The New York Public Interest Research Group at Queens College and other students and NYPIRG members from across CUNY, marched to Albany on March 12 for Higher Education Action Day, where they discussed education with politicians.
Jaqi Cohen, Adam Garfield and Enrico Purita, the project coordinators of NYPIRG, along with other members, helped organize the event. Their goals were to ensure that students, who represented their congressional district, were able to speak with their representatives on important legislation to help students. Affordable education and the DREAM Act were important topics that were discussed by students and representatives alike.
“The DREAM Act was reacted positively among politicians and students,” Garfield said.
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act gives undocumented students a chance to continue studying in the U.S. if they are already in college or the military.
On Higher Education Action Day, NYPIRG fought on behalf of not only these students, but students who faced budget cuts.
NYPIRG had the benefit of meeting with groups such as the New York State United Teachers, Professional Staff Congress, United University Professors and the University Student Senate. They ran on a universal platform that called on behalf of change in both the CUNY and SUNY systems.
“It’s really important to work in coalitions to get work done together,” Purita said.
The platform had referenced increasing “capital investment at CUNY and SUNY and fully fund critical maintenance needs.” In addition, they wished to “make the Tuition Assistance Program work for all students — including CUNY and SUNY [students].”
“[We want] restructuring to TAP so that it’s efficient to help supplement financial costs,” Garfield said.
TAP gives financial aid based on income and need by students in New York State. According to NYPIRG, “all 375,000 TAP recipients had their awards cut by $75 in 2010.” In addition, “rule changes built into the state budget have reduced or eliminated TAP awards for graduate students, dependents or retired workers and students who were struggling with grades or federal student loans.”
With such issues in their minds, members of NYPIRG felt the entire day was a tremendous opportunity that showcased the power of lobbying when discussing with their representatives.
“It’s a great opportunity to let your concerns be known to the people who represent you,” said NYPIRG member, Robbie Sheikh. “It’s also a great opportunity to meet and interact with students from other CUNY schools that may be in the same boat as you are, with regards to financial aid, among other issues.”
The project coordinators were proud that such an event could allow students from the CUNY and SUNY system to speak with their very own representatives on issues that mattered to them.
“It’s their first time being in a politician’s office, so it’s a great experience. They were guaranteed to speak with their representative,” Purita said.
Members of NYPIRG cherished their experience and felt they had made an impact by speaking with their representatives.
“Higher Education Day was a great experience for me,” said member and geology major, Kevin Clinton. “I was able to talk to my elected officials about subjects that affect students such as myself, on rising tuitions, the lack of TAP funding and the DREAM Act. It’s about time that Albany starts looking out for the students more.”