Cal State advocates for higher education issues at federal level

California State University’s annual Hill Day, in February, advocated keeping the Federal Pell Grant at its highest level after discussions of a possible reduction last year due to the debt ceiling.

Phil Garcia, vice president for Public Affairs and Advocacy, said in 2012 and 2013, almost 40,000 CSU bachelor’s degrees were awarded to students who received the Pell Grant, showing the high need for this type of federal aid.

“We have a lot of students that come from low-income backgrounds and a lot of students who work while they go to school,” Garcia said. “The Pell Grant is very important to them.”

CSU spokesperson Stephanie Thara said the talk about reducing the amount for Pell Grants prompted advocacy for maintaining the grant at its maximum, which would affect students in the CSU because they are the biggest beneficiary.

“Our mission goal is being beyond just being selective in who we admit into our institution,” Garcia said.

Pell Grant recipients come from different demographics and depend on the funding to pay for education.

“We just want to make it clear to Washington D.C how important it is to maintain the Pell grant and how it can help benefit our students,” Thara said.

Sarah Couch, President of the California State Student Association, said 42 percent of CSU students receive the Pell grant, which approximates to about half the 447,000 students in the system.

“We were advocating for increases in the maximum Pell grant that a student would get,” Garcia said. “In addition, we’re also advocating for strong investments in Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants and work study programs.”

Hill Day also addressed the need for preparing students with hands-on experiences.

Thara said there is a focus to help provide and prepare students with skills necessary to engage in classes, which will help them be successful in the workforce.

Thara said it is important to prepare students for the workforce by creating strong alliances. These partnerships would help support students by providing hands on experience that can be applied to the workforce and better the nation’s economy.

“The White House is trying to get 1 million new Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics graduates by 2015,” Thara said. “What the CSU is looking to do is create federal partnerships with foundations such as the National Science Foundation.”

The Obama administration and U.S. Department of Education are looking at coming up with a rating system for higher education institutions known as the College Affordability Proposal.

Garcia said the rating system will recognize what the CSU has to provide access and the affordability to students.

“We’re optimistic about President Obama’s proposal because of how strong the CSU is,” Couch said. “We still are the most affordable opportunity throughout the nation, which is something that we can be proud of.”

Couch said the Higher Education Act, which was created in 1965 and rewritten eight times, dictates what higher education is in the United States. This year, it is being rewritten to also include the need for students to receive the most they can out of the Pell grant.

Student loan interest rates, which have hurt students with accumulated sums after they graduate, was another topic at Hill Day. Couch said student loan interest rates were temporarily lowered from 8.5 percent to 3.86 for undergraduates, and 5.14 for graduates.

“The CSU represents a high-quality education for an affordable price,” Thara said. “We want to be able to give our students that quality education.”

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