After traveling for hours, more than 300 students throughout New York gathered in Albany on Higher Education Day, Feb. 26, to meet with representatives to discuss college investment.
The trip, organized by New York Public Interest Research Group and supported by state public colleges, enabled students to meet with elected officials and representatives of their districts to present their views and show their support.
“It’s a great opportunity for both students to express their support as well as for politicians to see how many students are in support and just how important higher education is to us,” said Tiffany Brown, project coordinator at Queens College NYPIRG.
NYPIRG, established in 1973 at Queens College, is a non-partisan, not-for-profit student-directed research and advocacy organization with primary concerns for environmental protection, consumer rights, government reform and more.
The trip was solely focused on higher education. 16 NYPIRG chapters throughout the state along with Dream Team and SEEK leaders were in attendance.
A rally and orientation began before students met with elected officials. Professional Staff Congress President Barbara Bowen fired students up with an education rally chant where students chanted, “Education is a right, fight, fight, fight!” in the capitol building.
University Student Senate Chairperson Aileen Sheil and Vice Chairperson Lucas Almonte gave open orientation speeches to students about the day ahead of them. Queens College NYPIRG Project Coordinator Tiffany Brown informed students how the day was going to go, how to push for The Dream Act and advice for meeting with legislators.
“We would like to see more funding, more students graduating and being able to land a great job where they can pay off their debt,” Brown said.
Due to many lawmakers attending the state assembly at once, many students met with a director or staff member rather than a lawmaker.
The Dream Act, which allows undocumented students in the state to receive financial aid from the Tuition Assistance Program, was one of the biggest issues on Thursday’s agenda. Despite Governor Andrew Cuomo including act in his executive budget, many politicians are against it because it takes money away from other governmental funding.
TAP reform was also a major topic as many faculty members spoke about TAP, its uniqueness and why it needs to expand. The max award for TAP as of today is $5,165, which is less than tuition. NYPIRG, along with other student leaders and supporters, want it increased to $6,500 to keep up with inflation.
Students across the state advocated for an increase in CUNY and SUNY funding, including NYPIRG Environmental Campaign Project Leader Anik Nath.
“[We need] more funding for teaching hospitals, more funding to generate student success, which would mean more trained doctors. The more trained doctors we have would solve the doctor shortage issue with more health care providers,” Nath said
Darren Fignole, a student leader, believed the event was successful put it as it was as there was a “good turnout, especially for students.
“It’s great because we have hundreds of students who all believe in the same things as each other. Interns and even some lawmakers relate to us because they are or once were CUNY students,” Fignole said.
Higher Education Day, overall, felt like a success to students and student groups.
“We got to see how things work out in the ‘belly of the beast,’” Amir Khafogy, project leader for NYPIRG at QC, said. “It’s not so often you get to see how things are run in the state capitol.”