With the cost of higher education rising across the country, the GW College Democrats visited Capitol Hill on Friday to lobby on behalf of policies that would make college more affordable.
Students met with representatives from the offices of the Speaker of the House, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa. The young lobbyists were particularly concerned with a new policy by the Sallie Mae Foundation that requires borrowers to pay part of the interest of their student loan before graduation.
“This policy would either force us as students to get a part-time job in college or find some other means to pay the interest,” College Democrats Communications Director Matt Ingoglia said.
All three offices touted the accomplishments of the Democratic majority, including increasing Pell Grants and cutting the interest rate in half on government-backed federal student loans.
In a meeting with staffers from the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, junior Laura Westman said she was able to voice her concerns about college affordability.
“I am lucky in that I can afford my education and I have a bright future ahead of me, but some of my friends do not have that opportunity,” she said. Turning to Brian Carter, an education fellow with the committee, she asked, “What can you do to help?”
Carter answered by discussing the possibility of extending college tax credits to students and their families and ending bank-based student loans in favor of government lending programs.
“Instead of the federal government giving money to private companies to lend the money, we want to lend the money directly to the students ourselves,” he said.
Carter also touched on the cost of textbooks and other expenses, noting that recent legislation expands what students can use the tax credit for, including textbooks and supplies.
Tom Manatos, a youth outreach aide for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said he saw opportunities to raise Pell Grants, simplify the FAFSA process and “try and force universities to give more financial aid.”
He added, “There is only so much the federal government can do. We cannot really force states to do things they may not want to do.”
Ingoglia said he was pleased with what he heard.
“The great thing about Pell Grants is that when you give a Pell Grant, you know you will get that money back in talented young students,” he said.
Sophomore Melissa Gindin said the morning of lobbying “fulfilled why I came to Washington: to be so close to these important leaders.”
Gindin said, “I came here today to not only lobby but to take a stake in college affordability because it is a lot better than just sitting and complaining. I am taking an active role in trying to bring change.”