WTF: Where’s The Funding?!

Each year, students have to fight tooth-and-nail on both the state and federal level to make government invested in fully funding and supporting higher education. It’s politically popular for elected officials to advocate for college students and higher education funding. however, most politicians are silent when it comes to education budgets getting slashed. Therefore, it’s up to us, the students, to ask our elected officials “where’s the funding?!” At a time when the road to socio-economic justice for our communities, personal fulfillment, and a thriving civic society is increasingly tied to higher education, where’s the funding to ensure that this path is clear of all unnecessary barriers?

Not only are we asking these questions, we’re proposing solutions. SLAP & USSA’s “Where’s the Funding” campaign will connect state and federal budget cuts to the larger student movement, so that we raise a strong national voice on behalf of higher education. Our ultimate goal is to propose federal legislation that will make higher education a right. Will you join this historic effort?

National Campaign Goals

Short-Term Goals
•Mandatory funding of the Pell Grant program
◦The Pell Grant is the cornerstone of federal financial aid. Each year, millions of low-income students are awarded thousands of dollars from the federal government to continue their college education without having to take out huge loans that drive young people into debt. The Pell Grant program is incredibly popular politically because elected officials love being the college student champion, especially for disadvantaged youth. However, the program suffers from funding shortfalls almost every fiscal year because Congress isn’t required to fund higher education. When push comes to shove, funding is directed away from students. The purchasing power of the grant has fallen over 100% in the past 30 years, which is indicative of just how far higher education has fallen in the eyes of most federal appropriators. We want to change that. This instability is dangerous for low-income students who deserve a dependable and effective financial aid program. The 112th Congress is proposing massive cuts to the Pell Grant, which, matched with state budget cuts and tuition and fee hikes, would throw many students out of the classroom and into unemployment. Therefore, we need to make the Pell Grant a mandatory spending program!

•Protect financial aid programs
◦While the Pell Grant is an essential federal financial aid program, it isn’t the only one. From access and retention programs like GEAR UP and TRIO to work study, there are numerous other programs that are being targeted for reduction or elimination by the current Congress. The fiscal year 2011 appropriations fight begins when President Obama proposes his budget on February 14. From that moment on, we need to fight for the programs that ensure access and affordability for all students who wish to pursue a college degree!

Intermediate Goals
•Turn our solutions into federal law
◦Students are going to propose federal legislation that will clear the path towards making higher education a right. Too often civic organizations like SLAP & USSA are reactionary to public policy. We support a piece of legislation and are forced to settle for what is politically realistic, rather than fight for what we believe is right. That practice ends with this campaign. Join the dialogue to help form this legislation and be a part of a truly historic endeavor! Some of our ideas for this legislation are:

■A federal program that incentivizes states to spend a certain amount on higher education each year. It would be similar to the federal legislation passed under President Reagan that, while leaving authority to set the legal drinking age with the states, directed federal highway funds to only the states that set the drinking age at 21. Our program would have federal funding that is essential to a particular industry related to education be appropriated only to the states that fund higher education by a certain amount.

■Create a student state stabilization fund that directs federal funding to states to lower tuition. The amount a state receives would be tied to the number or percentage of Pell Grant recipients who graduate from state institutions, say 90% (this number is still being worked on). If an institution falls below this number, the state can still receive federal funding if it adequately funds outreach and retention programs like TRIO and GEAR UP.

◦What would you like to see in a federal law that aims to make education a right? Tell us! After all, this is your law.

Long-Term Goals
•Make education a right!
◦USSA’s founding mission is to make higher education a right in the United States. If someone works hard in high school, he or she deserves the chance to go to college unhindered by financial and other access barriers. Through a coordinated local, state, and national grassroots campaign that advances this goal through public policy and discourse, we will make higher education a right!

State Campaign Goals

A majority of higher education public policy comes from the state level. Therefore, statewide student associations are critical to increasing college access and affordability. Often, they are the only entity in a state that is student run and student led and is in the most legitimate position to tell decision-makers what young people demand from their government.

Click here to see a list of USSA member SSAs and to visit their websites to read up on what they’ll be fighting for in 2011!

Local/ Campus Campaign Goals

•Protect institutional retention programs
◦On campuses across the country, student enrollment is high but graduation rates are terribly low. This is due in large part because of a lack in strong institutional support for retention programs. On the local level for WTF, students will organize to get their administrations to apply for TRIO funding for their retention programs.

•Ensure shared governance
◦For the first time in history, public four-year institutions are receiving almost or over half their revenue from tuition payments instead of state appropriations. Essentially, universities are becoming privatized with students and families becoming burdened with providing the private shares when a higher education is public good. Students will be fighting back against the rapid, fundamental shift towards public colleges being privately financed by those already struggling to keep up with the rising cost of a higher education. If the United States is going to maintain a public higher education system, it must remain public in more than just name.

•Protection of academic diversity programs
◦Elected officials often talk about higher education in terms of a conveyor belt; students are the “product” for the “consumer,” society. While this metaphor can be helpful in securing more higher education funding, it leads to a massive gap between “high demand” programs, like math and science, and humanities like ethnic studies. Of course math and science are worthy of funding, but programs that teach students about their heritage are equally as important. Deeply and thoughtfully exploring culture and history, independent of any financial justification, is a main pillar of the college experience. To weather the current storm of budget cuts, students will be working to preserve and enrich these vital programs.

•Full and fair employment for campus workers
◦As university budget shrink, many campus workers are being either furloughed or fired to save money. USSA students stand in solidarity with campus workers, many of whom are also students. We support campus unions and will be fighting for their right to maintain good, fair jobs on campus.

Stay Connected

Stay active in and informed about the WTF campaign by joining SLAP’s listserv! Contact SLAP Coordinator Chris Hicks at for questions about the campaign or for more ways to get involved.

Organizing Kit

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