Work study students struggle to remain in college as sequestration cuts kick in


by Mary Ellen Flannery

Cassie Rosenwald, a future teacher at Carlow University in Pennsylvania, can usually be found in one of two places on campus: An education classroom or the admissions office, where she works up to 20 hours a week, as a work-study student and part-time employee.

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Rosenwald needs that money to cover her apartment rent, her car payment and student loan bills, not to mention breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But if Congress fails to reverse its reckless, $3 billion cuts in federal education spending, Rosenwald and tens of thousands of other work-study college students will be out of luck. Sequestration, the name for the across-the-board budget cuts that went into effect last month, will cut $49 million or about 33,000 students from the college affordability program.

“This is a really big deal for those students who have work-study jobs,” said David Tjaden, chair of NEA’s Student Program. “For some of them, it means going to college or not.”

Unfortunately, work-study isn’t the only college affordability program to be slashed by federal sequestration. While Pell Grants are protected from cuts, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants also would be cut by about $37 million, affecting about 71,000 college students. Meanwhile, the millions of students who depend on federal student aid may also experience delays in filing their federal applications for aid.

It all adds up to a big problem: More students, especially poor ones, won’t be able to afford college. As college tuition rates have climbed nearly 30 percent across the country over the past five years and student loan debt has hit a record $26,000 per graduate, too many Americans already can’t afford college. And yet, at the same time, a college degree is a basic necessity to getting a good job, owning your own home, and making the American Dream come true.

In a recent speech, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan pointed out that sequestration isn’t just bad for those students who lose aid — it’s also terrible for their country, which needs their bright minds in much-needed careers. “[These cuts] carry the very real threat of significant harm to the ongoing economic recovery and our current and future competitiveness in the global economy,” he said.

Among the many federal options for student aid, work-study is unique in its work requirements. Basically, in order to get money, students must work for wages through on-campus jobs. When Tjaden was an undergraduate, he spent four years in this college’s career center – “I don’t know what I would have done without it,” he says.

Especially for students in rural areas, on-campus, work-study jobs often are the only jobs available. Plus, as Tiffany Warrior, a middle-grades education major at Fort Valley State University in Georgia, points out, a work-study job doesn’t undermine her first priority: Going to school. “It’s right on campus and it works with my class schedule,” she said.

Without it, she said, life would be very difficult.

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