Letter: Opportunities for students to get involved in higher education issues
As the Emerald stated so well last Thursday, the cost of higher education and the magnitude of student loan debt these days is a huge problem facing this generation of current and would-be college students. Tuition goes up every year, Stafford loan interest rates are set to double, and student loan debt has now reached one trillion dollars nationwide.
So what can we do?
As federal affairs coordinator for the ASUO, my job this year has been to link the affordability issues we face here at the University to nationwide issues — like the expiring interest rate cap on federal Stafford loans and the predatory lending practices of private lenders such as Sallie [email protected]@https://www.salliemae.com/@@. I have worked to collaborate with students on a national scale through organizations such as the United States Student [email protected]@http://www.usstudents.org/@@. Through my work, I have seen firsthand how crucial it is that we address this issue, just as the Editorial board said in their piece “Talk to your elected officials or don’t complain about student debt.” Whether we have five minutes per year or five hours per week to spend helping to address the problem, there are ways we can all make a difference.
The easiest way to help is to register to vote here in Oregon. Engaging our elected officials is crucial if we are to fix the problems we face together, and the more students who are registered, the more our elected officials care when we talk to them. Earlier this term, the ASUO and the Oregon Student Association ran a huge voter registration drive, registering 2,661 students at the University and 14,511 students statewide.
Because we worked so hard to make college students a significant voting bloc, our local, state, and [email protected]@leaving the comma [email protected]@ elected officials have even more reason to listen to our voices and to work to address our needs. Our voting power means that we can indeed talk to our elected officials about problems like the cost of higher education and the staggering burden of student loan debt, and they care about what we have to say. Registering to vote takes five minutes and makes a profound difference.
You can also help by supporting and participating in efforts to hold elected officials accountable to college students. When you see a student canvasser, stop and talk to them and sign their petition. It is worth sparing two minutes to support the important work being done to help you. Come lobby in Salem or Washington, D.C. with the ASUO, Oregon Student Association and the United States Student [email protected]@http://www.usstudents.org/@@
When students keep coming to the capital and raising awareness about our issues, issues of access and affordability, elected officials have to listen. Also, tell your representatives in the ASUO that organizations like USSA — through which students collaborate to hold our elected officials accountable to us — matter to you. Ask for continued support for and collaboration with these student organizations. By supporting and taking part in the work being done already to address this problem through whatever means we are able, we can help ourselves and our generation move one step closer to real solutions.
This year, the ASUO has worked on a local, statewide and national level to make education more affordable. Besides our successful vote campaign, we also took student voices to Salem and Washington, D.C., to advocate for lower tuition, more funding for higher education and financial aid, continued statewide regulation of tuition and increased consumer protections for student loan debt.
Our work made a difference. For the second year in a row, we prevented the University from being removed from the statewide system that regulates tuition through a public process. We prevent further cuts to funding for public universities, even amid a budget crisis. We also secured $10 million in additional funding for the Oregon Opportunity Grant, @@http://www.oregonstudentaid.gov/[email protected]@expanding access to financial aid for thousands of Oregon students. We showed up and we made the difference.
You can show up and make the difference, too, whether it’s as simple as signing a petition here and there and registering to vote or as extensive as getting involved into the ASUO and lobbying your elected officials. Students just like you have been making a difference for years. We’re talking about your education and your pocketbook — will you join in the struggle?
Do you appreciate independent student journalism? Emerald Media Group is a non-profit organization. Please consider a donation to support our mission.