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What Is the Sequester - and How Will It Affect College Students?

Apr 8, 2013 Shanon Woodruff, Distance-Education.org Columnist | 0 Comments

The sequester is a series of government budget cuts that went into effect on March 1, 2013. It was established as part of the Budget Control Act, signed by President Obama in 2011. The Budget Control Act raised the debt ceiling in an earlier Washington crisis—and the sequester was established to essentially pressure Congress to develop a more long-term deficit reduction strategy. The cuts were never intended to actually go into effect. But politicians in Washington failed to work out an alternative strategy in time—and failed to avert them.

The spending reductions in the sequester add up to a staggering $1.2 trillion—and target both defense and domestic projects. That amount adds up over
nine years, but $85 billion of it will go into effect in 2013 alone.
If the sequester cuts aren’t lifted—still a possibility—they
could have dramatic impact on a diverse range of programs
spanning national security and the military, health care,
disaster relief, nonprofit funding, scientific research, and
education.

Because the sequester doesn’t affect the Pell Grant program, there is a common belief that the sequester doesn’t directly have an effect on college students. This is a misconception, however. Here are just a few ways the sequester could have an impact on student costs.

See Also: Earn a Degree While Serving Your Country

Reduced federal work study programs

The sequester includes an 8.2% cut to federal work study programs. Work study programs are designed to help students with severe financial need by giving them an opportunity to work part-time to finance the cost of college. Over 3,400 colleges nationwide participate in federal work-study programs currently; it’s possible that with these cuts, fewer colleges could participate and fewer students would qualify.

See Also: Online Colleges and Universities

Cuts to the Education Opportunity Grant program

Also on the chopping block is $49 million in funding to the Education Opportunity Grant program. This program provides grant funding on a need-based level for low-income undergraduates at over 3,800 participating traditional and accredited online colleges. Under the sequester cuts, as many as 70,000 students could be affected, and fewer students would receive this aid going forward.

Cuts to Military Tuition Assistance Programs

The Tuition Assistance (TA) program is a major benefit to members of the military—providing up to $4,500 per year in tuition assistance to active-duty military personnel who are completing high school degrees, college degrees, and professional certificate programs. As a result of the cuts, the Marines and the Army have announced they are suspending their TA programs as of March 8—a move that could affect hundreds of thousands of military personnel. The Air Force is currently considering suspending the program as well, as of this writing.

Cuts to university research

Federal programs administered by organizations such as the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the National Endowment for the Humanities fund a considerable amount of university research. Under the sequester cuts, these programs would be subject to a 7.6% cut in mandatory spending and an 8.2% cut in discretionary spending—as would many other domestic programs. This could eliminate or reduce funding for graduate student research stipends, professor positions, and possibly whole departments at some schools.

Cuts to college preparation programs

There are other programs that would get an 8.2% budget cut as well—including TRIO and GEAR UP, two programs designed to increase access to higher education to high school and middle school students from low-income backgrounds.

GEAR UP is a grant program providing funding to states and partner organizations to provide consistent educational support and assistance to students in low-income areas from middle school through high school.

TRIO encompasses a variety of federally funded programs including Upward Bound, targeting high-potential high school students and potential first-generation college students; Talent Search, a program providing educational intervention services to over 389,000 students nationwide; and the Educational Opportunity Centers program, providing counseling and college admissions information to adults seeking to return to college.

There’s still a chance that the sequester cuts won’t stand. Grass-roots pressure from the millions of people affected by the cuts could incite change; and it’s still possible that President Obama could strike a bargain with the GOP that would lift or alleviate the effects of the sequester. Until then, however, these cuts stand—and they are likely to have a strong effect on millions of students nationwide—including nontraditional and military students.

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