Students lobby for proposed boost in state financial aid

Northeastern students lobbying lawmakers for an increase in state financial aid met with House Speaker Robert DeLeo, left, a 1972 Northeastern graduate. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

A del­e­ga­tion of about 15 North­eastern stu­dents took to Beacon Hill last week to lobby state leg­is­la­tors to sup­port increasing state financial-​​aid pro­grams for col­lege students.

The visit coin­cided with “Stu­dent State Finan­cial Aid Day” at the Mass­a­chu­setts State House, which drew hun­dreds of stu­dents across the state. The lob­bying day comes on the heels of Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick’s pro­posal to sig­nif­i­cantly increase edu­ca­tion spending by $1 bil­lion over each of the next four years. That pro­posal tar­gets $152 mil­lion toward higher edu­ca­tion, including $112 million—a 300 per­cent increase—in need-​​based finan­cial aid for the Mass­Grant pro­gram, from which North­eastern stu­dents benefit.

During their visit, North­eastern stu­dents met with Mass­a­chu­setts House Speaker Robert DeLeo, a 1972 North­eastern graduate.”The amount a stu­dent may get from the state may seem small com­pared to a Pell grant or a North­eastern schol­ar­ship,” Dylan O’Sullivan, a fifth-​​year polit­ical sci­ence stu­dent, told DeLeo. “But it really makes a big dif­fer­ence, espe­cially for us stu­dents on the edge.”

O’Sullivan, a native of Worcester, Mass., said he worked two jobs to pay for col­lege and expenses like rent. Without state aid, he would have had to spend more time at work rather than ded­i­cate him­self to studying and classes—or forego his edu­ca­tion altogether.

DeLeo called edu­ca­tion “the great equal­izer” and said he would con­tinue to fight for increased finan­cial aid to col­lege stu­dents, a key factor in helping stu­dents attend col­lege. He acknowl­edged that Patrick’s plan, which would require a tax increase, will be a hard sell for many lawmakers.

“It’s prob­ably going to be very dif­fi­cult, but under­stand that I am going to work very, very hard on these issues,” DeLeo pledged. “I’m proud of you all and I’m proud of your work. Trust me, this is how the law is done and I admire your dedication.”

The North­eastern del­e­ga­tion included stu­dents from across the state, many of whom were the first in their fam­i­lies to attend col­lege, and four of whom had served in the mil­i­tary. The lob­bying trip was orga­nized by the Office of Gov­ern­ment Rela­tions and Stu­dent Finan­cial Ser­vices.

From left, students Matt Royal, Christine Law, John Brooks, and Justine Lambright, meet with Senator David Wolf, whose daughter graduated from Northeastern last year. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

For senior soci­ology major Jus­tine Lam­bright, the lob­bying effort was a per­sonal cause, but hardly a unique one. After grad­u­ating in May, she’ll join the staff of Ameri­Corps, working to help make col­lege acces­sible for stu­dents like herself.

“My story is like so many others,” she said. “I got accepted into Northeastern, then the recession hit and made things really hard for my family. I don’t think I’d have been able to go to North­eastern if not for aid for aid like this.”

The “Stu­dent Finan­cial Aid Day” at the State House was co-​​sponsored by the Asso­ci­a­tion of Inde­pen­dent Col­lege and Uni­ver­si­ties and the Mass­a­chu­setts Asso­ci­a­tion of Stu­dent Finan­cial Aid Administrators.

Speaking to the group of more than 200 col­lege stu­dents in the State House’s Great Hall, Patrick said that edu­ca­tion is Mass­a­chusetts’ greatest resource and praised stu­dents for lob­bying their rep­re­sen­ta­tives on the issue. His pro­posed budget for the next fiscal year aims to boost edu­ca­tion from early child­hood through col­lege, funded by changes to the state’s tax plan that include a reduc­tion in sales tax com­bined with an increase in income tax.

“Intel­lec­tual cap­ital is as impor­tant to us as oil is to Texas and corn is to Iowa,” Patrick said. “If we do not cul­ti­vate that, our future is in jeopardy.”

Northeastern students were front and center for a speech from Gov. Deval Patrick, whose proposed budget includes an increase in state financial aid. Photo by Brooks Canaday.