A recent survey conducted by the AS Student Senate asked students whether they would support a 15 percent increase in resident undergraduate tuition over the next two years in order to maintain small class sizes, the availability of courses and the quality of faculty. “It would force me out of school,” wrote one student. “I already have three jobs and have to get advancement to pay for each quarter.”
Another student wrote, “I already have not a penny to my name. I am living (barely) off my meal plan & student loans. I am estranged from my family. For people like me, a cost increase of any kind is bad news.”
Western’s Financial Aid Department saw a 29 percent increase in applications for financial aid for the 2009-2010 academic year over the current year, according to Western’s Director of Financial Aid Clara Capron.
Capron stressed that students who are worried about being able to continue their education for financial reasons should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at www.fafsa.ed.gov and make an appointment with a financial aid counselor.
“Western’s Financial Aid Department has a longstanding practice of recalculating aid eligibilities and, if possible, increasing student aid offers due to documented, extenuating circumstances,” Capron said. “We are not required by law to do this, but we are committed to doing everything within our legal purview to help needy students remain in school.”
The Financial Aid Department said that even students who have already been awarded financial aid for the year can benefit from recalculations that increase their aid eligibilities, Capron said. Student need recalculations can take place when a student loses a job or is burdened with medical expenses or other expenses beyond his or her control.
Even though it is almost spring quarter, students can still file a FAFSA for the 2008-2009 academic year to receive aid for spring classes.
“Students who have not filed the FAFSA should do so immediately to be considered for financial aid,” Capron said.
This year, Congress approved an expansion of the Pell Grant, a federal need-based grant for students in higher education. However, endowed scholarships may become scarcer, since the money for the scholarships often comes from the interest on market investments, according to Director of Student Outreach Services Tom Nerini. According to the Washington Post, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has dropped from its peak at 14,164 in October 2007 to 7,170 as of last Thursday, a decrease of nearly 50 percent.
“I am sure that some student demographics are disproportionately affected by changes in the economy,” Capron said. “I expect the proportion of needy students to increase as a result of the economic crisis.”
Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and Registrar Susanna Yunker said that more people are also applying for admissions to Western for next fall than for previous years.
“We feel [it] may be an indication of the economy, with more high school students looking toward their in-state options for college rather than private colleges or out-of-state,” she said.
Nerini said that the amount of money students and the university invest in their education is substantial, so when students fail to graduate the investment is wasted.
Students who quit school now would also face a tough job market. Unemployment in Washington state has reached 7.8 percent—the highest since 1987, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor—and some economic analysts argue that the actual numbers are even higher.
Student Outreach Services advises students who are unsure about their ability to continue their education for any reason and assists them in exploring options to help them stay at Western. It runs an outreach program called Destination Graduation that aims to help students that have already dropped out return and finish their degrees.
“We’ve gotten about 45 to 50 students graduated through that program,” Nerini said. “The amount of money that they invested in their education, that the state invested in their education [before initially leaving Western] in today’s dollars was over $4 million for 40 some-odd students.”
Many of the students that Student Outreach Services helps are low-income and first-generation university students, Nerini said.
“It’s critical that we help students graduate,” he said. “Speaking for myself, I think we have a fundamental moral obligation to help students graduate.”