Students Make a Convincing Case in Harrisburg
by Christopher Antoine
With expected cuts to state grants for college students coming in the 2018-19 academic year, more than 300 students from 41 Pennsylvania private colleges and universities descended on the state capital on April 17 for the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania (AICUP) annual Student Aid Advocacy Day.
A $37 million reduction in funding of the grant program, which is administered by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA), coupled with an increase in the number of grant recipients would cut the maximum state grant for college students by $705, according to PHEAA.
Moravian College students Christopher Antoine ’19, Christina Reinhard ’19, Jakleen Hana ’21, Brandon Faust ’20, Crystal Yacoub ’18 joined fellow PA students in Harrisburg to advocate for maintaining current grant funding. After a rally at the rotunda, students met with their state representatives and senators to make their case by sharing stories of how the PHEAA grants impacted their ability to attend college.
“When we arrived, each of us was given a list of legislators to meet with to discuss the issue of the PHEAA grant,” says Antoine. “It was amazing to see so many students unafraid to appear before these powerful individuals and tell them that we do not agree with the decision to cut funding and that it would produce negative outcomes.” The more the legislators heard from the students, the more they felt the impact the cuts would make.
“I understood that we were not going to sway the mind of every legislator but being present and being heard can have a powerful impact on a decision,” says Antoine. And it did just that.
Later in the week, the PHEAA board met and agreed to postpone making a decision on a grant-funding formula until the May 24 board meeting, giving them more time to figure out a way to avoid making cuts.
“I was so honored to have played a part in all of this,” says Antoine. “Not only did I help change the legislators’ minds alongside my peers, but I had gained an eye-opening experience on the impact you can have if you show up and participate. Going into this I was skeptical that my team and I would make a significant difference, but here we are a week or so later, and the board has made a decision in favor of helping college students.”