Campaign to seek Congress’ aid on tuition



Columbia University students recently announced plans to mobilize a campaign encouraging students at universities — including Yale — to lobby the U.S. government to adopt an act that would ease the burden of rising college tuitions.

Through the Columbia University Senate and with guidance from the U.S. Department of Education, Columbia Teachers College students Baranda Fermin and Nathan Walker are leading a campaign to seek support for their National Tuition Endowment Act of 2005. They hope more than 3,000 post-secondary institutions will join them in lobbying efforts to enact the proposal, Fermin said. The act — which Walker said will be written in December with the aid of Congress members — is a reaction to the rising tuition across the country over the past 15 years and aims to create a student endowment of $30 billion within a 10-year period. It will be partially funded by the interest generated from student loans, Walker said.

The act would call for a system to redistribute funds to students in the form of national tuition scholarships. Eligibility for scholarships would depend on both need and merit, Walker said. Only students enrolled in schools which do not increase their tuition more than the increases in the nation’s inflation rates and the rates of the medium family income would receive scholarships, providing incentives for schools to monitor tuition, he said.

“It was overwhelmingly clear in [both private and public] institutional types that tuition is a major problem,” Walker said. “The NTE act will get rid of the waste [in the federal aid system].”

Walker said there are two specific ways he and his constituents will involve Yale in their campaign. In October, Columbia representatives will present the details of the act to the Ivy Council, an organization of the Ivy League student governments, and encourage school representatives to educate students at their respective universities. In January, Yale and other schools across the nation will be invited to join 15 million students to lobby the government, Walker said.

Yale College Council President Andrew Cedar ’06 said while he is open to addressing the tuition problem, because the act is currently unwritten, he cannot support any of the proposed details without further explanations.

“I’m wary of how realistic their plans are,” Cedar said. “But it would definitely be of concern to students here and everywhere.”

The issue of rising tuition is not a new one, but taking action on a national level to solve the problem by mobilizing students throughout the country is groundbreaking and could refocus government leaders to prioritize students’ concerns, Walker said.

A description of the act on the NTE Web site describes “seven pillars” of income to provide for the endowment. Five of these pillars focus on increasing savings by refinancing the interests of bonds for student loans, removing the U.S. Treasury’s interest on the Department of Education’s loans, no longer providing public subsidies for student defaults on guaranteed loans, removing tax-exempt bonds for private banks, and removing federal subsidies to agencies who make sure lenders get students to pay their default loans, the act’s information release reported. The remaining two pillars deal with generating revenues by using the income from interest on student and parent loans and from federal loan consolidation.

Ideally, Fermin said she hopes the government is willing to adopt all of the individual components of the act, but she realizes the process may be slow-going.

For now, Fermin said the main priority is recruiting students to join their cause. With more manpower behind the enactment of this law, government officials will have to take notice, she said.

“If we show there is a citizen movement around maybe it will mobilize our government to do something about it sooner rather than later,” she said.

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