Amid proposed cuts to federal financial aid programs, 11 students traveled to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday to lobby Congress to support student aid.
The trip was sponsored by Cornell’s Office of Government and Community Relations, which organizes the trip annually, according to Adam Raveret ’12. Raveret, who went on the trip, said that although the University lobbies on behalf of students through its office of federal government relations in D.C., the students went to D.C. to “give a face to this issue.”
“We can tell about our experiences receiving student financial aid and receiving the Pell Grant and other loans that they’re offering,” Raveret said.
On Wednesday, the students lobbied Congress to support Pell Grants — need-based grants awarded to undergraduates of low-income backgrounds. About 2,200 students at Cornell received Pell Grant funding in the 2010-2011 academic year, The Sun reported last year.
Although the maximum Pell Grant award is likely to remain $5,550 through the 2013-2014 year, Raveret said in an email Thursday that “there are already estimates that the program will have a $7.5 billion shortfall in the 2014-2015 award year, so it is clear that a long-term funding solution is needed.”
“We were, at the minimum, asking that they not cut the [grant’s] maximum amount,” said James Bor ’12, who also went on the trip.
Students also lobbied Congress to maintain the government’s current interest rate on subsidized federal Stafford Loans — need-based loans subsidized by the federal government to help students pay their tuition. If Congress does not intervene, the interest rate for the loans will double from 3.4 to 6.8 percent on July 1, according to Raveret.
“These loans are used by roughly nine million low-income students,” he said. “The Obama administration is urging Congress to delay this increase for one year, but keeping the rate at 3.4 percent is expensive; the [Obama] administration estimates it will cost roughly $3.9 billion.”
The students spent Wednesday emphasizing to members of Congress that federal aid has enabled them and their families to finance their college educations.
“We got appointments set up for us in different [representatives’] offices. A lot of times we talked to their staffer, which was their expert on education reform, on legislative issues involving education,” Raveret said. “In some cases, we were able to talk to the [representatives] or the senators, which was really cool, and tell them our issues.”
Bor called the trip was an “empowering experience.”
“So often, we see Congress as some sort of nebulous institution that not many people can reach, when in actuality, I think that the beauty of America is the fact that you can go to your [representative’s] or your senator’s office and speak with [them],” he said. “Being a responsible person requires you to be informed to figure out what’s at stake, and you use your voice and can’t just sit back.”
Grace Omotunde ’12 agreed, saying that it was important for her to advocate for students like herself who receive financial aid.
“It’s empowering being given that opportunity … [to] voice what is important to you,” Omotunde said.
According to Bor, the group visited the offices of representatives from a wide range of states. Bor, who was able to meet with the Congressman who represents his Virginia district on the trip, said that his representative was particularly impressed that “college students would take the time to come five or six hours just to speak to them about how important financial aid is.”
Raveret said that speaking to representatives in person increases the likelihood that they will lobby on behalf of students.
“Politics are local,” he said. “It definitely does help meeting someone from your district who is directly affected by these types of legislation and who feels strongly about it.”
Echoing Raveret, Bor said that in the world of politics, facts and numbers can only go so far.
“At the end of the day, when it comes down to the political realm, it’s one thing about cold, hard facts, about numbers, about aid ... but it’s another thing to have someone telling stories about how they’re able to go to college, to get a crack at the American dream,” Bor said.