Federal financial aid funding drops

Rattlers’ financial aid woes may be getting worse- and maybe sooner than they think.

As reported Jan. 9 by the Tallahassee Democrat, a recent Congressional spending cut reduces funding for federal student aid programs by $12.7 billion over the next five years.

Federal interest rates on undergraduate loans will increase from 4.7 percent to 6.8 percent, and parental loans on behalf of undergraduates will increase from 6.1 percent to 8.5 percent.

These adjustments take effect July 1, coinciding with 2006-2007 FAFSA forms.

“Most of the process is federal,” said FAMU’s Associate Director of Financial Aid Michelle Lassiter. “We’re going to get [the aid] regardless,” she said.

“About 80 percent of FAMU’s population is on state funding, so I don’t think the cut is going to affect FAMU, per se, because almost all the students are getting something.”

Some have pinned the reason for this gradual, five-year strain on education costs squarely on the tens of billions being spent by the federal government on the relief effort for Hurricane Katrina and, perhaps, the hundreds of billions being spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I think the thing that hurt us most this year is Katrina relief,” TCC Financial Aid Director Bill Spiers said. “Iraq has stabilized. It is what it is. They know how much it’s going to cost. Katrina killed everything this year.”

Others, however, are more inclined to point out that aid-receiving, young collegiates are not predominant political voices.

“The elderly vote in very high numbers, so there are lots of them … universities get either cuts or not as much money as they anticipated,” said FAMU economics professor Carter Doyle.

“We have (about) 80 million people who are baby boomers. Much of the legislation and spending that’s passed [like the Medicare Prescription Plan] is geared toward redistributing money for them.”

“Trickled down” from the federal level, Rattlers and the approximately 200,000 undergraduates enrolled at FAMU and Florida’s 10 other public schools stand to see tens of millions of dollars-worth of government grants, loans and scholarships unavailable to them until 2010.

“[Gov. Jeb] Bush … rolled out an initiative to put an additional $52.5 million in the [state] budget beginning July 1 to boost black enrollment in the state’s 11 universities,” according to the Jan. 11 issue of the Democrat.

Lassiter, however, is skeptical about how Gov. Bush will get his proposed increases through the legislature.

“In theory, it should [help],” she said. “I want to know where he’s getting the money from and when he’s going to start. When I see it, I believe it.”

According to the State Board of Governors, FAMU’s black freshmen enrollment, from 2004 to last year dropped by nearly 27 percent.

In the same timeframe, Florida’s total of black freshmen enrollment in its public universities decreased by just over 10 percent

Student Government Association President Ramon Alexander, along with selected other FAMU students, met with Gov. Bush last fall in hopes of improving the slipping enrollment numbers.

“We talked to him about the major decline in minority enrollment in the state.

“We talked to him about access of education for minorities and low-income students who are seeking to better the quality of life for themselves and their families, so that their children won’t have the same predicament of situation they have, Alexander said.

“We talked to him about the state of FAMU and some issues pertaining to our students,” Alexander said.

“Particularly why this impact of not increasing need-based aid over the past seven years, why this impact of continuing to increase tuition, specifically out-of-state tuition for our students in astronomical amounts, and how that has directly impacted the decline in enrollment at FAMU.”

Regarding the fruits of his meeting with Gov. Bush, Alexander said it was only the beginning.

“Finally, the governor is coming to an understanding and realizing that you cannot increase, an astronomical amount, tuition without increasing need-based aid.”

In light of recent events, FAMU might see less of a depletion in financial aid funds than other state universities.

This might be due to competing finances at work on the federal and state levels.

“In Florida, if you look at education funding over the last few years, the governor has consistently asked for increases in need-based funding,” said Spiers at TCC’s Financial Aid Night.

“Florida has had a good increase in need-based aid which has sort of offset the impact of the decreases in federal aid, Spiers said.

“Far too many students borrow [money] even when they don’t need to … Students need to live on a lean budget.”

Contact Paul de Revere at famuannews@hotmail.com.