Twenty-four advocates from UCLA, including eight students, arrived on Capitol Hill today to urge members of Congress to keep college accessible and affordable through continued funding for Pell Grants and federal loans with terms beneficial to students.
The contingent from UCLA was participating as part of UC Day in DC, a two-day visit to Washington, D.C., during which delegates from many of the UC campuses also advocated on these issues.
Due in part to sequestration, the current federal budget resolution would make damaging cuts to financial aid, including decreasing funding for Pell Grants by close to $85 billion during the next 10 years, and eliminating more than $60 billion worth of much-needed subsidies and loan repayment programs that help students manage debt while in school and after they graduate. For Pell Grants, the cuts would mean a decrease in the maximum annual award from $5,775 per student to $4,860.
At UCLA, 52 percent of all students receive some sort of financial aid and 36 percent of undergraduates receive federal Pell Grants.
Before heading to meetings with members of Congress, advocates watched a recorded message from UC President Janet Napolitano and were briefed by UC’s federal government relations team and other higher education experts about UC priorities and the current climate in Washington. The group also heard from U.S. representatives Jeff Denham and Ami Bera, co-chairs of the California Public Higher Education Caucus. Denham and Bera talked about how the focus in Washington should be on the lifelong return when investing in education, rather than the costs.
“After working hard for four years, graduating debt-free gives me some encouragement for the future that I will be working hard toward my career and able to reap the full benefits,” said Susan Sorenson, a fourth-year undergraduate in the UCLA School of Nursing and member of the UCLA delegation. Sorensen said that she was eager to tell lawmakers about the importance of Pell Grants and federal work study.
“I felt honored to be able to tell my story directly, and that I’m able to advocate for friends and students back home,” Sorensen said. “Affordability is the number one issue for most people before they enter college, and then after.”
One of the goals of UC leaders has been to keep a UC education affordable. But maintaining affordability depends on a strong partnership between the UC system, state and federal governments, and students and their families. At UCLA, 54 percent of students graduate with no student debt, and those who do borrow graduate with an average debt of $20,000, which is less than the national average of $25,048.
Jose Tapia, a fourth-year UCLA political science major from South Los Angeles, was also happy to share his story with members of Congress.
“At first, I did not know that I would be able to afford to go to UCLA. I was able to have most of my education covered largely by Cal Grants, so that freed up Pell Grant funds for those with the most need,” said Tapia, who transferred from El Camino College. “Funding from all the different resources is essential for keeping UCLA within reach for so many students.”
In addition to the $1.63 billion UC receives in federal funding for financial aid, it also receives $2.95 billion in research funding and $3 billion in Medicare and Medical, which helps provide for patient care in UC medical centers.
Bonnie Faherty and Ed Feldman, who both hold dual degrees from UCLA, have been advocating for UCLA for more than 30 years, and helped sponsor some of the students who went on the trip.
“It became clear to both Bonnie and I many years ago that our education from UCLA is what allowed us to contribute to society throughout our lives. Advocating for UCLA and getting students started in advocacy allows us to pay it forward to the next generation,” Feldman said.
In addition to talking to members of Congress, advocates found time to visit sites like the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.