something to make up for it.”

Bates said her federal loan, which is part of the Department of Education’s Parent PLUS program, is an important part of her educational financing. She said she doesn’t want to have to take out a private loan because of the higher interest and post-graduation costs.

Chelsea Grammer, a junior from Murphysboro studying management, said she does not receive federal aid, but financial cuts to scholarships that students can receive from their state representatives, in her case Rep. Mike Bost, have hurt her.

“I live at home with my parents, and I didn’t qualify for a federal loan,” she said. “The scholarship I received for full tuition this year was cut by the state, so I don’t know how I’ll afford tuition next year.”

Kristen Heiple, a junior from Murphysboro studying marketing, said she is not only concerned for her federal Direct Loans’ eventual reduction, which would force her to increase her Sallie Mae loans, but she also worries about her teachers’ potential job losses.

“There are a bunch of teachers I’d miss,” she said. “I don’t want them to have to lose their jobs because of something they can’t control.”

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