The New Unrest As funding for aid programs dwindles, students and administrators fight to restore benefits.
by Charisse Dengler
Fed up with being bogged down with debt, students across the nation are taking matters into their own hands, campaigning for changes in federal financial aid. Angered by legislation such as the Deficit Reduction Act, which sliced funding for federal aid programs more than ever before, student organizations are preparing for battle.
With the cost of college increasing much faster than family incomes, students today graduate with sizable amounts of debt. This debt then influences job choices, forcing students to settle for the first job that comes their way in order to pay the bills. This often leads to decreased rates of job satisfaction, which leads to lower productivity.
The average student at a community college graduates with $6,100 in student debt. Graduates from public colleges graduate with $15,500 in debt; and at a private college, student debt averages $19,400.
One of the many student organizations involved in the fight for change is the United States Student Association. USSA prides itself on being the "oldest and largest national student organization" in the country and makes it its mission to mobilize students across the nation, teaching them that it is possible to bring about change at colleges and universities.
"USSA believes education is a right and works on building grassroots power among students to win concrete victories that expand access to education at the federal, state, and campus level," the association's website states.
The association is dedicated to educating and training students to rise up and make a difference on their individual college campuses. It encourages students to write letters, lobby, and participate in hearings; and on its website, USSA provides links to fact sheets, lobbying tips, lists of senators and representatives, and information on legislative issues.
USSA advises its members to write editorials, call their elected officials, and be a part of media events. The organization also hosts LegCon, an annual conference at which students from across the country can gather for discussion and action.
USSA offers two different training programs to educate and mobilize students. They are GrassRoots Organizing Weekends (GROW) and Electoral Action Training (EAT). Both training options are made up of a combination of presentations, discussions, and real-world application.
GROW is almost an overview of USSA's mission, teaching students the basics on how to get involved.
"The USSA Foundation's GrassRoots Organizing Weekends training teaches students successful strategies and skills developed by experienced organizers over the last 50 years," the association's website reads.
EAT is focused more on political movement and effecting change through voting.
"The Electoral Action Training has been developed by the U.S. Student Association Foundation to break the cycle of neglect between students and our elected officials," USSA's website states. "Drawing on the experience of community electoral organizers and student electoral campaigns on campuses across the country, EAT gives students the power to mobilize student votes to win victories on Election Day and beyond."
"Educated, organized, and united, USSA leads the fight to make education a right, not a privilege," USSA's website says.
In response to President Bush's 2007 budget, student organizations such as USSA are rising up and speaking out against decreases in education spending.
USSA stated that the budget "will limit access to higher education for millions of students and families."
The budget will reduce or eliminate 141 federal programs and do away with 42 Department of Education programs, a loss of $3.5 billion in funding. Six major programs will be cut from colleges and universities across the nation, totaling $893.1 million. The six programs are LEAP, Perkins Loans, Talent Search, Upward Bound, GEAR UP, and the Thurgood Marshall Fellowship.
Also, the budget level-funded six important programs, meaning the amount of funding allocated to these programs will be the same as the year before. Level funding is especially hard on students because it does not allow for inflation and tuition increases. Programs that were level- funded are CCAMPIS, SEOG, GAANN, work-study, Pell Grant, and the Javists Fellowships.
The maximum amount a student can receive through a Pell Grant has been stuck at $4,050 for the past four years. Also, the federal work-study program has been losing funding progressively for the past three years, going from $998.5 million in 2004 to $980.4 million in 2006.
The President's budget goes on to encourage a 5-percent overall reduction in educational-program funding.
Student organizations are focusing on bringing back the various programs that the budget eliminated and increasing funding in level-funded programs.
According to USSA's website, the nation's students have $31 billion in financial need that is not being met by federal aid.
"Student aid, as it is constructed, is poorly designed for those who most need it," Dynarski told Newhouse News Service.
More information on USSA and a list of ways to get involved can be found at www.usstudents.org.
"With tuition on the rise and unmet need already being billions of dollars, today's youth cannot bear the burden of another year of level funding for aid programs and early intervention programs that are necessary to make college a reality," USSA's website states.
Most of the debate over federal aid stems from the question of whether or not college is meant to be available to everyone. Students in USSA and other activist groups think it is, and recent statistics show that higher education is certainly beneficial to everyone.
According to the Department of Labor, employment options for people with college degrees increased by 1.8 million over the last 10 years, while people without college educations saw the loss of almost 700,000 jobs. When it comes to dollars, people with college degrees earn 60 percent more than those without degrees, adding up to a difference of $1 million over a lifetime.
Figures like these lead to the conclusion that a college degree is definitely worth the money spent on it. However, students are campaigning for an alternative to loads of student debt and asking the government to recognize the benefits that would come from increased educational spending.
Article Title : The New Unrest
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