By Nick Sledge —
Each spring for the past three years, students from the Atlantic Coast Conference pack their bags and head to Washington D.C. Instead of hitting the beach or attending a March Madness game, these spring breakers lobby for the needs of students in higher education.
Last Monday and Tuesday, six U of L students packed their schedules with meetings on Capitol Hill, speaking with six Kentucky Congressmen. The students are part of Cards in Action, a wing of the Student Government Association. Along with their counterparts at other ACC schools, Cards in Action prepared discussion topics related to higher education, like tuition and scholarship funding.
“Some of the big things on the table are research grants and the continuation of our conversation on keeping student debt down,” said SGA Political Coordinator Aaron Vance, one of the six to travel to D.C. Other members include freshman Christopher Bird, junior Kevin Grout, sophomore Alicia Humphrey, freshman Macey Mayes and senior Sean Southard.
To assist students and staff on the trip, the ACC funds catering and hotel expenses for the delegations, as well as the meeting places for representatives. Travel and stay are left to the universities and participating individuals.
Cards in Action spoke directly to both Kentucky Senators, Rand Paul and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
In addition, they met with Kentucky House Representatives Ed Whitfield, John Yarmuth, Brett Guthrie and Thomas Massie, and they spoke with representatives from the offices of Andy Barr and Hal Rogers.
Some important talking points were funding for Pell Grants and Stafford Loans, the crucial role that government grants play in university research and patent legislation that protects the intellectual property rights of inventors at universities.
“60 percent of research is federally funded and it is a major part of how U of L is even able to develop cutting-edge technology,” said Vance.
For the student lobbyists, the cost of higher education was one top priority for discussion.
According to Grout, the research specialist for SGA and member of Cards in Action, 45 percent of U of L students depend on federal money for their college tuition. The loans can either be in the form of a direct loan, Pell Grant or a Stafford Loan.
“On average, a college graduate holds about $30,000 in student loan debt after an undergraduate education,” said Sean Southard, chair of the McConnell Scholars Program and member of Cards in Action. “These discussions about student debt and university research funding are particularly important at this time, as both President Obama and the Republican Congress have released their budgets. Our goal was to get students in front of the Kentucky delegation to remind them that students are concerned about the high costs of competing in the twenty-first century economy.”
Vance says that there is a solution to the yearly rise in tuition costs in American universities.
“Constant advocacy and eventual budget cuts are the only measure by which the university feels any relief in not having to raise tuition. Probably the greatest impacts on tuition for public universities are governmental decisions.”
Cards in Actions members said the representatives seemed receptive to their concerns and all had some ideas to guide students comfortably into life after college. Some examples include Congressman Brett Guthrie’s advocacy for a financial literacy course requirement and Senator Elizabeth Warren’s Bank on Student’s Emergency Loan Refinancing Act.
The SGA members were all in high spirits after their trip to D.C. and felt the delegation had their constituents’ best interest at heart.
Robert Mudd also contributed to this story.
Photo courtesy / Cards in Action