"Fiscal cliff" impacts student access to state higher education

Federal budget matters show up as state budget matters because of the huge amount of “pass-through” dollars from the federal to state level. Some of this funding goes to assist students with their college expenses. As state government support for higher education has steadily declined, tuition has skyrocketed. Since the 1980s, state appropriations in TN went from an estimated 70 percent to just 34 percent. Since 1990, average tuition increases at the state’s two-year colleges have increased 317 percent.


The Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE) is slated to lose $186 million in funding, which includes the Federal TRIO programs, serving first generation, disabled, and low income students through outreach and student services. While Pell Grant funds are exempted from sequestration for FY2013, the Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) is slated to lose $140 million, which includes funding for the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG). Pellissippi State would have 8.2% of this funding cut this year, another 8.2% cut in work study funding, and programs funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities would also see cuts.


What does this mean for Pellissippi students?


Delonda Anderson is a “non-traditional” student who enrolled at Pellissippi State at a later age. After a divorce, she had trouble finding work with better hours than those washing dishes in a café. Currently a sophomore, she made the commitment to enroll full-time in order to concentrate only on school. Delonda believes higher education paves the way to better career options, enabling her to be a happier person, wife, and mother. Because she receives various forms of financial aid, if funding were cut, she would not be able to finish her schooling without taking out loans. From a mountain community in East Tennessee, she feels, “people don’t have any opportunity, especially in Appalachia. Congress doesn’t understand that when they cut programs, these are people you are investing in for the future of the country, people who contribute to the community.”


“Education is valuable in that it’s power,” said Mrs. Anderson. “If you take away the options people have to gain power, then it’s not a good society.”