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Congress looks to cut federal grants, students protest

Staff reporter

Published: Sunday, April 3, 2011

Updated: Sunday, April 3, 2011 22:04

After fighting a winning battle last year to maintain MAP funding, students in Illinois are bracing themselves for yet another funding fight, this time regarding federal Pell Grants.

On Feb. 22, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to cut federally funded Pell Grants by 15 percent in fiscal year 2011. These cuts, if passed by the Senate, would decrease the maximum Pell award from $5,500 to $4,705. The bill is currently being debated in the Senate, and though the full cuts are not expected to be approved, the outcome remains uncertain.

In response, Roosevelt has unveiled the "Pell Yes!" campaign, designed to broaden awareness of the issue and help students take a stand. Lesley Slavitt, vice president for Government Relations and University Outreach, said that the Pell program is at the heart of many students' educational success.

"Since 1972, Pell Grants have been the fundamental infrastructure of student aid in this country," Slavitt said. "We wanted to give students the tools to easily and effectively tell their stories and voice their opinion, and ensure that their voices will be heard in Washington."

About a year ago, Roosevelt mounted a similar campaign with regard to Illinois Monetary Award Program funding, called "Keep Illinois Students on The MAP." Funding for MAP was eventually reinstated, and Slavitt is hopeful that the Pell outcome will be the same.

"This is a new way of doing advocacy. Years ago, people might write a letter to a congressman, but there's nothing visible about that. Now, if you make a post to a Senator's Facebook page, everybody

can see it, and it can help people engage and network with each other to speak their minds," Slavitt said.

"Pell Yes!" resources currently include a Facebook page, which boasts over 800 members, and a Roosevelt webpage, where students can find contact information for local legislators and view facts and sample letters. Roosevelt currently has about 1,800 students receiving Pell grants, and the number has gone up dramatically in recent years.

"Eligibility has increased, but so has economic need, simply because of what is happening in the economy. It's a huge, expensive program, but it's an investment well worth making in the future of our country," Slavitt said.

Slavitt mentioned that other methods of student engagement, including a possible rally, might be on the horizon. President Charles Middleton and other administrators have also been actively communicating with Illinois legislators about this issue.

Roosevelt has been a key player in this issue since last March, when Illinois Senator Dick Durbin gave a press conference from the Chicago Campus regarding the issue. Three Roosevelt students, all Pell grant recipients, also told their stories at the conference. The "Pell Yes!" campaign will help Roosevelt continue to push the issue.

"It was very important for us to get this out there so that we can really focus on the brass tacks of what the issues are and how we can impact those issues. And we wanted to make sure that our voice didn't get lost. Because you can be noticeably absent in silence," Slavitt said.

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