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College Dems to advocate Pell grants in D.C.

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About 10 members of the College Democrats will travel to Washington D.C. on May 2 to speak with several congressmen about the issue of federal funding for Pell grants. As this semester saw no major elections, the College Dems felt that this trip would be a productive culmination to the year.

College Dems secretary Paul Shortell and president Peter Gross direct group discussion in Tuesday night’s meeting.
 “[The trip to D.C.] is something we’ve done in the past,” Peter Gross ’13, president of College Dems, said. “It’s a great way to get experience in the political sector.”

The goal of the trip is to advocate the federal Pell Grant program, which provides need-based non-loan aid to low-income undergraduates. In 2009-2010, almost eight million students nationwide received Pell Grants. Within the past month, Congress has voted to support the program through 2011. However, the College Dems would like to see Congress support the system in 2012 and many years into the future.

The Dems chose to represent this issue because it is relevant to many students at Swarthmore. Currently, about 10 percent of Swarthmore students receive Pell Grants.

“We wanted something we could represent as students,” College Dems secretary Paul Shortell ’13 said. “[Pell Grants] are something that is important to our campus.”

Vice president of the College Democrats Julio Alicea ’13 proposed the idea at a recent meeting in April. “Given our statuses as students from a broad range of socioeconomic backgrounds, I felt that we would be able to craft a genuine narrative articulating not just why Pell Grants were essential in order to maintain a certain quality of education on campuses across the country,” Alicea said, “but also how imperative it was that Congress not cut Pell grants at a time when the United States was falling behind in international achievement rankings regarding math and science.”

The Dems have already confirmed a meeting with Democratic Senator Carl Levin from Michigan and plan to meet with Representative Chris Van Hollen from Maryland’s eighth district.

To prepare for the trip, the group has been researching the statistics behind Pell grants and has come up with a statement outlining how they believe Pell Grants are beneficial for the United States. They will present this paper to the congressmen they meet. In this letter, the College Democrats emphasize that Pell Grants help students with the highest need, are a smart investment that generates results for both students and the government and are important for the nation’s education system and national security.

In addition to preparing this sheet, the Dems are conducting mock interviews to simulate their discussions with the congressmen during their time at the Capitol.

Although the trip is mainly headed by the College Democrats, it is also supported by various student groups on campus, such as the Swarthmore Feminists and the Swarthmore Labor Action Project (SLAP).

“We feel that it is best to represent as much of the campus as possible,” Shortell said. “If Pell Grants are cut it will be bad for everyone on campus.”

This is the College Dems’ second trip to D.C. in three years with the goal of advocating an issue of importance to the Swarthmore community. In 2009, the Dems went to Washington D.C. to speak about birth control issues and funding for family planning.

Overall, the Democrats hope to represent the local view of the Pell Grant discussion. “There is a shrinking pie for education funding,” Gross said. “We are in some ways falling behind to the rest of the world. We don’t want to fall behind in education.”

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