Financial aid funds must go further
While budget cuts have taken their toll on financial aid at WWU, the total amount of aid to students this year will probably go up a bit, says Clara Capron, Western's director of Financial Aid.
Each year, about 9,000 WWU students receive about $100 million through grants, scholarships, employment and loans.
Capron expects WWU will again distribute about $100 million in aid this year – or more -- despite recently announced budget cuts that will reduce new tuition waivers to incoming students for winter and spring quarters by $250,000. New regulations mean more students will be eligible for federal Pell Grants, and the university itself has authorized more institutional aid from tuition revenues, Capron says.
"We also expect increased borrowing through educational loan programs," she adds.
Financial Aid goes paperless:
But while Financial Aid staff members have worked hard to keep the overall amount of assistance from shrinking, that doesn't mean there is enough aid to go around, Capron says. It's clear families need more aid than ever due to the economic crisis, she says, noting that over the past year and a half, the Financial Aid Department has seen a 15-percent increase in FAFSA applications as families who previously did not need financial aid are now applying due to financial hardship.
"Financial Aid counselors have been literally working around the clock to review special circumstances and revise the aid offers of impacted students, as allowed by federal and state regulations, to keep them in school," she says.
Given the proposed cuts to state aid earlier this year, the relative availability of financial aid at Western could have turned out far worse for the upcoming year. The Governor's first proposed supplemental budget last December called for cutting the Washington State Need Grant program by one-third and doing away with Washington State Work Study program.
Thankfully, Capron says, neither scenario became reality.
Instead, Capron estimates that the level of state Need Grant funding for Western students may end up being close to what it was last year: about $10 million. So far, WWU has been funded at a little over $9.7 million, with the possibility of a small increase in October.
And while the $1.2 million Washington State Work Study program was cut by nearly one-third, WWU used tuition revenues to fill the $400,000 hole with one-time funds, Capron says, saving part-time jobs of about 120 Western students.
But off-campus jobs, while still scarce, may be a better bet. Caryn Regimbal, Manager of the Student Employment Center, reports that the number of job postings has averaged over 100 a day throughout September. In addition, she has noticed an increase in postings from community businesses who hadn't posted jobs with the Student Employment Center for over a year.
"We are cautiously optimistic that this is evidence of an economic turnaround," Capron says.
And more than ever, scholarships remain an important source of funds for students. Dina Murphy, Manager of the Scholarship Center, reports that so far this year, the number of scholarships received by Western students seems to be on the increase. She urges students to register for a free scholarship clearinghouse via www.thewashboard.org, sponsored by the Washington Scholarship Coalition.
Finally, in light of these harsh economic times, it is more important than ever to make best use of your money. Following are some money-saving tips for all students:
- Complete more than 12 credits per quarter. After all, you pay the same tuition at 12 credits as you do at 18, so take more credits and get your money's worth. Just be sure the credits count toward your degree and you don't overload yourself academically.
- Never borrow through a private alternative loan without filing the FAFSA and determining your eligibility for federal loans, grants, work study, and scholarship programs.
- If feasible, leave the car at home. Use your bus pass and save on gas, maintenance and vehicle insurance.
- Get a part-time job while attending school to help pay college costs, decrease your educational indebtedness, and obtain work experience to add to your resume. Studies show that part time employment of less than 20 hours per week actually enhances the college experience and tends to add to, rather than detract from, academic achievement. In addition, employers value applicants who have work experience and can demonstrate that they worked their way through college.
- Remind yourself that being a student is temporary – by being a student, you have opted to undergo situational, temporary poverty for a return on your investment. Studies show that by investing in your future and earning your degree, you will earn a million dollars more in your lifetime than you otherwise would.