USSA Pushes to Reauthorize Higher Education Act
SF State joins the national 'Week of Action'
February 11, 2004 5:34 PM
Members of the United States Student Association took to the Malcolm X Plaza today as they hosted an open-mic event as part of its nationwide university “Week of Action.”
Despite the open-mic, organizers chose to bypass the opportunity to deliver a blanket speech and instead mingled with students on a “grass-roots” level in order to garner support for the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, a federal law that supports programs such as financial aid and graduate assistance. Congress must reauthorize the HEA every five years.
To generate student support for the reauthorization, USSA representatives spoke directly with students in the lunchtime crowd and encouraged them to sign postcards supporting the reauthorization effort.
The “Week of Action” is also a means of generating momentum for the USSA’s National Grassroots Legislative Conference, which will be held in Washington D.C. March 26 through 30. The conference culminates with National Student Lobby Day on March 30, when students will rally on Capitol Hill.
“Basically, we’re giving them the cards and telling them that we’re reauthorized every five years,” said Panna Sharma, a USSA advisory council member and journalism major. “Most students know what it is because a lot of them get financial aid. We’re asking students to sign these postcards so when we go to our congressmen we can show them how much support we have.”
Among the USSA’s goals are to convince Congress to increase the maximum Pell grant by $450 to $4,500, increase federal work study funding to $1.15 billion, an increase of $152 million, and up the Perkins loan program to $260 million.
It will also lobby to increase graduate grants, specifically the Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) program to $50 million and the Jacob Javits Fellowship Program to $17 million.
Leila Qutami, an international business major and member of the USSA board of directors, led the event and was the only member of the USSA to actually take the microphone and address the crowd as a whole, but only to remind them what the event was about and who to talk with to find out more information.
“I feel students need to have a voice on what’s going on at the national level,” said Qutami, who also serves as the chair for people of Middle Eastern and South Asian decent. “All too often, their needs aren’t represented on the national level. USSA is doing that.”
She said the students she talked to were very supportive. “With classes overflowing and there not being enough chairs, they’re open to efforts to maintain a high level of education.”
For some students, their support wasn’t based on facts, but rather, common sense. “I didn’t have any reservations about signing it because I was impatient, and I didn’t want to read all the technical stuff about it,” said philosophy and creative writing major Diallo Grant. “I figured financial aid is a good thing because it helps people out.”
Sophomore Dam Montes had a similar opinion, but felt the school itself should do a better job getting the word out about events like the “Week of Action.” “It seemed like a good cause. Usually stuff like financial aid is important to students and it’s important to be aware of,” he said.
Sharma said the USSA will return to the Malcolm X Plaza Feb. 16 and 17 to promote voter registration as it looks to take full advantage of SF State’s recent designation as a polling place.
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