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Students lobby for affordable education

On Feb. 26, a score of college students from all over New York gathered in Albany to fight for affordable higher education on Higher Education Action Day.

Higher Education Action Day is an event going on in New York for years. The New York Public Interest Research Group, the largest student-directed research and advocacy organization in the state, and the University Student Senate, which includes students from all CUNY governments, among other organizations sponsored the event.

During Higher Education Action Day, students come from all over the state to Albany and present their cases for affordable education. The lobbying takes place at a crucial time, only days before the State’s executive budget is finalized in March.

The event allowed for students to lobby their local legislators at the state capitol, to support higher education by increasing investment in CUNY and SUNY institutions.

This year, their stated goals are an increase in funding, a complete freeze in tuition and a reform of the Tuition Assistance Program. TAP is a grant that helps eligible New York residents pay tuition at approved schools in the state.

The students, who come from different schools and class standings, but the one characteristic they hold in common is their commitment to their education.

Christopher Espinoza, a senior at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, pays for tuition out of pocket without financial aid. He is currently working toward his bachelor’s in Public Administration and hopes to work in higher education.

One major issue that affects students like Espinoza directly is the proposed extension of the “rational tuition” law. Governor Andrew Cuomo enacted the legislation in 2011 as part of the NYSUNY 2020 bill that looks to avoid sudden, unpredictable tuition hikes.

It essentially increases tuition for CUNY and SUNY students by $300 every year for a five-year period. It is set to finish this year, however, the proposed executive budget seeks to extend the plan for another five years. The rejection of the rational tuition extension was a hot button issue for students lobbying that day.

Faculty members of CUNY and SUNY, along with staff of NYPIRG and USS, pledged their support toward organizing with legislators and guiding students in how to speak at meetings.

Grace Magee, a project coordinator with NYPIRG at Queens College, led a team of students at the event as they went around to speak to different lawmakers.

Magee, a graduate of QC, interned with NYPIRG on various lobbying efforts during her undergraduate years.

Prior to going to Albany, Magee instructed students in lobbying strategies and provided knowledge of understanding the roles they would fill by having the students attend mandatory training sessions.

During the meetings, students voiced their concerns to policymakers and retold how lack of funding personally affected them or will affect them in the future. Higher Education Action Day relied on students to persuade the policymakers to support their demands.

Influenced by activism, NYPIRG and the USS seek to make changes for students and faculty of CUNY and SUNY by working to affect legislation.

Magee emphasized the greatest resource for change is students.

Understanding that there is a way to work on issues, it’s important that students recognize that,”Magee said.

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