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As Congress weighs budget proposals that would significantly cut student aid and other discretionary spending, 15 students from Rutgers in Newark, New Brunswick and Camden urged federal legislators to maintain the current level of student aid funding.
The students traveled on Tuesday to Washington, where they headed to all 14 New Jersey congressional delegation offices to put a human face to the need for continued funding of federal aid programs.
Prosper Delle, at Rutgers University-Newark sophomore, shared with U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J. 11th District), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, that without the Pell Grants and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants he receives, he would have to take on more debt to earn his degree.
“These grants help make it possible for me to go to college,” said Delle, a public administration major who immigrated to the United States from Ghana.
Rutgers students benefit from a variety of federal aid programs totaling $400 million, including Pell Grants, Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, Federal Work-Study, and Perkins Loans and Direct Loans.
More than 17,000 students — one-third of Rutgers undergraduates — receive Pell Grants, which provide $75 million toward their educational costs.
Joe Clark, a sophomore communication major at Rutgers-New Brunswick, stressed that the students are not asking for more funding, but to maintain current levels. He asked a receptive U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) that he and other legislators support the appropriated base of $4,860 for the Pell Grant, which would allow the scheduled increase in the maximum award to $5,935 in fiscal year 2018.
The students also encouraged representatives to restore year-round Pell Grants to give students the opportunity to graduate sooner by taking courses in summer and winter sessions.
While getting to college is key, being able to afford everyday expenses often makes the difference for whether students stay and complete their degrees, said Ini Ross, a junior social work major at Rutgers-New Brunswick, noting that work-study grants help fill that financial need for 3,000 Rutgers students.
“Work-study is a lifeline,” Ross said, adding that students gain valuable work and community experience through the program. “If it weren’t for the Federal Work-Study program, many students wouldn’t be able to maintain their academic schedules. Work-study allows students to not have to choose between textbooks and other essentials.”
The students advocated for Congress to maintain funding of $990 million for work-study grants — which average $1,600 to 675,000 U.S. students — in fiscal year 2018.