On Oct. 19, the UC Irvine branch of the California Public Interest Research Group and the Associated Students of UCI sponsored an information session about pending legislation which would decrease federal student financial aid.
The Budget Reconciliation Act would cut federal spending for many governmental programs. Critics charge that education is disproportionately affected by the cuts, while proponents say that spending cuts are necessary to slow deficit spending.
Under a banner reading, ‘Stop the raid on student aid,’ Eric Williams, the chair of CalPIRG at UCI, explained his objections to the Budget Reconciliation Act.
‘This bill hikes student loan interest rates, charges borrowers new fees on their loans, effectively decreases student aid, eliminates key safeguards for students,’ Williams said. ‘It also has just minimal increases to grant programs, and it drastically increases the cost of borrowing for students.’
Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Manuel Gomez also expressed his disapproval of the bills.
‘[This is] a very serious issue with regard to the dwindling federal support for financial aid,’ Gomez said. ‘As I understand it, the proposed budget reductions … represent one of the biggest takeaways of support for federal financial aid for students in the history of the student financial aid program. The House bill alone proposes to take away $11 billion, either directly or indirectly.’
Gomez also said that education should be a top priority for America and that the decrease in aid was an effort to compensate for financial problems brought about by federal mismanagement of funds.
‘Given our current global competitive realities, this is moving in the wrong direction,’ Gomez said. ‘We should not be making it more difficult for students to complete their college and university education. We should actually be making it easier for students to develop and complete their education so that we can make America more competitive, our economy more robust and more productive. Instead, these proposed governmental cuts are really placing the current poor management of our federal budget on the backs of our students, and that, I propose to you, is patently unfair.’
ASUCI President Carlos Feliciano said that the decrease in aid would have serious ramifications in the future.
‘This is a serious issue, and this is an issue that not only affects us today, but is going to affect the future of our state,’ Feliciano said. ‘Everybody standing here, the students, we are the future of California, and I can’t understand why the government won’t support us, why they won’t help us out. This is the most important time of our lives, striving to become leaders and striving to serve our community, and they’re making our education harder.’
Zach Avallone, ASUCI’s executive vice president, said that ASUCI had already taken a stand against the bills.
‘Our legislative council at UCI yesterday passed a resolution in opposition to both the bills in the House and the Senate,’ Avallone said. ‘Part of that resolution was encouraging all students to go out and inform their representatives about their points of view.’
Avallone cited a statistic that 40,000 students statewide currently do not attend higher education because they feel it is unaffordable to them. He also said that students can make a difference by voting in larger numbers.
‘It’s no coincidence that students are the hardest-hit constituency,’ Avallone said. ‘In general, we need to make sure that we get out to the polls more often. We need to influence our politicians by expressing our power through the polls.’
Mei-Ling Malone, co-chair of UCI’s Afrikan Student Union, said that the financial aid cuts would disproportionately affect minority students.
‘In our society, we look toward education as bringing a means of equality,’ Malone said. ‘Ideally, everyone has a chance to learn and succeed in life. Reality proves that this ideology is false. Generally, most wealthy students of color and white middle-class and upper-class students receive quality education, whereas the poor, who are disproportionately people of color, receive insufficient education. Therefore, the playing field isn’t equal for those individuals seeking higher education. … Students of color and poor whites are underrepresented in all campuses across America. … Student fee increases will serve to shut out even more poor whites and students of color. This will make the education system even more unequal. … The message sent will be that education is only for the elite.’
Williams closed by saying that this round of cuts would likely not be the last for students.
‘I’d like to reiterate that this budget reconciliation is planning on cutting $9 to $14 billion from federal student loan programs,’ Williams said. ‘This would be the single biggest cut to financial aid in history. It’s not only that. Congress is currently trying to pass a resolution which would increase the amount cut between [four House committees, including education]. … The House leadership is keeping it a secret how much they want to cut from education, but you can pretty well assume that it’s going to be billions more cut from education.’