Group treks to D.C. for additional funding
WASHINGTON - The University students lobbying in Washington, D.C. yesterday focused their effort on making last year's Pell Grant funding increase go on beyond 2012, when the raise is slated to expire. They also hoped to secure additional funding for the Federal Work-Study Program, which has not seen an increase in federal funding since 2000.
Some legislators openly embraced their efforts. Others warned them the federal deficit was too high for monetary contributions to higher education. The student advocates also said they learned lobbying techniques they could use in the future.
One of the lawmakers who said he was more worried about the federal budget than higher education was Rep. Scott Garrett, R-5th. He said although other legislators might say the opposite, he is being frank: The federal budget is not looking too good. Don't put on the rose-colored glasses.
"They might say, 'Oh yeah, everything's peachy-keen in Washington,' but it just isn't that way," he said. "It's not the reality."
He said he could not make any promises because of the economy. The dollar is growing weak, he said, and he just read an article stating oil is now $112 a barrel. He suggested the students and staff look toward Trenton and lobbying in-state rather than on a federal level.
"It seemed that he didn't want to put anything into something unless it outweighed the cost benefits of it," said Pharmacy Council Secretary Robert Erazo, an Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy first-year student.
Other legislators, such as Rep. Albio Sires, D-13th, told them they need not come looking for support. They already have his support.
"You don't have to worry about me. I'm in your corner," Sires said. "I keep pushing and pushing and pushing."
He said despite the difficulties of the budget deficits, he continues to garner support for financial aid. He said he got through college on a basketball scholarship and is still the only person in his family who was able to get a college education. His personal experiences made him realize what his goals are as a legislator.
"If it wasn't for my basketball scholarship, I wouldn't be here," he said.
He argues for the need to prioritize higher education in the legislature: It leads to a higher income, which means more taxes are contributed, and higher education helps individuals get ahead in life.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg co-sponsored the College Cost Reduction Act, which increased the Pell Grant from $500 to $5,100 for four years.
He said he comes from the Greatest Generation, which was what the generation coming home from World War II was called - the generation that got to attend college after serving in the war.
"I see no reason why America shouldn't have another Greatest Generation," he said. "We have the capacity ... but when you finish with a debt hanging over your head, it's no fun."
He said he continues to push for less expensive higher education.
In addition to speaking with legislators, students said they learned a great deal about lobbying practices and how the system works.
"A lot of it is knowing what you're goal is," said Rutgers University Student Assembly legislative chair Chris Keating, a Rutgers College junior. "You get into a conversation as respect - that you're more than just people in D.C. touring, that you're constituents."
They also learned what to do from lobbyist Megan Arleth, who presided over a briefing luncheon before the group spoke with legislators.
When Erazo asked a question during a practice session, Arleth frowned. A University alumna and a lobbyist for the Federal Relations Office, she was in charge of coaching the student advocates who came to Washington, D.C. yesterday.
"Don't ask questions!" she said, advising them to make statements instead. She put her hands over her heart.
"Tell them that it's an important part of your education," she said.
Arleth worked with the Federal Relations Office in Washington, D.C. for nine years. She said she wants to pass on what she knows - her expertise and wisdom in the lobbyist field - onto to the students of her alma mater.
Erazo said the practice session also helped him to feel more confident about his ability to lobby for the University. As a pharmacy major among the rest of the students on the trip, who are political science majors, he felt out-of-the-loop on politics.
"I think there's sort of a disconnect between Rutgers and the pharmacy school," he said. "I was scared because I thought I wasn't in-tune ... But now, I feel comfortable, I feel I can contribute to our cause."
He said he feels more secure because this could promote his personal story - that he depends on financial aid to go to college. He is an Educational Opportunity Fund student and also relies on Perkins and direct loans.
"When we were practicing, I realized that just because I don't know most of the things, I can relate to it personally," he said.