WWU pledges to offset potential financial aids cuts from sequester

BELLINGHAM — Western Washington University students receiving federal financial aid will be able to continue getting the same amount of funding through the 2013-14 school year, even if their aid is affected by automatic federal spending cuts that could kick in Friday.

The university has pledged to use reserves to offset any loss of aid to its current and prospective students this school year and next caused by the automatic cuts, known as the sequester.

“We just think it is the right commitment to our students to help fill that gap to allow families and students to adjust and plan appropriately,” said Eileen Coughlin, senior vice president of enrollment and student services. “We want to make sure our students’ education is not interrupted by the potential change.”

Officials have estimated that the school could have to make a one-time withdrawal of $800,000 from its reserves to cover the potential aid cuts. In the 2011-12 school year, about 8,300 WWU students received federal aid. Because that number includes loans, it’s difficult to know exactly how many students might be affected by the possible cuts, Coughlin said. Those cuts are expected to affect federal work study and federal supplemental education opportunity grants, both of which help low-income students pay for school.

Statewide, 440 fewer low-income students might receive federal aid, and 180 fewer students might get work study if the sequester kicks in, according to White House fact sheet.

At Whatcom Community College, the majority of financial aid comes through Washington State Need Grants, Pell Grants and federal Stafford loans, and administrators don’t expect any cuts to those funds during this school year. The community college has been using reserve funds to offset earlier state funding cuts. Administrators don’t know if tapping reserves to maintain aid for students in the 2013-14 school year would be an option.