By Jennifer Amsler
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, October 20, 2004
Grad students send letters to Congress in support of bill to lower financial burden
Graduate students across the country today will write letters to Congress in support of the Higher Education Affordability and Equity Act, a bill that would make graduate school cheaper in the long run.
Members of the UA's Graduate and Professional Student Council are participating and are encouraging other graduate and professional students to do the same.
HEAEA would qualify some scholarships for federal tax exemption, help reduce debt from student loans, fix the interest rates on student loans and make more scholarships tax deductible.
Amanda Brobbel, President of the UA Graduate and Professional Student Council, said she is encouraging post-baccalaureate students to send a letter because the high cost of graduate school could discourage a qualified student from enrolling.
Brobbel said the campaign's goal is to push the bill forward next month to be discussed and voted on in the next session of Congress, which will convene at the beginning of next year.
"We hope that the student letters will convince members of Congress to support the Higher Education Affordability and Equity Act," she said.
Brobbel said if the bill passes, it would create a fixed student loan interest rate and increase the amount students could deduct in their taxes.
"(These) are two ways of reducing the perceived cost of higher education," she said.
James Eddy, GPSC external affairs vice president, said graduate and professional students could finish school with as much as $250,000 in debt from student loans.
That doesn't include any debt they might have incurred from their undergraduate education.
Although the bill aims to make graduate school more affordable, all college students could end up with more financial assistance if HEAEA is passed, Eddy said.
"We also believe that this bill will benefit undergraduate students who take out loans," he said.
"The student loan payments associated with many graduates' debt is the equivalent of making a second rent or mortgage payment," Eddy said.
Graduate and professional students can participate by visiting http://www.nagps.org/action, clicking on the "take action" link and sending a form letter by e-mail or mail to their state's senators and representatives.
The letter explains that higher education is needed for many jobs and asks Congress to recognize the financial hardships of graduate and professional students.
The National Association of Graduate and Professional Students, an organization which links smaller graduate and professional organizations like GPSC, declared today the Day of Student Action for Higher Education.
NAGPS provides students with general information and statistics about their higher education and connects them with Arizona's legislators, said Alik Widge, the legislative concerns chair for NAGPS.
"We work to strengthen their ability to do on-campus advocacy for students," Widge said.
He said many students have voiced their support in the past couple of weeks, and he expects thousands of students nationwide to write letters today.
This is NAGPS's first major push for HEAEA support in Congress.
"The only way students can get Congress to listen is by working together and speaking with one voice.
By all taking action on this one day, we can be heard louder than if we all spoke on different days," Widge said.
Brobbel said UA GPSC pays annual dues to NAGPS and participates in their regional and national conferences.
Rep. Phil English, R-Pa., introduced HEAEA in October 2003. The bill proposes to overturn a decision in 1986 by Congress to eliminate the Internal Revenue Code, which allowed graduate and professional students to claim their scholarships fully exempt from taxes.
Brobbel said GPSC plans to send representatives to speak directly with Congress in February.
"We hope to do our part in pressing HEAEA forward in the next session of Congress," she said.