From Real Change: Why the state’s education “need grant” is failing the neediest students

Rebecca Wada, a student at the University of Washington and an intern at Seattle Education Access, recently wrote this editorial for Real Change newspaper. It was published today.

Why the state’s education “need grant” is failing the neediest students

By Rebecca Wada

The Washington State Need Grant helps undergraduate students in the lowest income brackets pursue degrees that will benefit their future. It supplements federal financial aid programs, which fail to allow for costs of living. These days, not everyone who needs the SNG is getting help from it.

Residents of Washington state who demonstrate a financial need, with a family income less than 70 percent of the state’s median (an increase from previous years) qualify for the SNG. Recipients must also submit an approved Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and be registered for three credits in an eligible program during their first undergraduate degree pursuit. The amount rewarded to the student depends on their school’s tuition and fees.

The most recent release of the annual report on state financial aid programs, “Keeping College Affordable” boasts a $122 million increase in funding for the SNG from the 2001-2002 school year to that of 2009-2010.

Impressive as it is, the number doesn’t tell the whole story. Steep hikes in tuition at public colleges and universities account for more than 70 percent of this increase. Income eligibility has also increased from previous years, allowing a significantly greater number of students to qualify for the grant.

This means that while more families are eligible to receive the grant, there’s not enough money to fund demand. As a result, those qualified are less likely than ever to receive aid. In recent years, some 22,000 people who qualified to receive the grant did not receive one. That’s a staggering 11 times more people left out than just three years ago.

The SNG is a critical step on the path out of poverty. For many people from low-income families, postsecondary education is not simply what is expected or normal once they graduate from high school. Higher education is an opportunity to gain knowledge and get a foot in the door at prospective employers. There is also a sense of accomplishment and pride in overcoming the adversity brought about by low-income realities.

The effects of a SNG don’t stop with the student who receives it. Higher education has a socioeconomic ripple effect that can span generations. While making more money is heavily weighted in the reasoning to get an education and a better job, many also hope to give their families — especially their children — better living conditions and a wider array of opportunities.

Under the threat of not receiving the SNG, students are forced to consider their options. Most devastating of these is not being able to attend college at all due to an inability to pay daily living expenses. In talking to students on this topic, it’s clear that trying to pay for school on their own would involve heavy loan debts, multiple jobs, little to no time with family and cutting back on the most basic resources like food and heat. As it is, some grant recipients have to scrape by to be able to pay for somewhere to live, and the grant means the difference between having a roof over their heads and homelessness.

What can be done? Becoming aware of the issues that are being discussed in the government’s plans is one of the best ways to become an intelligent voter and citizen. Concerned citizens should also get involved. There are several organizations working to help advocate for people from the low-income bracket trying to go to school. Two such organizations are Statewide Poverty Action Network and Seattle Education Access. SEA works to advocate for this population on an individual and collective basis. Lobbying to change policies like those that cut financial aid programs is an important part of the way they aim to help entire demographics find a voice. To find out more about SEA’s efforts and the SNG visit seattleeducationaccess.org and Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board at hecb.wa.gov.

Link to this story on the Real Change website.

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