Rutgers Students Champion Federal Aid on Capitol Hill

Rutgers Students Champion Federal Aid on Capitol Hill

Rutgers' 250th anniversary celebrated in Congress and 11 students from New Brunswick, Newark and Camden travel to Washington to meet with lawmakers

Rep. Albio Sires meets with Rutgers students in his Capitol Hill office. Seated from left to right: Davon McCurry, Ivana Ledbetter, Brenna Stone, Gary Kopchinski, Rahimah Faiq, Bishar Jenkins, Jr. and John Rueda.
Davon McCurry is certain he would not be on track to graduate next year were it not for the federal student aid he has received while attending Rutgers. The Pell Grants and Federal Work-Study funds he has received made it possible for him to stay in school even as his mom took a leave from her job to care for his terminally ill sister.

For Saad Admani, a junior in the School of Public Affairs and Administration in Newark, the Pell and work-study grants allowed him to get paid to work on community-related projects that helped him hone his career interests and stay focused on school. “All of the successes that I’ve had in college, all that makes me unique and allowed me to do research about immigrants and Newark, is all due to work-study,” said Admani, president of the Rutgers-Newark Muslim Students Association.

He and McCurry were among 11 Rutgers students who traveled to Washington this week to urge New Jersey federal legislators to support continued funding of federal aid programs. Many shared personal stories about the difference federal aid has made for them as they advocated for the tens of thousands of other Rutgers students in New Brunswick, Newark and Camden who rely on grants and government-subsidized student loans.

“It’s one thing to talk about numbers but going in there with actual stories about how financial aid has helped us as students is important,” said McCurry, a Burlington Township resident who is a junior in the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.

Rep. Donald Payne, Jr., right, talks with Rutgers students outside his House office. Left to right, the students are Timothy Marietta, Saad Admani, Joe Clark and Justin Schulberg. 
The students adeptly wove those numbers into personal testimonies as they crisscrossed Capitol Hill to meet with congressional representatives. Justin Schulberg, president of the Rutgers University Student Assembly, told Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. Donald Payne, Jr. that of the 33,000 Rutgers-New Brunswick students he represents, 11,000 receive Pell Grants. He asked that they continue to support the appropriated base of $4,860 for individual Pell Grants, which, when combined with mandatory funding, would allow for a scheduled increase in the maximum Pell award to $5,935 in fiscal year 2017.

In all, 17,000 Rutgers students – more than a third – receive Pell grants totaling $74 million a year. Schulberg, a dual mathematics and political science major, also urged the congressional members to work to apply a Pell Grant surplus to make the program year-round again, allowing students who need to work to pay for college to apply grants toward summer session classes.

“We’re here to put a face to the story about the importance of financial aid,” said Gary Kopchinski, a political science and sociology double-major at Rutgers-Camden who will graduate this year. Nearly half of all Camden students receive Pell Grants, he noted. “If it weren’t for these grants, many of these students would not have the opportunity to be here.”

The students met with a receptive delegation. Booker, who spent an hour listening to and talking with the students, echoed other legislators’ support of current funding levels while pursuing ways to ensure work-study opportunities are tied more consistently to community service work.  Booker said he also supported Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s blocked amendment to the budget resolution that would allow people to refinance student loans at lower interest rates.

The students also urged lawmakers to provide at least $990 million to the Federal Work-Study Program in fiscal year 2017 during what’s become an annual Rutgers visit to Capitol Hill.

“It’s an important day because members of Congress hear directly from students and constituents about the essential role federal aid plays in making college possible for thousands across New Jersey,” said Francine Newsome Pfeiffer, Rutgers’ vice president for federal relations.

Eleven Rutgers students from schools in New Brunswick, Camden and Newark pose for a photo with Sen. Cory Booker after discussing funding for federal student aid programs.
Following their meetings, the students joined a Rutgers 250 congressional reception at the U.S. Botanic Garden, where a Rutgers Graduate School alumnus, Ari Novy, is the executive director. President Robert Barchi welcomed more than 200 guests, including D.C. alumni, congressional staff members and Sen. Robert Menendez, Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr., Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, Rep. Scott Garrett and Rep. Donald Norcross. Menendez presented a resolution approved this week by the U.S. Senate honoring Rutgers’ 250th anniversary year.

On the train to Washington, the students gathered in groups to prepare for their afternoon meetings. On a late-night train north to New Jersey, their feet a little achy and their minds turning to end-of-semester workloads, they shared photos and stories from the memorable day.

Rahimah Faiq, president of the Rutgers-Newark Student Governing Association, was thankful for how receptive the legislators were but was even more pleased with how well the students, who came together from New Brunswick, Newark and Camden, worked with each other.

“Everyone who came here knew what they were talking about and, most important, we were a team,” said Faiq, a junior criminal justice major. “Representatives saw the faces of all three Rutgers campuses and heard firsthand how important federal aid is to so many students.”


For media inquiries, contact Dory Devlin at dory.devlin@rutgers.edu or 973-972-7276.