by Mary Ellen Flannery
Count the nation’s college students among the many Americans who could be devastated by sequestration, the across-the-board federal budget cuts scheduled to go into effect later this week.
College students today already owe more on their student loans than ever, with total debt hitting $1 trillion earlier this year. Now sequestration threatens to slash more federal student aid programs, making college even more unaffordable for Americans — a move that could undermine the nation’s long-term economic recovery, wrote the National Education Association and other allied groups in a letter delivered to Congressional leaders [ed note: pdf link] on Tuesday.
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“These short-sighted cuts to post-secondary education could do serious economic harm,” wrote NEA and other groups of higher-education professionals and students, including the American Association of University Professors, Generational Alliance, and the United States Public Interest Research Group. “The country needs 22 million new college degrees by 2018 to meet changing workforce needs, but at our current pace, we will fall short by at least 3 million degrees.”
Under sequestration, federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants could shrink by $38 million [ed note: pdf link] for as many as 1.4 million students. Another 680,000 students could see their federal Work Study hours or wages fall [ed note: pdf link]. Pell Grants would not be affected. Meanwhile, key college-access programs, like TRIO and Upward Bound, would suffer devastating 8.2 percent cuts [ed note: pdf link], making it that much more difficult for poor, first-generation students to get to college.
And sequestration isn’t the only storm on the horizon. Not far down the road, a second blow to college affordability may be coming, the letter’s authors note. On July 1, 2013, the current 3.4 percent interest rate on subsidized federal Stafford loans is scheduled to double to 6.8 percent on new loans. This hike would cost students an additional $1,000 per year of school, or about $4,000 more for a four-year undergraduate education. “Students and their families cannot afford greater increased in the cost of college and need a comprehensive fix to the student loan system,” the letter’s authors wrote.
If Congress fails to act…the cost of college (could spike) for millions of Americans and their families. We urge you to avoid irresponsible cuts to higher education through sequestration and Pell Grant funding, and to prevent interest rates from rising on more than 7 million student borrowers.