The night of Feb. 22nd was just another Monday for Devon Crouch.
This quickly changed when Washington’s House dropped a budget for the incoming year featuring collegial grant funding. As the Government Relations Assistant of the Independent Colleges of Washington (ICW) organization, it was Crouch’s job to read it over.
Members of the ICW often read over state budgets to ensure college students are continually covered financially in the allocated funds. After looking over the proposal that night, Crouch realized nine million dollars normally allocated to the State Need Grant were missing from the new budget.
A form of collegial financial aid funded by Washington State for students from low-income backgrounds, the State Need Grant is a significant form of aid offered to college students in Washington.
“We figured [this] would probably mean that about 2,300 students across the state … would lose their grant,” Crouch says.
With only one day to address the issue before The House appropriations committee would see the budget on Feb. 24th, ICW members were forced to act quickly to correct the error, according to Crouch.
“The twenty third was like Armageddon day,” Crouch says. “We were going crazy trying to get people … all talking to their legislators.”
Tuesday, Feb. 23, brought more than just ICW involvement in the issue. Launching an email campaign around 1 p.m. that day, Crouch reached out to Washington private school students and urged them to contact legislators about the issue.
Crouch hoped that an amendment could be drafted in time for the Wednesday hearing. Given the time limit, the situation was high pressure, but he was optimistic; after all, Crouch believed the nine million dollars had been reallocating by oversight, or “technical confusion,” rather than intention.
In response to how the oversight had occurred in the first place, SPU Assistant VP for Enrollment Operations and Student Financial Services Jordan Grant points to the details behind the budget.
Closely knit with the State Need Grant is the College Bound Scholarship program (CBS), another aid program that Grant says is “significant.”
The distinction between the two programs is subtle but also significant; individuals eligible for the State Need Grant can apply any time in college, while students interested in CBS must apply in middle school if they want to partake in the program.
Additionally, students receiving aid from the State Need Grant program do not get CBS funds, though CBS students do get the State Need Grant due to the early application nature of CBS. The reasoning behind CBS’s early applications lies in giving students hope through high school. Both aids offer money for public or private universities, although the amount differs.
“If you know in eighth grade that, ‘I’m going to have at least my public school tuition covered’ or ‘I’m going to get almost twelve thousand dollars if I go to a private [university]’, that’s going to help you finish high school on time,” Grant says.
The real connection between the two aid programs is essentially their funding. According to Crouch, every CBS program gets partial funding from State Need Grant money and CBS students are prioritized first for State Need Grant funding. As a result, students with CBS get a lower amount of State Need Grant funding later.
This delicate financial balance is maintained through careful coordination. During the past year, this coordination had been good enough for CBS to save nine million dollars. To continue the balanced relationship between CBS and State Need Grant, its budget needed to maintain a cycle; all leftover money—like that nine million—needed to be allocated back to the State Need Grant’s fund each year.
Crouch says that the House’s originally drafted budget had forgotten that.
“If it didn’t go back to State Need Grant, what happens is State Need Grant students get bumped out [of that program] in favor of College Bound Students,” Crouch says.
An oversight taking just seconds to make had the potential for disastrous implications according to Crouch.
“What would have happened is the same number of ‘College Bound’ students would have been receiving State Need Grant but they would’ve been … taking more money from State Need Grant [fund], thus bumping just strictly State Need Grant students out of the grant to the tune of about 2,300 students,” Crouch says.
SPU seniors Bruna Afonso and Andrew Bell received Crouch’s email detailing the late-February Armageddon, prompting them to action. Acting as student liaisons for ICW, both students contacted ICW student liaisons in other private colleges in Washington, telling them about the email.
As for themselves, both Afonso and Bell contacted a state senator to reiterate their own and ICW’s concerns for students aided by the State Need Grant.
Crouch agree that it was this mass of student involvement that allowed state legislators to hear about the change so quickly. By Tuesday evening, House Representative Drew Hansen had already drafted an amendment to fix the issue.
“Congress people hear from people like me … and staff here often and they don’t really listen to us too much because they think that, ‘oh yeah, you work at a school, whatever’ but when a student takes the time to email, call, write a letter, visit, it has a completely different impact, and much stronger,” Grant says.
By Wednesday, the 24th, the amendment was sent to the appropriations committee and passed.
As a senior at SPU, Afonso stressed the importance of student awareness in situations such as these. After a visit to Olympia to see congress proceedings, Afonso felt acutely aware of this.
Bell agrees, encouraging fellow students to look beyond the politics discussed in mainstream media.
“Local and state government is a lot more relevant than I think a lot of people realize or think,” Bell says. “It’s very easy to gloss over it and just look at the national headlines… but local government has a lot more of an impact on people’s lives than I think they realize and it’s good to tune into that.”