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Mills administration braces for cuts to federal aid brought on by the sequester

As federally-funded programs perpare for the coming across-the-board spending cuts, or “the sequester,” representatives of the Financial Aid office said that the decreases in financial aid funding may affect Mills students, but the extent of the cuts is unknown as of now.


The sequester went into effect at the beginning of this month.The general cut to domestic and military spending is the result of a failure by the president and Congressional Democrats and Republicans to reach a deal on the federal budget. Federal employees, unemployment funds and education grants, the military, and Medicaid, among other programs, all stand to undergo decreases in funding. In a Feb, 25 article, The New York Times reported that all programs are subject to the same percentage cut, and effects will be more fully felt by the end of this month.

The two federal aid programs at Mills that may be targeted for cuts are the federal work-study program and the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG), both of which are need based, said Brian O’Rourke, Mills’ Vice President for Enrollment Management. The latter is provided to those students with the highest financial need.

Staff in the Mills Financial Aid office said they do not know yet how deeply the cuts will impact Mills. Binh Hua, a financial aid counselor, said that as of now, they do not have information about the possible decrease in federal funds.

“We won’t know the extent of the impact [of the cuts] for a while, but this is one of the things to be prepared for” said Shari Keller, Director of Undergraduate Financial Aid. The other things to prepare for, Keller and O’Rourke said, are the tuition hike, and a decrease in the CalGrant, which a third of Mills students receive.

“Mills will try to make the impact minimal,” Keller added.

Ninety-three percent of Mills undergraduates receive some form of financial aid; of that 93 percent, 95 percent are recipients of Mills aid, according to O’Rourke, who provided information on the tuition hike at an open forum on tuition and fees hosted by the Associated Students of Mills College on March 11.

O’Rourke did not provide specifics about the effects of the sequester and said that information is still forthcoming.

“We don’t know [yet] where the reduction is going to land,” O’Rourke said.

Christina Williams, a third-year student, said she relies on her work-study award to save money in order to repay her college loans.

“Without it I’d be in a bigger hole and have a bigger need,” Williams said.

With a 3.5 percent increase in tuition set for the 2013-2014 academic year, the potential hit to federal financial aid may be particularly threatening to students whose aid packages contain work-study or an SEOG, but O’Rourke said that such external factors to reduction in aid will be considered as award packages are put together.

“We want to have that conversation with the student who is having financial difficulties” and considering leaving Mills, Keller agreed. “We want to minimize the impact on needy students.”

When asked where additional aid might come from, O’Rourke said that such funds are built into the overall operational budget of the college, which is one of the factors in the need for tuition increases.