WASHINGTON — Responding to public outrage about higher student loan rates and the rising cost of college, a wide range of organizations and activists representing millions of students, parents and recent college graduates are pushing to repeal recent cuts to student aid programs and increase supports to pay for college. Millions of people nationwide will pay significantly more in interest on their student loans because of new measures recently approved by Congress effective July 1.
Using the slogan “Reverse the Raid,” many organizations are mobilizing the public in different ways around the rising cost of college. Groups are reaching out to their members, releasing reports, launching online campaigns, communicating with the public, and holding events at dozens of college campuses and in hundreds of communities this year to ensure that the more than 18 million Americans who seek to pursue a college education can afford it, according to organizers.
Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., responded to the public’s concern last week by introducing legislation that cuts student loan interest rates in half. Many of the groups that called on Congress to reverse the raid on student aid today endorsed the legislation in a letter to Congress.
Campaign for America’s Future co-director Robert Borosage joined Sen. Durbin and Rep. Miller on today’s conference call with reporters. Borosage said the legacy of this White House and Congress is broken promises and historic funding cuts.
“Finding a way to pay for college is a difficult struggle facing millions of families across the country,” said Borosage. “This issue is going to be a hassle for Congress too. Families across the country are struggling to keep up with the largest cuts to student aid in our nation’s history.”
Student groups like the US Student Association, the State PIRGs and Campus Progress at the Center for American Progress are building support on campuses across the country and drawing attention to college affordability issues. The State PIRGs recently released a report to members emphasizing that unmanageable student loan debt discourages graduates from pursuing careers in public service fields such as teaching or social work.
The U.S. Student Association has launched the national “Grant Aid Now!” campaign to increase grant aid, make loans manageable and reverse the raid on student aid. “Essentially, Congress is balancing the budget on the backs of students,” said Jennifer Pae, USSA Vice President. “Students are organizing and mobilizing to fight these detrimental cuts to higher education and are committed to making sure members will hear our voice at the ballot box in 2006.”
Rock The Vote Washington director Hans Riemer said that his group plans to use its 1 million-member e-mail list to highlight the higher education cuts in the run-up to the elections. Rock The Vote plans to educate its members, activate grassroots leaders, and run media campaigns that reach young and new voters.
“The military draft was the hot issue pulling young people out in 2004, and education could play a similar role in 2006,” said Riemer.
USAction is coordinating petition drives in 25 states to get elected officials to sign a pledge to oppose further cuts in student financial aid. Major labor organizations including the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, SEIU and NEA are also communicating with their members.
The College Democrats of America and the Young Democrats of America are planning to activate their members in April and May when students hear about college and about what financial aid and loans they will need.
The House approved a measure earlier this year last month that failed to invest in a college education for America’s students and families while giving breaks to the big student lenders and for-profit colleges. Congress passed a measure two months ago that slashed almost $12 billion in federal student aid to pay for massive tax breaks to millionaires, putting college further out of reach for millions of families. And earlier this year, the president proposed $1.2 billion in additional cuts to higher education programs in his FY 2007 budget.
“REVERSE THE RAID”
–The United States Student Association launched its “Grant Aid Now!” campaign in March, and is encouraging its members to contact their congressional representatives. For more information and an Organizing Manual, visit www.usstudents.org.
–The United States Student Association’s National Day of Action organized 50 campuses across the country to repeal the cuts in all student loan and grant programs and increase tax breaks for college costs.
–The Campaign for America’s Future will initiate a petition campaign calling on Republicans to match their rhetoric with action and help keep college affordable on April 13. www.ourfuture.org.
–Working America will be sending information on cuts in student aid to their members, and urging them to contact members of Congress.
–The minority on the House Education Committee will hold a congressional online hearing starting on April 17 inviting the public to outline the impact of the rising cost of a college education.
–College Democrats of America holds a National Canvass Day on April 29 at college campuses across the country to address college affordability and to register students to vote.
–Campus Progress at the Center for American Progress will hold events on college campuses across the country to raise awareness of student debt and college affordability, and will feature original pieces by student journalists examining the issues of student debt and college affordability on its web publication, www.CampusProgress.org.
–Young Democrats of America kicks off its campaign around college affordability on April 1 at campuses across the country.
–College Democrat State Leaders from across the country will be meeting in New Orleans on April 22nd to plan a national campaign to Reverse the Raid on Student Aid. There will be state and local rallies and events all spring, in coordination with the state and local Democratic Party, supporting the campaign to Reverse the Raid on Student Aid.
# # #