Student lobby day in Harrisburg

Jessica May

The Association for Independent Colleges and Universities in Pennsylvania (AICUP) sponsored the 2008 Student Lobby Day in Harrisburg, Pa., on April 8.

Villanova students Anna Spangler and Richard Riley were chosen to participate and lobby for increased state funding for grants provided by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA).

Riley was also chosen to represent all PHEAA grant recipients at a press conference in the Capitol rotunda.

He focused his speech on the importance of the PHEAA grant in funding his education at Villanova.

“Maintaining funding for PHEAA grants gives students the opportunity to excel and reach their goals through education,” Riley said. “The opportunities that the grant money present will alleviate much of the stress that students would face without it.”

More than 200 students from 30 private colleges throughout the state spoke to legislators and staff members about a 10 percent increase in the funds given to the PHEAA Grant Program by the state of Pennsylvania.

This increase would keep the level of financial aid similar to the 2007-2008 academic year.

According to the AICUP, student grants may be reduced by as much as $700 per recipient in the upcoming year due to changes in federal law and the current state of the economy.

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell proposed a 3 percent increase that would approbate 11.6 million in funds to cover the reduction in student grants in the next academic year.

University students’ lobby for a 10 percent increase would provide $38.6 million for student grants.

Recipients of PHEAA student grants are given educational choices at private or public universities, and they consider this funding to be a crucial aspect to their financial assistance plan.

Spangler and Riley are both PHEAA grant recipients and found the lobbying efforts to be of great importance.

“The PHEAA grant has enabled me to pay a portion of my college tuition,” Spangler said. “My parents are putting two kids through college and any financial assistance helps pay for expenses they may otherwise have to be paid through student loans.”

Joining Spangler and Riley in Harrisburg was Woo Cheng and Drisana Garlington-Rodriguez of the Office of Financial Assistance and Chris Kovolski of the President’s Office.

The lobbying efforts by the Villanova students acted as a positive representation of the University.

“They [Spangler and Riley] were able to articulate clearly and quickly the need for support and opportunities available for higher education grants,” Kovolski said. “The students took an active role in raising funds for their education experience.”

Kovolski also noted that some of the legislators and staff members who were listening to the students lobbying efforts were alumni and affiliates of Villanova University.

“This allowed them to be able to connect and relate to some of the [students’] experiences,” Kovolski said. “This helped to reinforce their message.”

The Pennsylvania state budget will be finalized in the final weeks of June or early July 2008. Students will find out if their lobbying efforts were acknowledged and considered.

Participation in Student Lobby Day provided Spangler and Riley with the opportunity to speak with local policy makers about matters affecting college students across the state of Pennsylvania.

The members of Villanova’s administration who accompanied the two students to Student Lobby Day were extremely proud of their commitment and effort to educate others on the importance of funding grants for Pennsylvania students.

“I was extremely proud of Anna and Richard’s professional and confidence throughout the day as they spoke with the men and women leaders of our state,” said Garligton-Rodriguez.