About 20 college students from across the country — including Wells O’Byrne ’07 and Nathaniel Loewentheil ’07 — will convene at Columbia University today to draft legislation that would create a scholarship program for low-income students who want to attend non-profit colleges and universities.

The proposed National Tuition Endowment Bill of 2005, created by graduate students Nathan Walker and Baranda Fermin while they were attending Columbia Teachers College, aims to create an endowment of $30 billion for national tuition scholarships during the next 10 years. At today’s meeting, education researchers and legislative aides will advise the students on writing congressional bills, said Walker, who is the NTE executive director hosting the think tank.

Yale President Richard Levin said student participation on the act is a welcome development, given recent funding problems for student aid programs.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Levin said. “Student aid budgets have been squeezed for the last several years, and more public pressure to indicate how important this is would be nothing but positive.”

Walker said think-tank participants will divide into four groups to address specific issues including scholarship eligibility criteria, and plan to combine each portion into one legislative bill following the advisory orientation.

O’Byrne, who is Yale’s head delegate to the Ivy Council, said he is proud to work on legislation that has the potential to increase access for disadvantaged students.

“I think this could be a national movement to expand opportunities to people of lower socioeconomic backgrounds,” O’Byrne said. “It would definitely fit into the efforts that Yale is trying to promote through financial aid and the Student Ambassador program.”

Walker said NTE has contacted students in 12 states so far, and hopes to further increase support for the act through a grassroots effort. The next step will be to present the act to members of the Congressional Education and Appropriations committees to secure bipartisan sponsorship of the act, he said.

The scholarships would be available to community college students and students at four-year private colleges who are pursuing post-secondary education, Walker said, though they would exclude students attending for-profit institutions.

Interactions with university officials have offered an opportunity to shore up support for the bill across the country, said Holly Snow, a Barnard College student and co-chair of the student affairs committee for the Columbia University Senate.

“The potential is unlimited because every time we get a chance to talk to universities and student governments and professors and financial officers at schools, they get the idea and it’s an easy cause to get behind,” Snow said.

The source of money for the endowment would be a combination of savings and revenue, which together make up the “seven pillars” of income, NTE project director Matan Ariel said.

The savings tenets include refinancing interest on bonds for student loans, ending the tax-exempt status of bonds for private loan providers, removing the U.S. Treasury’s interest on Department of Education loans and eliminating public subsidies for student defaults on guaranteed loans, he said. The revenue “pillars” derive their funds from interest on student and parent loans and from federal loan consolidation, according to the NTE Web site.

Walker said the group will spend about four months soliciting sponsors for the bill after it is submitted.