Sequestration has been a confusing topic lately with the top questions being: ‘Do I even need to pay attention to this?’ and ‘Is there going to be any real impact to me?’. With all of the talk of the fiscal cliff fizzling out, people are suggesting this is all political hype and that Congress is shouting ‘Wolf!’ one too many times. However, some of the very real impact of the sequestration is starting to hit home, particularly on state funded education programs. One of our interns, Jasmine Cook, is a student at the University of Maryland and we invited her to write about her personal experience with how the sequestration is affecting her.
Growing up in the Prince George’s County Public School System, the topic of budget cuts is by no means foreign. At the prime age of nine, I attended a school board meeting to defend against the disbandment of the Talented and Gifted Program (TAG), of which I was currently enrolled. My view was limited at the time, but it was only my first of many tense encounters of financial stalemate. In eighth grade, the orchestra was cut and I traded in my violin for a French horn; the façade of any influence over the system disappeared and adaptation became crucial. In high school, two out of the three academic programs stopped allowing students to enroll from neighboring districts, in order to cut transportation costs. Students feared displacement and teachers experienced layoffs; the Russian program was diminished to what was assumed to be eventual termination. However, it was public school. No tuition fees meant little to no say, and the realization both angered and jaded my fellow students.
Current day, as a University of Maryland, College Park junior majoring in Accounting, not much has changed. Except instead of a local school board, the budget cuts come from a slightly higher power. The recent sequestration from the White House and Congress threatens the success of many students relying on federal funding in order to attend higher education. In a recent email from University of Maryland President Wallace Loh, students were alerted that both work-study and research grants were going to take the bulk of hardship from the sequestration. Over 200 undergraduates, 1,500 graduate research assistants, and 2,300 research faculty and staff are estimated to be affected by the sequestration. Although the email goes on to assure that the students “will not have to leave the University in the coming year because of sequestration,” the future remains ambiguous.
In addition to federal loans and year-round employment, I rely entirely on Maryland Senatorial and Delegate scholarships from my district to fund my college attendance. I am required to reapply to the Delegate scholarship each year, with no guarantee of securing the same amount as the previous year. Many students similarly rely on governmental funding, whether through loans or scholarships. Awarded Pell Grants are only protected within the first year of the sequestration, so the outlook for 2014 is hazy for those reliant on the funds. Even without the increased pressure brought by the new budget cuts, some students who technically qualify for the Pell Grant are instead told that aid will only be provided if additional funds become available.
Although the effects of the sequestration on college students can be reported in a strictly quantitative sense, emotional strain should be similarly considered. Two University of Maryland students were left dead on February 12, 2013, with a third injured, in what was called a murder-suicide. The aggressor was a graduate engineering student and NASA student ambassador. The incident adds onto the list of tragedies directly resultant of over stressed students. In a society that emphasizes the role of higher education in success, lawmakers should avoid laying additional strain on students whenever possible. Many students already struggle to balance school, jobs, internships, and the extracurricular activities demanded by potential employers.
The weight of impact of the sequestration on current students is currently ambiguous, but it is clear that the future brings new difficulties. In the words of President Loh, “We must stand together to help each other through these difficult and uncertain times. I am confident that our nation, our state, and our university will come through this latest round of fiscal brinkmanship.” We must continue to adapt, but our ability to do so cannot be taken for granted by Congress.
For more information see http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/CBPP_Sequester_Impact_States.pdf#page=20