Students urge lawmakers to support financial aid

Twelve undergraduate students, representing six states, took to Capitol Hill last week for Student Aid Advocacy Day, speaking with members of Congress and their aides about the critical importance of federal financial aid and the opportunities federal aid programs have afforded them.

The students visited 20 congressional offices – including Sens. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), Charles Schumer (D-New York) and Marco Rubio (R-Florida) – sharing their backgrounds and urging policymakers to provide support for financial aid.

Students pose in front of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. after speaking with lawmakers.

“Admittedly, I was a little nervous when beginning and thinking about crafting the ‘right’ story,” said Zene Willoughby ’23, a student in the ILR School. “Throughout the meetings, I found that it became easier to share my story and it often flowed easily because it was something that was genuine and a passion.”

“Financial aid enables our country to continue cultivating our best and brightest students for the betterment of our society,” said Aaron Friedman ’25, a government major in the College of Arts and Sciences. “It also enables us to improve the financial and ideological diversity of our campus communities in a meritocratic manner.”

Approximately 51% of first-year undergraduate students at Cornell receive need-based financial aid, which includes federal financial aid.

“There are no better advocates for federal financial aid than students,” said Kristen Adams, director of Cornell’s Office of Federal Relations, which sponsored the event. “Their stories add a personal touch to why it is important to increase federal financial aid – in particular, doubling the Pell Grant.”

A Pell Grant is grant money the government provides to students, based on need, to pay for college. Unlike loans, grants do not have to be repaid. Eligible students receive a specified amount each year under this program; in 2021-22, the maximum amount was $6,495, $400 higher than the maximum in 2018-19.

The day ended on the steps of the Capitol. “Support for financial aid is a nonpartisan issue,” Friedman said. “Financial aid represents an incredible investment in America’s future generation and ensuring access to education remains open to all Americans.”

Damien Sharp is a strategic communications and media relations specialist in Cornell’s Washington, D.C., office.

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