Government shutdown does not hurt California State Universities

Kathleen Pizzo

The end of a nationwide fiscal shutdown and a debt ceiling increase is a relief for the California State University and its 23 campuses that have managed to escape without any damaging effects, said CSU Director of Public Affairs Mike Uhlenkamp.

On Oct 1., the U.S. government entered the fiscal shutdown that furloughed thousands of federal employees from their positions, including some within the Department of Education.

Roughly 5 percent of the Department of Education’s employees were responsible for federal aid, which was maintained successfully.

But lesser programs such as the Federal Work Study, a program that provides funds for needy students to work as part-time employees to help pay for college, were pushed aside and could have resulted in delays.

The shutdown also limited the ability of government employees to provide assistance, undertake oversight obligations or perform required administrative functions.

Uhlenkamp said all federal loans and grants were already awarded to those in need at the beginning of the school year.

“These things are done in advance so the effects are minimal,” Uhlenkamp said. “The shutdown would have had to go considerably long for this to be an issue.”

Uhlenkamp said the end of the shutdown is a relief because if it continued, the money CSU receives from the federal government for programs such as financial aid and research grants could have been delayed.

But Uhlenkamp also said a small portion of the money CSU receives is federally funded.

Programs like financial aid and Federal Work Study are authorized under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965.

Jasmine Murphy, Student Services Coordinator at the Sac State Office of Financial Aid, said because the office receives its money at the beginning of the year, little harm was done.  

“Initially, when the government shutdown started (staff members) were told there were no impacts to Title IV period, so we were proceeding as usual,” Murphy said. “And then we got subsequent communication that said if it continues any longer we may see impacts, but it ended shortly after that.”

The main impact that could have occurred as a result of the shutdown is a delay in the disbursement of money to students.

Murphy said students who relied on the IRS for documentation to give to the Financial Aid Department experienced difficulty because of the government shutdown.

The Financial Aid Department does not allow substitute documents in place of those distributed by the IRS.

If the shutdown had continued, disruptions were increasingly likely with any activities that required interaction with federal employees or use of federal resources.

Sonia Ortiz-Mercado, State and Federal Relations Director at Sac State, said if the debt ceiling had not been raised by Oct. 17, there would have been more dire consequences for higher education.

Investments and revenues for the state may have been less than expected, which could have affected the state budget and funding.

“We’re glad it ended when it did,” Ortiz-Mercado said. “But I would say in the short term there wasn’t a direct effect.”

For those aspiring to begin careers within the government, the shutdown did not affect many undergraduate government majors.

“It depends on if you take an optimistic role or not,” said Zane Hatfield, a 21-year-old government major. “All it was was politics. Some people are going to look at the American government and say this is a joke. [America’s] the most powerful nation in the world [and] we have two parties fighting over the debt ceiling. People who really like following politics are going to get really motivated about it because they want to get into it.”

Hatfield, who aspires to be a lobbyist, said he likes the drama behind the politics but he prefers implementing policy and actually helping people.

Erin Rodriguez, a 20-year-old government major, said her motivation towards her career in politics is still at an all-time high.

“The more young Americans that get involved in politics the stronger our country will be and I’m really excited to be a part of that,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said two weeks of a government shutdown was unfortunate, however, it signifies that when two parties are willing to compromise, legislation can be passed.

“The perception of Congress is at an all time low,” Rodriguez said. “But in reality, although there are strong partisan politics happening in our country, important legislation is constantly getting passed through Congress.”