GAPSA members go to D.C. to discuss higher education

The members met with congressional delegates to discuss loans and tuition.

Elizabeth Cook

Six University graduate students traveled to Washington, D.C., earlier this month to discuss higher education issues with Minnesota congressional delegates.

From April 9 to 12, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly executive board members met with staffers to discuss issues surrounding loans, grants and tuition.

GAPSA President Suzanne Sobotka said the annual trip is a way to show government officials that students are paying attention.

“It’s a good way to connect with our legislators and let them know we are watching what they’re doing,” she said.

Though many think students don’t care about government, a study conducted in 2006 by the Massachusetts-based Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service showed college students care about politics more than those who aren’t enrolled in school.

The results found that 58.6 percent of college students are somewhat, moderately or very involved in their communities.

Half of the college students could also name their respective members of Congress and almost two-thirds could name at least two of their U.S. senators.

Still, not everyone gets involved.

Jessica Wolf , a nursing junior, said she always votes, but doesn’t get involved through lobbying or talking with officials.

“I think it’d be interesting (to watch others lobby),” she said. “I’m just not too strong on expressing my beliefs.”

Matt Schmit, GAPSA’s vice president for public affairs, said the purpose of traveling more than 1,000 miles was to discuss lowering loan

interest rates and showing the importance of federal grant dollars.

Schmit said Congressional leaders were able to “see a face and meet with students who are affected.”

Debt after college is a huge problem for students, Schmit said, which deters students from choosing professions in lower-paying jobs that are still very important to society, like social work.

For the 2006-07 academic year, the full-time in-state tuition for undergraduates was approximately $7,600 compared to $19,000 for out-of-state residents.

Graduate and professional students paid anywhere from about $16,000 to $36,000 a year, depending on the school.

Debt can also be traced back to the three main components of the University’s operating budget: tuition, state funding and federal grants, Schmit said.

“If one of these is lacking, something needs to compensate,” he said.

Federal grants are first distributed to agencies like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

These agencies then decide how much research institutes will receive.

“These federal research grants are key,” Schmit said. “They trickle down to students and retaining faculty.”

The group also went to address concerns about racial reporting guidelines that will go into effect in 2009.

Mike Anderson, an economics junior, said he’s never been involved in politics, but would if it were something he really cared about.

“I guess I don’t feel passionate about anything enough, except for the Second Amendment,” he said. “That would be the only thing I’d lobby for – to keep it around.”