Washington students could no longer receive state need grant financial aid after this year.
This is one of the things that could be proposed at the special budget session beginning on Nov. 28. Gov. Christine Gregoire and the Legislature need to cut an additional $2 billion from the state budget. To accomplish this, Gregoire has proposed reducing funding to colleges and universities by 15 percent. One of the ways these cuts to funding could be seen is in the elimination of the state need grant.
Freshman biochemistry major Shane M. Wilhelm is one student who would be greatly impacted by this change. Wilhelm was awarded a state need grant of $11,000 for this school year. He was awarded a total of $18,000 in overall grants and also received an academic achievement scholarship.
“That’s one of the reasons I went to Wazzu,” Wilhelm said. “Because they told me I could get a solid amount of financial aid.”
Wilhelm has also had to take out a subsidized and unsubsidized loan to help pay for his education. The elimination of the state need grant would greatly increase the amount Wilhelm would need to take out in loans, he said.
“I really hope they don’t cut the state need grant,” Wilhelm said. “I can understand (cutting) work study. I have work study, and that requires me to get a job to get that $500 of my financial aid, which is hard when I have an 18-credit load.”
Wilhelm said he expects to be about $25,000 in debt after his undergraduate work. He then plans to go to medical school, and said he could be another $25,000 in debt after that. Wilhelm said he plans to follow one of the government loan repayment plans once he graduates to pay off his debt.
“It worries me a little in case anything was to happen to me, and I weren’t able to have a job,” Wilhelm said, “but I think it should be manageable.”
Chio Flores, the director of the WSU Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships, said that the budget proposal might still change, but that WSU needs to prepare for what could happen.
“My sense is, if those changes go through, we at WSU and other institutions need to figure out what will happen with students who have not received all of their state need grant for the year,” Flores said.
WSU receives 90 percent of the money they have been allocated for student financial aid in the summer, Flores said. The rest of the 10 percent is not guaranteed, but until last year, WSU usually always received all of the promised funds, she said.
“Last year was interesting,” Flores said. “It was very unprecedented that we didn’t get the ten percent that we usually get in the fall.”
Flores said the university was able to cover the ten percent last year and is having to prepare for that same possibility again.
“We’re in another year where we’re experiencing some revenue shortfalls,” she said. “We’re not sure what will happen at this time with state need grants.”
Flores said she doesn’t know yet how this will impact students like Wilhelm.
“We’re going to try our best to not return funds,” Flores said. “We’ve never done that before, and we will avoid that to the best of our ability. I know the president is extremely committed, as well as other leadership on campus, because we know that our students are even more so needy than ever before.”
Flores said there are approximately 4,100 WSU students receiving state need grant funding. Twenty percent, or one in five, of undergraduate students receive state need grant funding. This number is lower than past years, Flores said.
“We have many students that we’re not serving,” she said. “We have more students that qualify for state need grants, but we’re not able to (serve them).”
Flores said that WSU is having to re-evaluate what they will be able to give students next year in light of these possible budget changes.
“WSU, as well as many institutions, are analyzing very closely what their packaging policies next year will be, in light of the instability with state aid, but then also at the federal level,” Flores said. “There’s a lot happening, or not happening, in terms of funding.”
Flores said the most important thing for students to do is plan ahead.
“Apply for scholarships,” she said. “Submit your FASFA as soon as you can. Start thinking through what you can do this year to curtail on costs.”
Wilhelm said he was very careful to get his FASFA in on time, as well as his scholarship applications.
“Just don’t panic,” Wilhelm said. “That would be the worst thing to do.”
Flores offered students the same advice.
“Sometimes these things evolve,” she said. “This is just the Governor’s proposal.”