How will UH Hilo be affected?

News Writer Tenika Toya
Photographer Zach Gorski

“Forty-five percent of students attending UH Hilo receive Pell Grants.” - Sherrie Padilla, UH Hilo financial aid director

Financial Aid Office Sign

In a move that angered many students and educators, the Trump administration’s recent budget proposals called for cuts to various departments and programs - the U.S. Department of Education being one of them. According to CNN, the department could face a 13.5 percent decrease in budget, and have 20 of its programs reduced or eliminated outright.

The Pell Grant program, one of the better-known benefits, provides students who are in their undergraduate level of schooling with financial assistance. “Forty-five percent of students attending UH Hilo receive Pell Grants,” said Sherrie Padilla, UH Hilo’s financial aid director.

Any cuts to the Pell grant program will affect nearly half of the UH Hilo student body and will bring about a probable rise in debt, according to Padilla. And with rising tuition and fees, Padilla says, students may feel more inclined to take out student loans to fund their education.

A number of students attending UH Hilo, including those receiving Pell Grants, find this prospect alarming. “It really sucks. I know it’s a long shot, but I think they should just make school free already,” said Lynn Ta‘amilo, an administration of justice major.

Countries like Argentina and Denmark are already offering free access to higher education to their citizens. More recently, the state of New York will be offering free college tuition to students whose families earn less than $100,00 a year.

Padilla notes that the proposed budget cuts will not affect the 2017-2018 school year, but would take effect for the 2018-2019 year instead. The 2017-2018 Pell Grant amount is already set for $5,920, a bit higher from last school year’s amount of $5,815, says Padilla.

Although the amount for this coming school year is set, the NASFAA (National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators) is already advocating on students’ behalf. In a recent letter to both the U.S. House and Senate appropriations committees, NASFAA states that they represent over 3,000 colleges, universities, and career schools in financial aid. The letter gives facts and suggestions on what they feel needs to happen to the financial aid program and the programs within it, like Work-Study.

In an effort to reassure concerned students, Padilla says her office will do the best it can, should fewer federal monies be available in the foreseeable future. “Lack of funding should not a barrier to students pursuing higher education. Ensuring that students have access to education is what financial aid is all about.”

Padilla likewise encourages students to apply for financial aid, even if they might think that they don’t qualify. “Advocate for financial aid! Many times, the voice of the student who will be affected by reductions to federal student aid resonate[s] more with our elected officials.”