Rutgers students, including one from South Brunswick, will be in Washington today making their case for keeping college affordable.
Students will travel to Capitol Hill to make their case that the government should continue to provide affordable federal funding for higher education by freezing interest rates on subsidized loans, raising the maximum amount for grants, and doubling the number of work-study programs.
Some students fear the current economic climate will push lawmakers to balance the budget by raising the cost of student loans.
Accompanied by outgoing Rutgers President Richard McCormick, 12 undergraduates hope to sway Congress by sharing their personal stories of how loans made their college education possible.
Legislators' Responsibility to Students
Valerie Weiss is a double major in political science and Italian, and is the external vice president of the Governing Council of Douglass Residential College. A resident of Marlboro, When a friend who went to Advocacy Day last year told her about the opportunity, she knew it was her chance to make her voice heard.
“Our legislators are obligated to consider the individual lives of students when they make decisions that affect us,” said Weiss, who is from Marlboro. "They have the end-all say for what college will be."
To Weiss, education is a right that all should have the opportunity to strive for, and that without Student Advocacy Day, lawmakers would not know how great the need is for federal funding.
Life with Loans
Suresh Nathan, of South Brunswick, is taking both family duties and student loans into account when he plans his future.
"Some of us will have to take care of our parents when they get older," Nathan said. "Loans are another hurdle on top of that responsibility."
Nathan is a biomedical engineering major in the engineering school, class of 2014. He relies on grants for his undergraduate degree, but is on a pre-med track that will land him in grad school, at which time he will be taking out student loans.
Sarah Shaw, from Egg Harbor, is a journalism and media studies major in the class of 2013. She said that expensive student loans diminish the quality of life for college graduates.
“Students end up paying a cost far greater than the loan,” Shaw said. “We major in something, and we don’t have time to look for a job in our field because we need money by the time the grace period ends.”
Shaw added that it is irresponsible for lawmakers to assume that all of the more than 20,000 students at Rutgers with student loans will find a job in their field within six months of graduation, known as the “grace period.”
The Face of Financial Aid
Kyrie Graziosi, from Toms River, is a School of Arts and Sciences (SAS) senior with a double major in political science and gender studies and president of the Douglass Governing Council. She will try to change Congress’ opinion using tools she gained from the United States Student Association (USSA).
The USSA is a nationwide organization that provides students with the tools they need to lobby Congress and make a lasting impression on Capitol Hill.
“We are going to be direct and articulate. We are going to share our stories. Down there, it’s hard for anyone to put a human face on a budget issue. So that’s what we’re going to do,” said Graziosi, of Toms River.
Putting a face on the issue is what freshman Pamela Navrot said is her main goal on Tuesday. Navrot, from Clementon, believes their stories and faces will help Congress understand that, as Navrot put it, “success and attainment in higher education is impossible without federal funding.”
"An Arsenal of Information"
President of the student body of the Rutgers Business School Ceida Poloezel will bring her story of hardship and achievement with her on Tuesday. Having grown up in an underprivileged household in Jersey City, she has been working two to three jobs since she was 16 in order to support herself and her mother.
Poloezel, of New Brunswick, knows the value of affordable education, because without federal support she would not have been able to attend college.
"The stories are strong enough," she said. "Education is the source of opportunity, and the most important investment Congress can make."
The personal stories that each student will have a chance to tell will make up what SAS senior and Old Bridge native Zain Ahmad calls an “arsenal of information that Congress can use when they want to take up our cause.”