SGA lobbies on Capitol Hill for federal budget changes

TCU’s Student Government Association felt the weight of responsibility as it represented the university at the Big 12 on the Hill Conference, the student body president said.

Brent Folan said on March 27, SGA members returned to Fort Worth after attending a three-day conference in Washington, D.C., learning and lobbying with student government representatives from the Big 12 schools.

Ashley Leonard, president of the Oklahoma State University SGA, said that this year, the Big 12 elected Oklahoma State to recruit speakers, contact senators and plan the agenda for the conference.

Folan said that while the university’s officers did not have much input in the planning stages of the event, the topics discussed at the conference were a priority for university students.
The soon-to-double interest rates for Stafford Loans, a fixed-rate student loan, were a top priority for conference members, he said.

On July 1, undergraduate students taking out subsidized Stafford Loans for the fall 2012 semester will see interest rates jump from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. The 6.8 percent rate already applies to unsubsidized and graduate Stafford Loans.

But Leonard said if Congress accepted the Fiscal Year 2013 Budget Request proposed by President Barack Obama, interest rates for undergraduate students from low-income families would continue at 3.4 percent for at least one more year.

Folan said education was an investment that would enable people to contribute to the future of U.S. stability and that he supported suspending the hikes in Stafford Loan rates.

According to a Feb. 10 press release from the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, a nonprofit organization that focuses on student aid legislation, it would cost the federal government as much as $5 billion to keep the subsidized Stafford interest rate at 3.4 percent.

Despite the complexity of the issue, Haley Chitty, director of communications for NASFAA, said that he supported the student-led advocacy of the conference.

“But I think it’s going to be an uphill battle,” Chitty said.

Folan said that at the conference, SGA leaders divided into groups with representatives from each college to fight for legislation extending low Stafford Loan interest rates and protecting Pell Grants, both of which provided vital federal financial aid for university students.

The representatives with whom Folan met supported the Big 12’s initiatives, he said.

Leonard, however, found negotiations more difficult.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) rejected the SGA plan of action, Leonard said. In addition, Coburn, himself an OSU graduate, opposed federal spending on university education entirely, Leonard said.

Coburn’s Deputy Press Secretary Becky Bernhardt said Coburn believed true education reform would take place only if state and local governments operated all student loan programs.

Leonard, who had expected compliance and easy conversation, learned a quick lesson.
“Hey, look,” Leonard said, “these are the people you’re voting for, and they don’t support you as a student.”

While OSU ran the conference like a full-on lobbying effort, it was unclear what impact SGA members made on the upcoming legislation, Leonard said.

If nothing else, Folan said he felt more connected to other student government associations in the Big 12.


The Goals of SGA’s Big 12 on the Hill Conference

Suspend any increases to interest rates on subsidized student loan programs.    
Extend the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), a partially refundable tax credit worth up to $2,500 per student, per year for up to four years for higher education.  
Support Pell Grant funding.
Retain grace period on student loan interest.