UAlbany Students: Save Perkins Now
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko (D-Amsterdam) speaks in favor of extending the Federal Perkins Loan Program, which is due to expire Sept. 30. The cuts would take effect in the 2018-2019 academic year. (Photo by Mark Schmidt)
ALBANY, N.Y. (Sept. 20, 2017) – Shantell Hidalgo, a junior social welfare major from the Bronx is worried about paying rent for her off-campus apartment if the federal Perkins loan program is allowed to expire at the end of the month.
Her $2,000 Perkins loan, which can be used for expenses such as rent as well as tuition, is usually paid in the form of a refund from the University. Her mom contributes $125 monthly, and Hidalgo works at Old Navy, but still relies on the Perkins money to help with rent, which is $475 a month. A cut to Perkins would threaten her ability to finish college, she said.
Because of finances, “I didn’t think I was going to be able to attend college at all,” she said. The Educational Opportunities Program (EOP) helped make her dream of attending the University at Albany a reality.
The message from Hidalgo and more than 100 other students at Tuesday’s rally to Save the Federal Perkins Loan Program was “don’t kill my dreams.”
The students, along with faculty, university leaders, union representatives and politicians, gathered near the Campus Center small fountain, holding signs with messages like “I can’t get my degree without the Perkins loan.”
Students have helped solicit more than 1,000 “Save Perkins” letters and will be calling members of Congress and gathering signatures for an online petition urging lawmakers to support the Federal Perkins Loan Program Extension Act of 2017 (H.R. 2482), which would extend the 50-year-old program for another two years.
Grace Coste, a junior mathematics major from the Bronx, has fought this fight before. The program was threatened when she was a freshman. Coste pointed out that more than 3,500 UAlbany students rely on the Perkins loan and that it assists everyone – undergrads who come through regular admissions as well as students in EOP.
“Some people think $2,000 is not a lot of money. But coming from a low-income family, I can tell you that not everyone has $2,000 lying on the kitchen table,” she said.
Coste noted that while the new Excelsior Scholarship Program covers only tuition, a Perkins loan can be used for room, board, tuition and meal plans, making it irreplaceable.
“UAlbany stands for inclusive excellence and the Perkins Loan Program is a foundational part of that mission,” Provost James Stellar told the cheering crowd of students. “There is only one force that can save this planet and that’s you and education.” He encouraged students to tweet about the rally and spread the word through social media.
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko (D-Amsterdam), a co-sponsor of the bill, also spoke at the rally, saying it makes no sense to cut such a successful program that assists students at UAlbany and across the nation. The bill’s main sponsor is U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-Willsboro) and U.S. Rep. John Faso (R-Kinderhook) is a co-sponsor as well.
Comparing the cost of the Perkins program with the billions of dollars President Donald Trump has requested for the military and a border wall, Tonko said, “What’s more important? Perkins or the wall? Perkins or war?” The answer from the crowd was “Perkins!”
United University Professions, the statewide union that represents faculty and staff across SUNY, demonstrated support for the rally, with speakers including statewide UUP President Fred Kowal, Albany Chapter President Aaron Major, former Chapter President Bret Benjamin and delegate Patrick Romain, a counselor with EOP.
Kowal, who earned his Ph.D. at UAlbany, said it was a “great day to be a Great Dane."
"We are fully with you,” said Kowal, who attended the rally with UUP Vice President for Professionals Tom Tucker. “The times demand it, and the future will be defined by it. Perkins now, Perkins tomorrow, Perkins forever.”
Albany Chapter President and Associate Professor of Sociology Aaron Major said, “I believe in the promise of public higher education.” He urged the assembled students to take their energy to the statehouse and to Congress. Senior Vice Provost of Academic Affairs William Hedberg echoed the call for students to be heard and practice citizenship by calling their representatives.
Former Albany Chapter President and Associate Professor of English Bret Benjamin said the SUNY promise of access and affordability “is a dream these days. The single difference between your generation and mine is debt.”
Benjamin thanked EOP Director Maritza Martinez for steadfastly fighting for programs like Perkins and EOP and for bringing students to the statehouse every year to advocate on behalf of funding for EOP and UAlbany.
“The faculty are with you 100 percent,” he said.
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