Rutgers students travel to Capitol Hill to advocate for increased financial aid
Rutgers students recently went to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. to advocate for increased financial aid.
The students had the opportunity to speak with members of Congress about increased federal funding for their education, according to Rutgers Today. Students from Rutgers have been going to Capitol Hill for the past 15 years, in order to put a more “human face” on the issue of funding federal aid programs.
Samuel Adepoju, a junior at Rutgers—Camden, was among those who went to Capitol Hill.
Adepoju said that during the trip, they worked with the University’s Office of Federal Relations in order to help advocate for more federal aid nationwide.
Francine Newsome Pfeiffer, the vice president of Federal Relations at Rutgers, said that students went to make the case for federal investments in student aid in order to help keep college affordable not only for Rutgers students, but also for students across the nation.
“We met with legislative assistants, House representatives and congressional workers,” Adepoju said in an Instagram post on the trip. “We were lucky enough to meet with our (state's) very own Senior Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who personally thanked us for the work we’re doing to help the students on our campus, work that often goes unseen.”
Pfeiffer said that beginning with the G.I. Bill of 1955, the National Defense Act of 1958 and the Higher Education Act of 1965, the federal government has played an important role in making higher education more affordable for many generations of students. The G.I. Bill, for instance, allows veterans and their family members to receive money to cover the costs of training and education, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website.
Thanks to these programs, the percentage of Americans attending college has vastly increased, which helped with large growth in the nation’s middle class and scientific innovation, Pfeiffer said.
Pell Grants, federal work-study and federal student loans were the key programs students discussed. Approximately one-third of undergraduate students rely on Pell Grants for paying their tuition, Pfeiffer said. These are need-based awards that do not need to be repaid, unlike a student loan. All of the various federal and financial aid programs total to more than $400 million a year.
“Congress determines the amount of the maximum Pell Grant award through the annual appropriations process every year,” Pfeiffer said. “So it is important for students to have their voices heard about federal financial aid every year, not just when programs are under threat.”
Pfeiffer said federal student loans, work-study and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program should matter to every student, even students not currently receiving financial aid. She said they could play a role in the future, especially in financing graduate studies.
“While PSLF has made the news recently because most applications are being rejected due to eligibility problems, the program will become increasingly valuable as more students become eligible for forgiveness of their federal loan balances after 10 years of loan repayment while working in public service,” Pfeiffer said.
In the end, both Pfeiffer and Adepoju believe federal aid is important because it gives people opportunities.
“I will have to say that opportunity is the greatest gift anyone can receive ... more valuable than gold or anything that can be quantified,” Adepoju said. “It symbolizes someone believing in you, someone you don’t know spending long hours working for you, helping to bestow upon you a chance ... a chance to do things you could never have imagined because sometimes we’re the last to know how truly great we are.”