New Blows for Higher Ed
by Maura Stephens
Student Government Association fights tuition aid cutbacks from Congress.
On November 18 the House of Representatives voted 217-215 to cut student loan subsidies and freeze Pell Grants -- for the fourth year in a row. The bill, called "Budget Reconciliation," cuts more than $14 billion from student loan programs. The approved budget plan also pinches programs for the poor (Medicaid, State Children's Health Insurance Program, child support, and food stamps) and farm and conservation programs. It will save the government nearly $50 billion in total. All House Democrats and 14 Republicans voted against it. The Senate had already voted on its own proposal, which would cut nearly $10 billion from student loan programs; the joint House-Senate "budget reconciliation" bill was scheduled for final vote as we went to press.
The Congressional effort became known during the summer, when House and Senate members began looking for ways to stem the budget deficit, which has spiraled out of control in the last four years. The Katrina and Rita disasters of late summer are causing the government to outlay billions of dollars in unbudgeted reconstruction costs. With tax cuts playing such an important part in the current administration's policies, Congress has chosen to cut federal spending by taking money away from social programs, including higher education.
The House bill takes away monies given by the government to private lenders, charges borrowers higher interest rates, imposes new mandatory taxes, and eliminates or charges more for what the United States Student Association calls "crucial" benefits.
Cuts to student loans and Pell Grants hurt students and their families. Higher education tuition costs continue to rise, although most schools, including Ithaca College, do their best to hold them at the most affordable levels possible.
As President Williams wrote in her column in the 2004/1 issue of ICQ (the "Alumni Couples" cover), when tuition programs were under siege under the Affordability in Higher Education Act of 2003, "Our own operating budget, funded for the most part by tuition dollars (and already squeezed by the precipitously rising costs of basic expenditures such as insurance and utilities), is a significant source of financial aid. . . . I urge all alumni, parents, students, and others interested in maintaining the affordability of a college education to be vigilant in monitoring the situation at the state and federal levels and to contact your elected representatives to make sure they are aware of your concerns."
Recognizing the danger to students and their families, members of the Student Government Association executive board, led by SGA vice president for campus affairs Dan McCarey and vice president for finance Lane Tobias, both seniors, launched a campaign to educate the campus community and encourage people to call their Congressional representatives to find out their position on the bill.
"I first found out about the bill about two weeks before the Senate was set to vote on it," says McCarey, "when I was searching for more direct actions that students could become involved in. "When I saw how much was actually being taken from student aid, I was quite shocked by it and I thought it was something that students would get behind as it is a threat to them directly. SGA put together two days of call-ins, one around the Senate vote and one for the House vote," says McCarey. "We had script sheets for the callers, so that they could find out the positions on the bill of representatives in Congress, encourage them to vote against it if they were for it, and to thank them if they were against it."
After the House vote, McCarey and the SGA continued their work. "We are extremely disappointed and still trying to raise awareness among students," McCarey says. "The majority of them don't even realize how much it will affect them personally. It's something like $5,000 per person that students will be losing, and that is a very significant amount."
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