Undergrads urge more financial aid in Statehouse action

This article originally appeared in the February 29, 2012 edition of the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

Gazette Contributing Writer

BOSTON—College students from around Massachusetts gathered Tuesday at the Statehouse to thank their legislators for past support of state financial aid and seek continued support in coming budget debates.

Sabina Dakhal, a Mount Holyoke College student from Amherst, explained how college would be impossible for her without needs-based financial aid.

Her message to legislators was the continued need to support students like her. "It's important to invest in the youth of today to improve the state as a whole," she said.

Students heard from key legislative leaders before visiting their local legislators' offices to thank them.

State Rep. Ellen Story, D-Amherst, was visited by students from Western New England University and Mount Holyoke.

"At Mount Holyoke, tuition is over $50,000," Story said. "Making sure aid is available is something the Legislature feels is a strong thing to do."

According to Clantha McCurdy, deputy commissioner of education for access and student financial assistance, the number of students receiving financial aid is expected to rise this year to 60,000, compared to 30,000 in 2008.

McCurdy advised legislators to consider that in the next state budget, a $1 million investment in scholarships would support 1,500 more students. She said the cost of college has risen much too fast.

Legislators attended the event to show their support for students. House Speaker Robert DeLeo told them, "You folks are literally our future. We want you to stay."

Students from Western New England University who rely on financial aid stressed that many of them have to work one or two jobs part time to afford college. "We wouldn't be able to cope without it," said Kirsty Riley, a senior at the Springfield university.

Mark Martinez, also from Western New England, said community college would be impossible for him without financial aid. Getting a job would also prove difficult, he said. Many students get their part-time employment through campus support, he explained.

Joseph B. Moore, chairman of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, told students, "Lobbying here for you is not a selfish act, it is a selfless act. Your stories represent thousands."

Moore advised students to be direct and honest with legislators in their aim to prevent financial aid cuts. "Nobody can be as articulate or as persuasive as all of you," he said.

(Photo at right: Dianna Tejada '15, Annah Nelson-Feeney '12, Representative Ellen Story, and Sabina Dhakal '12. Thank you to Gail Holt for the photo.)