The students traveled on Tuesday to Washington, D.C., where they headed to all 14 New Jersey congressional delegation offices to put a human face to the need for continued funding of federal aid programs.
Prosper Delle, at Rutgers University-Newark sophomore, shared with Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11th), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, that without the Pell Grants and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants he receives, he would have to take on more debt to earn his degree.
“These grants help make it possible for me to go to college,” said Delle, a public administration major who immigrated to the United States from Ghana.
Rutgers students benefit from a variety of federal aid programs totaling $400 million, including Pell Grants, Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, Federal Work-Study, and Perkins Loans and Direct Loans.
More than 17,000 students – one third of Rutgers undergraduates – receive Pell Grants, which provide $75 million toward their educational costs.
Joe Clark, a sophomore communication major at Rutgers-New Brunswick, stressed that the students are not asking for more funding, but to maintain current levels. He asked a receptive Sen. Robert Menendez that he and other legislators support the appropriated base of $4,860 for the Pell Grant, which would allow the scheduled increase in the maximum award to $5,935 in fiscal year 2018.
The students also encouraged representatives to restore year-round Pell Grants to give students the opportunity to graduate sooner by taking courses in summer and winter sessions.While getting to college is key, being able to afford everyday expenses often makes the difference for whether students stay and complete their degrees, said Ini Ross, a junior social work major at Rutgers-New Brunswick, noting work-study grants help fill that financial need for 3,000 Rutgers students.
“Work-study is a lifeline,” Ross said, adding students gain valuable work and community experience through the program. “If it weren’t for the Federal Work-Study program, many students wouldn't be able to maintain their academic schedules. Work-study allows students to not have to choose between textbooks and other essentials.”
The students advocated for Congress to maintain funding of $990 million for work-study grants – which average $1,600 to 675,000 U.S. students – in fiscal year 2018.
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Rutgers students have made the annual trek to Capitol Hill for more than 15 years.
“Our student advocates take this opportunity to represent the interests of thousands of fellow Rutgers students who rely on federal student aid very seriously,” said Francine Newsome Pfeiffer, Rutgers’ vice president for federal relations. “Their visit to Washington this year was extremely timely as Congress is finalizing funding decisions on key programs such as Federal Pell Grants, Federal Work-Study, federal student loans and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants.”
For some of the students, it was their second Rutgers Undergraduate Student Advocacy Day. Rahimah Faiq, a senior criminal justice major at Rutgers-Newark, returned to share more stories of students who rely on the aid. “Federal financial aid helps students from various backgrounds,” she said. “It’s not even an option in my mind – it’s a requirement to make college achievable for so many.”Mitch Larson, a graduate student in the M.A. program in criminal justice at Rutgers University-Camden, made his first advocacy trip to the capitol. He said he knows many students who would not be able to attend college without financial aid funding, such as Pell Grants and work-study.
“These are students who could never afford it without this help and they go on to become great doctors, scientists, lawyers, mayors,” said Larson, who received his undergraduate degrees from Rutgers-Camden. “Without financial aid some of the greatest minds of today and tomorrow would never have an opportunity to sharpen their skills and get access to the tools they need to succeed.”
The students also met with Rep. Leonard Lance (R-7th), Rep. Donald Norcross (D-1st) and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6th), and with staff members in the offices of Sen. Cory Booker and representatives Josh Gottheimer (D-5th), Frank LoBiondo (R-2nd), Donald Payne, Jr. (D-10th), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-12th), Tom MacArthur (D-3rd), Bill Pascrell (D-9th), Chris Smith (R-4th) and Albio Sires (D-8th).
“In the face of significant proposed cuts to higher education funding by the White House, it was reassuring to hear our New Jersey members of Congress and their staff voice strong, bipartisan support for federal student aid,” Pfeiffer said.