Students Lobby Legislators to Support Private Colleges

Jesse Tomkiewicz and Carlos Sanchez had a simple but powerful message for Harrisburg: Invest in education.

The first-year Allegheny College students were among the more than 225 students from more than 30 private nonprofit colleges and universities who traveled to the state capital on April 4 as part of Student Aid Advocacy Day, sponsored by the Association of Independent Colleges & Universities of Pennsylvania. The annual event gives students from AICUP-member institutions a chance to meet legislators and encourage them to support private colleges and universities. Allegheny has been sending student representatives for at least the past five years.

This year’s event focused primarily on opposing a 50% proposed cut in institutional assistance grants, maintaining funding of PHEAA grant program, and growing the Ready to Succeed Scholarship program to benefit more middle-income students.

Tomkiewicz and Sanchez spent the day meeting with staff members from the offices of Rep. Brad Roae, Rep. Mike Schlossberg, Rep. Peter Schweyer, Sen. Michele Brooks, Sen. Pat Browne, and Gov. Tom Wolf. At each meeting, they handed out fact sheets and information detailing how financial assistance helps students at private colleges and universities, including Allegheny, and the return on investment in higher education.

For Sanchez, an 18-year-old economics major from Allentown, Pennsylvania, the issue is a personal one.

“I receive a lot of federal and state aid. Cutting down these programs could eventually affect my tuition and what I receive in financial aid,” Sanchez said. “This (state budget proposal) is going to affect a lot of students. … This isn’t something that just affects Allegheny. This affects the whole state. I felt it was my responsibility to go and speak on behalf of the people I know and also some of the students I know here who might be affected by this.”

Investing in education just makes sense, Sanchez said.

“When you invest in school you’re investing in future taxpayers,” he said.

Tomkiewicz, 19, a philosophy and political science major from Freeport, Pennsylvania, sees the value of a college degree — and the financial aid necessary to make it possible — when he looks around his hometown.

Workers at the steel mill in Freeport recently held an eight-month strike. The brick factory closed. Family-sustaining manufacturing jobs once available to high school graduates are disappearing.

“You can’t just graduate high school with a C-average, go to the steel mill and make $70,000 or $80,000 in a union with great benefits and have a great life right out of high school. You can’t really do that anymore,” said Tomkiewicz, who is a first-generation college student.

A college education is necessary, he said, but only possible for many students with the help of financial aid. In addition to the fact sheets outlining their case for funding, Tomkiewicz and Sanchez brought along student profiles to “humanize” the issue for legislators.

“It puts a face to who receives this aid,” Tomkiewicz said. “It shows that it’s not just numbers on a sheet. Funding has real consequences and real effects for people.”

Both Sanchez and Tomkiewicz said it’s important for students to get personally involved, on the issue of higher education funding or any other issue that is important to them. Communicating with legislators is one way to do that.

“If you go up to them and go up and talk to them, they see your issue,” Sanchez said.