Another sign of our recessionary times: More college students who qualify for state grants based on financial need are being denied those grants because of a huge increase in demand for limited dollars.
The State Need Grant is Washington state’s largest financial aid program for needy students, according to the state Higher Education Coordinating Board. More than 15,000 students who qualified for the grants this year didn’t get them, according to figures released last week by the HECB. That is triple the number from the previous academic year.
About 15 percent of the unserved students were enrolled in Pierce County colleges, both public and private. About 74,000 students statewide received State Need Grants this year.
“The problem isn’t the state’s commitment to its largest financial aid programs,” John Klacik, HECB’s director of student financial assistance, said. “It’s the burgeoning growth in the number of students who are qualified and ready to go to college but whose personal financial resources are inadequate to cover the cost.”
The Legislature added about $18 million to assist students with State Need Grants in the coming school year. But HECB predicts demand will outstrip funding.
“We don’t know exactly which students will be impacted by the changes,” said Martin Daniels, director of financial aid for Pierce College, which has campuses in Puyallup, Lakewood and at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, as well as an online program. “Our highest-need students are receiving (nearly) the same awards as last year.”
He suspects students with significant reductions will be those with lesser needs.
State Need Grants are awarded to financially eligible students on a first-come, first-served basis. Eligibility is based on family income with a maximum of families earning 70 percent of the state median income.
For example, a student from a family of four with an income of $54,500 could qualify for a partial grant under the rules. But the boost in the numbers of students who qualify means more will likely go unserved by the state grants.
Because the grants are awarded to students who apply early, those who submit their applications late in the game are most likely to lose out.
“There’s a lot of demand, and not enough money to go around for everybody,” HECB spokesman Bob Burdick said.
HECB also reports colleges across the state have more students completing Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The FAFSA is used by colleges across the country to determine which students receive financial aid.
Between June 2009 and May of this year, the number of federal applications at Washington higher education institutions rose 22 percent, the HECB reported. The most significant increase was at the state’s two-year community and technical colleges, where applications were up 41 percent.
By contrast, the number of federal applications in the state stayed relatively flat between 2003 and 2007.
This year, statewide applications are expected to total about 534,000.
Daniels, at Pierce College, has already observed a dramatic increase in student financial aid requests locally.
“We have about 8,000 applications for financial aid to process,” he said. That’s double the number from last year, he added.
Even with the number of students in need on the increase, college financial aid officials urge students not to give up.
Fill out the FAFSA, they say. In addition to state grants, students can tap into other sources such as Federal Pell Grants and federally subsidized student loans.
And at Pierce College, students can qualify for the Pierce Pledge program, Daniels said. Pierce Pledge offers grants to students in need that are funded from the college’s overall budget.
“We might run out of our ability to award State Need Grants,” he said. “But we will still have the Pierce Pledge grants that we can make available. We are feeling good at this point with our funding level.”
Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635 firstname.lastname@example.org