How the Government Shutdown Cost College Students
The government shutdown had a negative effect on numerous groups of people who depend on federal support. One of the major groups affected, however, were college students—and nontraditional college students were particularly hard hit. Here’s a look at how the government shutdown affected both traditional and nontraditional college students.
Closure of Head Start programs
Head Start provides crucial childcare services to low-income workers and students. Childcare is often necessary for nontraditional students who have to go to school. As a result of the shutdown, Head Start facilities in many states were forced to close temporarily—leaving the children of many working students out in the cold. During the government shutdown, some students with children had to skip classes or pay for childcare expenses out of pocket—and some to take out loans to pay for childcare expenses.
Closure of the Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
This program provides help for low-income parents in buying nutritious food, among other services administered at the state level. Because of the government shutdown, the WIC program closed in many states. For some students, WIC is instrumental in making sure their children get a balanced meal—and even its temporary closure forced many low-income students to make tough financial decisions between attending school and working to feed their children.
A delay in some tuition aid
Major federal student aid programs such as the Pell Grant program were not significantly affected by the shutdown. However, many students also depend on smaller programs such as the Federal Work-Study Program and the Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant, a grant program for low-income college students. During the government shutdown, staff stopped processing applications for smaller financial aid programs such as these, since approximately 90% of the staff at the Department of Education went on leave. This meant a halt in the processing and moving forward of federal education grants that students depend on.
An impact on college research
The Department of Health and Human Services also stopped awarding research grants to colleges and universities during the shutdown. This created a bottleneck in research funding, stopping or delaying numerous projects—some of which may have been time-sensitive. Researchers were allowed to continue work on research projects that did not require participation by the federal government, but could not apply for new funds. Payments to existing projects were also suspended during the government shutdown.
A halt on sexual assault investigations
Several cases have been in the news about colleges mishandling various sexual assault incidents that happened on campus—including high-profile cases at the University of Virginia, Yale University, and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Usually, the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights investigates claims of botched sexual assault investigations. However, because of the government shutdown, these investigations were put on hiatus.
The impact of this unpredicted effect of the government shutdown is not yet clear; however, many of these investigations are time-sensitive and it is possible that obtaining a fair verdict and a clear picture of the truth on some of these school campuses will be more difficult as a result of the government shutdown.
The government shutdown had an effect on many groups of people in both traditional and accredited online schools—but some of the most hard-hit were vulnerable populations of low-income students and victims of campus sexual assault. As politics in the United States become more polarized, it is unlikely that this will be the last instance of a government shutdown—and it is possible that colleges will have to take more decisive steps to plan for a halt to major government programs and funding in the future.
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