Students set to lobby for increase in U. aid
For Undergraduate Student Advocacy Day, Christopher Keating, a Rutgers College junior, has a personal stake in speaking with legislators and will be joining nineteen students on a train to Washington D.C. today to do just that.
The student group is planning to advocate for increased funding of programs that help students pay for college such as the work/study program, Pell grants and federal aid for higher education, said Assistant Director of Federal Relations Megan Arleth.
Students going on the trip said they hope to put real faces-their faces-on financial statistics.
Keating and his three siblings attend the University on financial aid and Pell grants.
"[Financial aid] is extremely vital for us in order to get our degrees," he said.
The Federal Relations Office is running Student Advocacy Day for the ninth year in a row and providing students with background material, tips and talking points. Most of the students will meet with several members in their offices.
"We give them all the necessary information and we also encourage them to talk about their own personal stories with student financial aid," Arleth said.
Keating said putting a face to the financial troubles plaguing many students across the board is a good move, as personal stories have strong pull.
"That's one of the best things to do, being able to speak about it from personal experience," he said. "When you can make something personal, you have more appeal."
Keating said he knows this from his job as the legislative chair of the Rutgers University Student Assembly, which involves working with legislators. Real stories work better because they have the ability to strike a lawmaker's nerves in a way impersonal statistics cannnot, he said.
In addition to making statistics meaningful, real-life stories could also have the effect of bringing legislators out of their offices, and down to the level of the people they represent, said Jim Kline a Rutgers College senior and RUSA chair.
"It sort of grounds them-as they're in Washington every day, and they can forget the needs of their constituents," he said.
One of the most important items on the students' agenda is increasing federal aid overall in the next three years, Kline said.
"It would be an incredible achievement to students, and thousands more of students can have access to higher education," he said. "More money [and] more aid can be cycled through."
Kline said he thinks the government is starting to recognize the financial flaws in higher education. He pointed out that last year, the government accepted the College Cost Reduction Act, which raised the maximum Pell Grant to $5,200 by 2011. The Pell grant was set only to rise to $500 over five years before the act passed.
"I think they're just starting to realize it's a huge issue," he said.
But although students remain hopeful, the current situation in Washington may make it difficult to squeeze any bills through, since it's an election year, Arleth said.
"We're hopeful, but it is a difficult budget year on a federal, as well as a state level," he said. "The outcome may depend on who becomes president of the U.S."
President George W. Bush remained rigid last year about how money was spent, she said, adding that a lot of people are going to wait to try and pass bills when the election is over.
"[The legislators] certainly will try to get them done on time, but politics certainly can get in the way," she said.