Financial aid, Work Study threatened

by Matt Benoit
HORIZON Reporter

A revised Jan. 14 State budget draft by Washington Governor Christine Gregoire threatens to eliminate $6 million in student financial aid and suspend the state’s Work Study program beginning in the fall of 2010.

Although the Governor’s initial budget was to cut more than $146 million from the State Need Grant, which provides financial aid for students, the restoration of any funding stops there. Perhaps the most damaging effect of the cuts for Whatcom Community College lies in the suspension of State Work Study, which would cost the college nearly 100 positions and over $238,000 from its operating budget.

“The impact would be devastating to the college,” said Patricia Onion, vice president of administrative services at Whatcom. “Work study students are strong providers of service to students.”

Those student services that would likely be affected include the financial aid, business, and student life offices, as well as the library, tutoring center, testing center, entry and advising office, registration office, and even the custodial and grounds department. Ninety-nine positions would be lost overall.

“Those Work Study students are tour guides,” she said. “They’re the first ones that students often contact.”

Whatcom’s financial aid office currently employs five Work Study students working an average of 15 hours a week.

The Learning Center, which provides academic help and tutoring to Whatcom students, has about 10 of its 70 tutors who are Work Study-eligible, Learning Center director Dean Hagin said in an e-mail.

Hagin added that those students receive awards of between seven and 19 hours a week, allowing the Learning Center to save around $30,000 over the course of one year.

If Work Study were suspended, Hagin said the affected students would not be let go of, but rather have their earnings shifted into the Learning Center’s part-time/hourly budget. This would necessitate their budget being increased to cover the additional wages. If the budget could not be increased, Hagin warned, the Learning Center would have to “significantly reduce the amount of academic support” offered.

Onion echoed that sentiment with regard to the affect on student services. “We would probably reduce the number of hours that we’re directly serving students in certain areas,” she said.

Onion added that if that were the case, the college might opt to move several off-campus internships from federal Work Study funding to positions in “critical areas” at the college, likely diminishing the number of Cooperative Education students currently working with local school districts.

Cuts to financial aid, meanwhile, would leave some of Whatcom’s most financially-challenged students with only federal Pell Grant money and the option of taking loans.

Students would also be affected to a lesser degree by the elimination of the Washington Scholars and WAVE (Washington Award for Vocational Excellence) scholarship programs.

A final version of the budget will be passed at the end of the State’s legislative session in mid-March.

A student rally opposing the cuts is to be held in Olympia on Feb. 15.