UC Students Call on Congress to Increase Federal Financial Aid

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The University of California Student Association (UCSA) urged federal lawmakers to increase financial aid during a congressional briefing on Tuesday, Feb. 23.

In a coalition with students across the country, the UCSA advocated for increased federal financial aid for low-income students, citing that the current amount does not meet today’s needs. The campaign, known as Double the Pell, calls on Congress to increase its commitment to the Pell Grant program, the largest source of federal grants.

“Pell grants are an essential part of the financial aid package that UC uses to help students make ends meet,” President of the University of California Dr. Michael V. Drake said during the briefing. “Doubling the Pell Grant really means that we are reinvesting in our most at risk students, ensuring they have the opportunity to pursue their academic goals.”

According to the University of California’s 2019 Accountability Report, over a third of all UC students depend on the Pell Grants, but many are still struggling to pay for basic needs like food and housing. UCSA students are pushing to increase the maximum Pell Grant award from $6,345 to $13,000 by 2024.

“One of the best times of your life is going to be college, if you have the opportunity to go and the desire to go,” social studies co-department chair Courtney Smith said. “I think [increased federal financial aid] opens up access to students to attend college… If students qualify to get in, money shouldn’t be the barrier that stops them to get that education, and I think that’s where Pell Grants help out.”

Students say that increased financial aid would assist economic burdens and encourage them to apply in the first place. 

“With increased student aid, a larger and more diverse population of students can have that chance to graduate without a paralyzing amount of college debt,” senior Kyra Magda said. “We could see more students, such as myself, who would be encouraged to apply to the UC system, or to more UCs, who are qualified and capable to deal with the rigor.”

With many Irvine High seniors beginning college this fall, the UCSA sets an example of using student voice in order to make change. 

 “Nothing happens without taking these kinds of initiatives,” Co-Head Counselor Mr. O’Connell said. “If you want something, don’t be passive. Get together as a group.”

The USCA is planning to meet with additional lawmakers including members from the Biden Administration, California Congressional representatives and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.