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March 15, 2013
CONTACT: K. E. Schwab

Sequester chomps at student aid

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - For many, the much-touted federal government sequester came in March 1 like a lamb, but for a few Slippery Rock University students serving in the National Guard, it came in like a lion chomping on their federal tuition assistance.

At least a half-dozen SRU students serving in the National Guard received an email from the GoArmyEd Student Support Services/Helpdesk informing them the "Secretary of the Army has approved the suspension of Tuition Assistance effective 5 p.m. on March 8, 2013. Soldiers will no longer be permitted to submit new requests for Tuition Assistance. However, soldiers currently enrolled in courses approved for Tuition Assistance are not affected, and will be allowed to complete current course enrollment(s)."

JoNell Yard, fiscal technician supervisor in SRU's Office of Student Accounts, said the funding reduction would only affect a small number of students. "They have already been approved for the Tuition Assistance for the current semester, but it looks like they will not be able to receive additional funds, unless something changes, for summer or next fall's classes."

Lucien Chevallier, a marketing major from Evans City, a student worker in the SRU Public Relations Office and a soldier in the Army National Guard, is among those affected by the cut in Tuition Assistance.

"I received the email, and I think it will mean about a $2,000 loss in tuition assistance to me," he said. Since the impact is just taking effect, he said he has not yet figured out how he will deal with the cut. "I will have to pick up a second job this summer and rethink my finances to budget for next year."

He said in talking with others in his guard unit, students attending private schools may face up to a $9,000 in cuts to their tuition.

The change in the Army Tuition Assistance program applies to all soldiers, including those in the Army National Guard and Army Reserves. Those affected were told the decision would be re-evaluated if the budgetary situation improves.

The Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Air Force have all announced they will no longer give U.S. military students tuition help, according to a story on the University Business website. G.I. Bill benefits, available once service members have finish serving, remain untouched.

Soldiers can "continue to access their GI Bill benefits, if applicable, either the Montgomery GI Bill or the Post 9/11 GI Bill, or use other funding sources, such as grants and scholarships," the email said.

The sequester will also affect other federal financial aid programs.

Patty Hladio, director of SRU's Financial Aid Office, said the Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant and Federal Work-Study programs will lose 5 percent of their funding in 2013-2014. "The tentative budget mockup however, does not show any immediate reductions affecting SRU," she said.

However, those now applying for the Federal Stafford Loan and the Federal PLUS Loan will see "a few dollars increase in loan origination fees," she said.

Stafford Loan fees will increase from 1 percent to 1.04 percent; the PLUS Loan fees will see an increase from 4 percent to 4.2 percent. "The increases are very slight. For a typical junior borrowing through the Stafford Loan program, the increase may be approximately $3. In reality the increase should not affect any particular student in a way that would prohibit him or her from enrolling or continuing their education at SRU, but it is an additional cost of borrowing," she said.

The increases will not affect existing loans.

"We will continue to monitor the status of the budget cuts," Hladio said. "We encourage students to keep current on such issues and to talk with their legislators in Congress to keep them informed about how such issues affect them."

More than 6,400 SRU students have such loans.

The sequester cuts, a package of automatic spending cuts that are part of the Budget Control Act passed in August 2011, are projected to total $1.2 trillion. The cuts began in March and are scheduled to end in 2021, according to information released by the White House. The cuts are to be evenly divided over the nine-year period and are split evenly between defense spending -- with spending on wars exempt -- and discretionary domestic spending, which exempts most spending on entitlements such as Social Security and Medicaid.

Total cuts for 2013 are to be $109 billion, according to the White House report. The cuts have already been cited as a reason for eliminating White House tours for the public and cutbacks planned at National Parks.

The sequester was designed to initiate across-the-board cuts, without discretion as to outcomes. The cuts are intended to hit all federal programs equally, with cuts ranging from 7.6 percent to 9.6 percent. Medicare providers are to be cut 2 percent.

Those creating the plan had believed that pressure on legislators would generate a budget deal to avoid the cuts, but thus far no deal has been reached. Talks are continuing.

Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.