CWU students worried by tuition hikes, student aid cuts

 Photo by: Brian Myrick–Central Washington University students walk down Chestnut Mall on Thursday, May 13, 2010. A 30 percent cut in the university’s work study program on top of tuition increases leave some students questioning how they will pay for college. (Brian Myrick / Daily Record)

Posted: Monday, May 17, 2010 2:00 pm | Updated: 10:39 am, Mon May 17, 2010.

By CHELSEA KROTZER staff writer | Daily  Record

ELLENSBURG — Amelia Westbay doesn’t usually participate in protests, but when she heard tuition was facing another 14 percent increase, she couldn’t help but get involved.

Westbay marched alongside her peers in March during a walk-out, and made her way up to the Central Washington University Board of Trustees meeting.

Once there, students shared their story. Westbay lost her nerve, and remained a silent supporter.

“I was too scared to say anything,” Westbay, a CWU sophomore said. “What I would have said is they can’t raise tuition and cut financial aid funding. The only way I’m here is on state aid.”

The trustees agreed to raise tuition by 14 percent. Westbay was heart-broken.

But to the trustees, the tuition increase was a necessity. In this biennium alone, the university’s state funding was cut by 30 percent. An additional $2.9 million was cut this year.

To balance the funding cuts, tuition has risen, making it the first time in CWU’s history that the percentage of tuition dollars outweighs the percentage of state dollars. The university also reduced hours for 175 employees and cutting between 10 and 15 positions.

Students feel the pinch

The rising tuition and cuts in work study and state-funded grants are making it hard for students to cover costs and stay in school.

The oldest of four children and “too average” for scholarships, Westbay is able to attend CWU thanks to $13,000 in grants and $5,000 in student loans each year, she said.

“I accept everything I can get,” Westbay said. “The refund I get for financial aid every quarter is quite a lot, and I use it to pay off some of the loans.”

Her parents don’t make enough to afford her college tuition, let alone the three siblings following closely behind. Westbay said she couldn’t get a parent-plus loan because her parents wouldn’t sign.

But with tuition rising each year, the prospects of Westbay finishing her degree are dimming.

“It’s not like I need to be in college,” said Westbay, who is an English writing specialization major. “I don’t need to be in college to write. I could drop out, but I want to get a degree and put it on my resume to say I finished college.”

Work study cut

One of Westbay’s options is to get a job – something that has become slim on CWU’s campus.

Funding for work study programs across the state have been cut by at least 30 percent. CWU’s usual allocation of $600,000 was cut by 31 percent.

“We received less money from the state and are trying to find more of our own dollars to put into student employment,” said CWU President James Gaudino. “Obviously, if you have less money, there is going to be an impact on student work, which we consider here, even though it’s technically not a form of student aid.”

With the 31 percent cut comes additional restrictions, according to Agnes Canedo, CWU director of financial aid.

One of the restrictions is not allowing out-of-state students to participate in the program.

“In the first year of implementation there will be some leeway,” Canedo said. “Next year, work study is strictly for resident students.”

The second restriction is changing the rate employers pay toward the program. Each employer will have to pay 10 percent more than in past years.

With nonprofits and local school districts among the employers, Canedo fears some will no longer be able participate in the program.

“I’m not sure they will be able to come up with an increase in the match or hire a student at all,” Canedo said. “We will have to see how it plays out with employers.”

Grants

There are some things the state left somewhat untouched, like the State Need Grant.

Canedo recently received approval to award the grants, and has been working hard to allocate them over the past weeks.

“What (the state) did do that surprises me is they increased the amount of the individual grants so that it keeps up with the inflation of tuition, but they don’t expect to cover any more students than were covered last year,” Canedo said.

Statewide, Canedo said there were 78,000 students funded by the State Need Grant last year, with 12,000 eligible students who did not receive any funding.

This year that number is expected to climb to at least 15,000 unfunded students.

Canedo said 2,834 CWU students received funding from the State Need Grant last year. She said the state has only guaranteed 80 percent allocation for next year’s students.

“The hidden problem is many of those most needy students, if they don’t get funding, they just don’t attend,” Canedo said. “The number of eligible people is just going up so fast.”

Focus on the future

Canedo and her staff have been working toward funding next year’s group of students. So far, $8 million in financial aid has been awarded to students for next year.

And they are just getting started. They will know the full financial aid picture by July.

“We dispersed over $100 million last year to our students,” Canedo said.

Westbay is crossing her fingers that her grants will come through for next year.

“It’s stressful having to adapt to college, change my study habits and focus on paying for school,” Westbay said. “The only way I am here is on state aid. There is no possible way without it.”

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