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pacing the void

By Zach Thomas
Arizona Daily Wildcat
April 18, 1997

National petition to cut college costs goes online

WASHINGTON - Student leaders and a handful of key Democratic senators yesterday showcased a nationwide petition supporting Democratic proposals to cut college costs.

Yet this is no ordinary petition. This one's online.

"This is a new organizing tool," said Kazim Ali, president of the United States Students Association. "We're using technology to allow more students to express their views on rising college costs."

The Internet petition calls on Congress and the president to increase the number of Pell Grants, reduce student loan costs and enact tax relief for low- and middle-income students.

Anticipating the upcoming budget battle, various Democratic lawmakers have introduced bills to enact a $10,000 tax deduction for low- and middle-class families with college-age children, more Pell Grants, President Clinton's HOPE scholarship program and interest rate cuts on student loans.

"Investment in education defines whether we as Americans are interested in being the leaders of the world," Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., said at the Capitol Hill news conference.

Although Kennedy told the 50-person crowd he did not want this to be a partisan issue, the education initiatives face an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Congress, which last year proposed drastic cuts in Pell Grants and other education funding.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., Jack Reed, D-R.I., Joseph Biden, D-Del., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., also spoke at the meeting.

"A good education equals a good job," Biden said. "Yet high debt equals limited opportunity."

Sponsored by the United States Student Association, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, and Rock the Vote, the online petition is expected to get 50,000 virtual signatures over the next five weeks, said Ivan Frishberg, PIRG higher education project director.

"The great thing about the Web thing is that it becomes a database," he said, adding that signers may be contacted in future student aid efforts. "We'll be able to use this thing a number of ways."

Rock The Vote has also released four public service announcements promoting the online petition to radio stations nationwide. The radio spots feature Chuck D, Art Alexakis of Everclear, Shawn Colvin and Freedy Johnston.

The spots will not air in Tucson but will play on Phoenix station KEDJ.

The Associated Students of the University of Arizona is not a member of the U.S. Students Association, opting instead for membership in the National Association of Students for Higher Education, a competing lobbying group for higher education issues.

The online petition may be signed at http://www.pirg.org/student/aid/petition or by e-mail at studentaid@icg.org.

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