Rutgers Students Travel to Capitol Hill to Advocate for Financial Aid

Rutgers Students Travel to Capitol Hill to Advocate for Financial Aid

Students from New Brunswick, Newark and Camden visit lawmakers, seek continued federal funding support for education grants

Luke Hinrichs and Samuel Adepoju
Luke Hinrichs (left), a student at Rutgers-New Brunswick, and Samuel Adepoju (right), who attends Rutgers-Camden, visit Capitol Hill to advocate for financial aid.
Photo: Courtesy Samuel Adepoju

Media Contact
Robin Lally

Luke Hinrichs knows what it’s like to lose everything. A few years ago, his father lost his job, the family lost their home and Hinrichs wondered whether he would have to forget college plans because he didn’t have the money and needed to help his family get back on their feet.

“I didn’t know what was going to happen and kept asking myself should I get a job because there’s no way I can afford to go to college,” said Hinrichs of Cherry Hill. “But then I found out that there was financial aid out there for those like me who need help and it was like sunshine coming through dark, cloudy days.”

Hinrichs, a sophomore economics and political science major at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, was among a contingent of 16 Rutgers students who traveled to Washington, D.C., this week to speak with members of Congress about federal funding for education grants that have made it possible for them to earn higher education degrees.

For more than 15 years, Rutgers students have been traveling to Capitol Hill to put a human face on the need for continued funding of federal aid programs. This year, after the House of Representatives overwhelmingly rejected President Trump’s proposed cuts and eliminations for student aid in 2019, they think it is even more important to thank legislators for their support and to continue advocating for student needs.

“There are so many people out there who need this help,” said Willingboro resident Samuel Adepoju, a junior at Rutgers University-Camden and student government president who wants to go in the Peace Corps after graduation to give back for the help that was given to him and his family. “My dad is unemployed, and my mom makes just above $18,000 a year with three kids, two in college, so without this aid we wouldn’t be in school.”

Students with Sen. Menendez
Rutgers students who went to Capitol Hill to advocate for financial aid met with Sen. Robert Menendez.
Photo: Erin Dolan
Nearly 18,000 Rutgers students rely on Pell Grants to pay their tuition, about a third of the undergraduates at the university. For the 2017-2018 academic year, 17,756 students received $84.5 million in Pell Grants. Students benefit from a variety of federal and financial aid programs, including Pell Grants, Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, Work-Study, Perkins Loans and Direct Loans, totaling more than $400 million a year.

Rutgers student advocates urged their representatives to get behind extending the Pell Grant maximum award from $6,195 to $6,345 a year and continue supporting the Federal Work-Study program that provides students with average earnings of $1,600 annually.

They also asked congressional representatives to oppose the Trump administration’s proposal to eliminate federal funding grants that provide additional funds to Pell recipients with the greatest financial needs and to vote against the proposed elimination of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

“Nearly a third of our undergraduates at Rutgers rely on federal Pell Grants to finance their education, and thousands more participate in Federal Work-Study and the federal loan programs,” said Francine Newsome Pfeiffer, Rutgers’ vice president for federal relations. “Many students don’t know the source of this aid or that the funding levels for these programs are determined by Congress each year.  Our student leaders’ visit to Washington shines a light on the important role Congress plays to give students an opportunity to attend college, and allows our students the chance to effectively advocate for strong investments in student aid.“

The legislators or their staff members who met with students included: Sen. Cory Booker, Sen. Robert Menendez, Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-12th), Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-5th), Rep. Albio Sires (D-8th), Rep. Mike Sherrill (D-11th), Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-2nd), Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6th), Rep. Donald Payne, Jr. (D-10th), Rep. Chris Smith (R-4th), Rep. Donald Norcross (D-1st), Tom Malinowski (D-7th), Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-9th) and Rep. Andy Kim (D-3rd).

Francine Heisler, a single mother who will graduate from Rutgers University-Newark with a degree in computer science this spring, also met with legislators. Heisler came to Rutgers-Newark as part of the RU-N to the TOP scholarship, which began in 2016 and covers the cost of in-state tuition and mandatory fees. The award is offered after all federal, state and internal/external scholarships and grants have been applied. The scholarship was offered to students entering Rutgers University-Newark for the first time.

Adepoju said he was most impressed after speaking with Menendez, who thanked the students for the work they were doing on campus that often goes unrecognized. “He left us with many words of wisdom,” Adepoju said. “ Sen. Menendez told us if you are working for the benefit of others in any way, shape or form, please keep up the good fight, and if you haven’t yet begun, it’s never too late to start.”


Media Contact
Robin Lally