Friday, July 19

SAFRA marks a win for education


Legislation will finance college educations for low-income students, ending months of lobbying

SUBMITTED BY: Emilio Lacques, Susan li, and Cristopher Santos

On March 30, in the auditorium of Northern Virginia Community College, President Barack Obama, joined by more than 50 student members of the United States Student Association, signed the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 (HR 4872) into law.

The Student Aid and Fiscal Reponsibility Act appropriates more than $60 billion toward increasing funding for the Pell Grant, community colleges, minority-serving institutions, and access and completion programs. The increases are made possible through the elimination of wasteful government subsidies to private lenders that issue federal student loans.

This is a huge victory for students and community members during a time of economic crisis and a disintegrating public education system. An investment in education is an investment for our future.

After a 32 percent fee increase passed by the University of California Board of Regents and continuous budget cuts to classes, programs, workers, faculty, and student services, we needed a victory, and we got one.

The USAC External Vice President’s Office, in conjunction with the United States Student Association, has been working tirelessly to ensure the passage of SAFRA during a time of economic and financial crisis.

The USAC External Vice President’s Office sent a student delegation of 24 UCLA undergraduates to the United States Student Association’s Annual Grassroots and Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C. The Conference culminated in a National Student Lobby Day where over 500 passionate students from all across the country swarmed Capitol Hill and demonstrated the power and determination of students by lobbying California Senators and Congressmen.

SAFRA invests $36 billion over 10 years to increase the maximum annual Pell Grant scholarship to $5,550 in 2010 and to $5,975 by 2017.

In a time of crisis where middle-class people are pushed into poverty and low-income people are being shut out of their own public universities due to the rising costs of education, the Pell Grant is a means for the neediest of students to have access to more aid. This aid goes beyond the university as it affects families across the country.

SAFRA also invests $2 billion in a competitive grant program for community colleges to develop and improve educational or career training programs. Community colleges in California provide education for local communities that either cannot afford a state college or do not meet the current requirements academically.

Many community colleges have even less resources available to them on campus than we currently have at UCLA, and the community college competitive grant increase provides direct aid to local communities across the country.

The bill also invests $2.55 billion in historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and minority-serving institutions to provide students with the support they need to stay in school and graduate.

Minority-serving institutions such as HBCUs and Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs) are specifically critical to access and affordability for underrepresented groups across the U.S.

Minority-serving institutions play a critical role in defending public education, as we have seen the admission and retention rates of students of color decreasing every year.

As UC students, we have the privilege of having campuses that qualify as Hispanic-serving institutions that will benefit from this investment, including UC Riverside, UC Merced, West Los Angeles College, Santa Monica College, Los Angeles City College and 13 California state universities including CSU Northridge, CSU Los Angeles, CSU San Bernadino, and CSU Fullerton.

SAFRA is by no means the end-all solution to our budget crisis, but it can be a stepping-stone for progress in this larger student movement we have seen emerging in the United States.

The outcry to defend public education has emerged into the forefront of student issues on a national level evident by the student-led actions on March 4.

There has been plenty of debate about the effectiveness of these actions, but SAFRA is a critical student victory that proves we are moving in the right direction.

Lacques is a fourth-year sociology and education studies student, the USAC External Vice President National Affairs Director and is on the National People of Color Student Coalition on the USSA Board of Directors. Li is a fourth-year history student, the USAC EVP and the Golden Pacific Region chair on the USSA Board of Directors. Santos is a third-year psychobiology and public health student, the USAC EVP Campus Organizing Director and the Undergraduate Committee chair on the USSA Board of Directors.

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