Skip to main content
Spring 2012
Print Bookmark and Share

CALS Notes

Students Become Advocates for Aid

By Amanda Garris, Ph.D. ’04

Congressman Maurice Hinchey and his staff discussed financial aid with several Cornell students, including Laura Stamp ‘12 (second row, far left), and Corey Reed ‘13 (second row, third from left).

Congressman Maurice Hinchey and his staff discussed financial aid with several Cornell students, including Laura Stamp ‘12 (second row, far left), and Corey Reed ‘13 (second row, third from left).

Using their personal stories as their platform, Cornell undergraduates traveled to Capitol Hill in March to advocate for continued support for the Pell Grant program, which has provided need-based grants to low-income students for 40 years.

The group, led by Cornell Vice President for Government and Community Relations Stephen Johnson, included communication major Laura Stamp ’12 and agricultural science education and animal science double major Corey Reed ’13. They met with education staff in the offices of senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer, as well as Congressmen Maurice Hinchey (N.Y.-22), Bill Owens (N.Y.-23), Erik Paulsen (Minn.-3), and Joseph Crowley (N.Y.-7) to explain how Pell Grants helped open the door to a Cornell education.

“Because of financial aid, Cornell was actually more affordable than state schools,” Reed said. “My Pell Grant has helped make it possible for me to accomplish my goals at the institution where I wanted to accomplish them.”
For Reed, who plans to return to teach in his home community of Adams Center, N.Y., the conversations were surprisingly easy—even if some took place in hallways on the Hill.

“The staffers were very accessible and seemed to enjoy hearing about our experiences,” Reed said. “It was very much a two-way conversation, and they seemed very committed to continuing support for the Pell Grant program because they understand its importance.”

Although Pell Grants don’t come close to covering tuition—the current maximum award is $5,550—they make higher education more accessible to low-income students, including many who, like Stamp, grew up on family farms. They also do not contribute to student debt, as they do not have to be paid back.

One in five Cornell students receive Pell Grants, making them an important part of the financial aid portfolio that enables Cornell to maintain a need-blind admissions policy and remain the “new opportunity university” for talented students, no matter their means or where they were born, as envisioned by Cornell University President David Skorton.

The students also discussed proposed changes to federal education loan programs that would raise the cost of college, including the abolition of the six-month, interest-free grace period after graduation and a proposed doubling of the interest rate from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.

“To me the critical thing is developing broad goals and vision for education funding, instead of scrambling each year,” Reed said. “It’s too important of a policy to have to advocate for ‘patches’ on a year-by-year basis.”