Student leaders of Iowa State University advocated on behalf of their peers on both the state and federal levels last week.
Student Government President Cody West, Vice President Cody Smith, and several others made a trip to Washington, D.C. for the Big 12 on the Hill Conference. As part of the conference, the team shared updates on campus projects and initiatives and heard from various groups on college affordability, sexual assault prevention, mental health, and how immigration reform affects students. The group also learned about life in the district from a panel of Big 12 alumni, including one of Iowa State's very own, former Student Government President Cole Staudt, and toured the U.S. Capitol.
Joined by their counterparts across the Big 12, the students also attended sessions with the Association of Public & Land-grant Universities and the American Council on Education to discuss the potential reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). Iowa State's student leaders then visited with Iowa's Congressional delegation to further discuss the HEA.
The U.S. House of Representatives has put forth a version of the bill called the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act. While there are some positive aspects of the House's bill, there are many more provisions that could negatively impact students' ability to access and afford college. Of concern is the proposed elimination of financial aid benefits that help students pay for their education. The House's proposal would reduce and even eliminate certain federal financial programs for both low and middle income students.
The U.S. Senate is currently in the process of gathering input to shape their own version of the bill.
"As student leaders we are invested in the passage of a responsible HEA, but the elimination of financial aid programs has direct, negative impacts on our students," said West. "We need Congress to recognize the importance these financial assistance programs have on students. Eliminating grants and loans would make college more expensive and hinder access for millions of students across the nation."
While West and his team were busy speaking up for students in the nation's capital, Vice Speaker of Student Government Cody Woodruff and Co-Chair of the Civic Engagement Committee Isaiah Baker addressed similar concerns on the state front. Woodruff and Baker spoke at the ISU Day Legislative Reception to share how state funding directly affects their college experience.
"I rely largely on scholarships, government loans, some help from family, and money out of my own pocket to pay for college," said Woodruff. "Yet, I still have to find a way to pay for the remainder of this semester."
The loss of state funding coupled with the elimination or reduction of federal financial aid will prove especially difficult for students and their families to bear.
"I can see the dream of higher education slipping away from future generations," said Baker.
At a time when student debt is under the microscope, support from the state and federal government has never been more critical. Although the average debt load for resident students at Iowa State is down nearly $2,600 since 2011, lawmakers must recognize the importance of an affordable and accessible education.
Support for Iowa State University and higher education in general is not a cost, but rather an investment in students and ultimately, the economic health and vitality of Iowa and the nation.
Student Government leaders pose for a photo on the steps of the U.S. Capitol (left to right): Cody Smith, Jensyn Perrin, Cody West, Katie Holmes, and Kody Olson.