Students Lobby for Provisions Of New Higher Education Act

Renewed Act Has Key Components Meant to Address Student Needs

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As members of Congress debated details of the Higher Education Act's renewal over the past five years, students made their own push for change from college campuses to ensure their concerns were addressed in the final legislation.

During the legislative process, UC Berkeley students lobbied through organizations such as the United States Student Association for key components of the act-including the $400 increase for the maximum Pell Grant amount and greater restrictions on textbook bundling.

"USSA has been involved in various capacities over the past five years to get the Higher Education Act reauthorized," said Angela Peoples, the organization's legislative director.

The bill's passage was a priority for the association, which provided many opportunities for student participation, said Dionne Jirachaikitti, the ASUC external affairs vice president and former board member for the national association.

UC students participated in specific call-in days to express their views and to urge representatives and senators to pass the act with provisions addressing student concerns, Jirachaikitti said.

During the legislative process, students pushed for greater restrictions on textbook bundling-the packing of additional items such as CDs with books, said UC student regent D'Artagnan Scorza.

"(Current practices) don't give

professors the ability to choose the least expensive provider or if they have to produce extra editions of the book," Scorza said. "The (act) touches on these issues and will force textbook providers to give more options to faculty."

While Jirachaikitti said students were instrumental in getting key provisions passed, she said more could be done to involve students in effecting change in national issues.

"It's a lot harder for students to mobilize and work on national issues," she said. "Because they seem really far way from us, students are not always aware of specific legislation that affects us."

Last year, the campus's external affairs office encouraged UC Berkeley students to sign postcards to express the difficulty of paying for college. The postcards were then sent to local representatives.

In March, UC Berkeley representatives participated in USSA's Grassroots Legislative Conference in Washington D.C., where they lobbied on Capitol Hill for the passage of the act.

Despite mixed reviews from higher education officials regarding the legislation's achievements, most student leaders have expressed satisfaction with several provisions of the act.

"A lot of what (students have) been asking for on the national stage is in here ... it could've done more and gone further, but you take your good with your bad," Scorza said.

Jirachaikitti pointed to the increased funding for programs aimed at student parents and minority students as a reflection of student impact.

"Legislators took the time to work out the bill and to really take in students' input, so we're very happy with the result," said Lucero Chavez, president of the University of California Students Association.

Several student leaders added that youth participation in the upcoming elections will be key in keeping higher education a priority in the future.

"I expect to see students come out in full force to determine the next administration and shape the agenda of the next four years," Jirachaikitti said.


Kelly Fitzpatrick covers higher education. Contact her at [email protected]

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