U.S. Congressional members had their phone lines tied up Wednesday afternoon with complaints from certain students, staff and faculty at UCSB and colleges across the nation.
The United States Student Association (USSA) organized a campaign asking people to call congressional representatives who sit on House or Senate budget committees or members from their district to protest various cuts to education loans and programs in President Bush’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year. Jenn Brown, the USSA organizing director, said between 50 and 100 colleges and an estimated 2,000 people participated in the National Call-In Day campaign.
“This is the most drastic cut to education that we’ve seen in a long time,” Brown said. “This is the first time we’ve actually seen a reduction in the amount of funding for education in 10 years and probably the most dramatic cuts I would say in over 20 years.”
USSA provided participants with a script detailing the effects of cutting such programs as the Thurgood Marshall Legal Education Opportunity Program and the Federal Perkins Loan Program to be read during the phone call.
UCSB students and USSA Board of Directors members Fernando Ramirez, Ashley Chapman and A.S. External VP of Statewide Affairs Felicia Cruz manned a booth complete with script and a land line phone outside of the A.S. main office and asked passers-by to make a call.
Ramirez said about 100 people called one of 23rd District Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.), 24th District Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.), 1st District Rep. Jim Nussle (R-Iowa) or Senator Judd Gregg (R-N.H.).
Capps sits on the House budget committee – which Nussle chairs – and Gregg is the chair of the Senate budget committee.
“Students are not happy with what President Bush’s budget is looking like,” Ramirez said. “[The number of callers goes] against the myth that students are apathetic to their education.”
Shannon Lohrmann, Capps’ press secretary in Washington, D.C., said Capps will make maintaining funds for educational programs her priority. The D.C. office received about 50 calls yesterday, Lohrmann said.
“We certainly appreciate calls any time from students at UCSB,” she said. “We are impressed they are participating in their government.”
Brown said the proposed budget would make attending college more financially stressful for students, despite the increased funds given to educational grants.
“While there was a small increase to the Pell Grant [in the budget], the funding from that came from severe cuts and changes to loan programs that overall … will make the cost of going to a college between $5,000 and $10,000 more expensive for a student who receives both a Pell Grant and a loan,” Brown said.
Bill Shelor, UCSB financial aid office assistant director, said cutting loan programs to fund grant programs was like “robbing Peter for Paul.” Federally funded loans, such as the Perkins loan, create a sustainable fund of money because students pay them back with a low interest rate, he said. Through this process money can be recycled for subsequent generations of students – as opposed to giving a one-time grant, such as the Pell Grant.
Federal money initially funded 80 to 90 percent of the several million dollars in Perkins loan program at UCSB. Because the vast majority of UCSB students who received Perkins loans paid the loan back, the fund no longer relies on federal funding, Shelor said. Interest collected over the years from the loans is used to subsidize the Perkins program.
“It’s worked the way it was intended to work,” he said. “[The Perkins loan] creates greater resources in the future.”
Because the amount of money in the Perkins loan program increases over time, it is able to meet the raising costs of attending college, such as the recent UC-wide fee increases, Shelor said.
Students need both Pell Grants and Perkins loans to pay for college, Shelor said. Relying on one over the other is not a financially sound solution. Although increasing the amount of money for Pell Grants will be popular among students, the long-run effects will cause them to rely on Perkins loans with “less favorable terms,” including higher interest rates.
“It would be nice to have Pell Grants increased and have Perkins [loans maintained],” he said.
Besides cutting loans, the proposed budget would cut the Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership (LEAP) program and the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) program, Brown said. It also cuts the Talent Search and Upward Bound programs from TRIO, the federal program containing three educational opportunity programs – Talent Search, Upward Bound and Student Support Services – and the Thurgood Marshall Legal Education Opportunity Program, which gives financial assistance to low-income students wishing to attend law school.
LEAP is a loan program for low-income students, whereas GEAR UP and TRIO prepare middle and high school students academically to go to college, she said.
“I think the president has set priorities,” Brown said. “It is clear that essential education programs to make higher education accessible to all students is not on the list of priorities.”