Letter to the Editors: Alumni Urge SUA to Retain USSA Membership

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Dear Student Union Assembly Officers and Representatives,

As alumni of UCSC and the Student Union Assembly, we write to urge you to retain membership in the United States Student Association (USSA). USSA is the oldest and largest student-run, student-led association in the country and has been representing the student movement nationwide in the halls of Congress, the Department of Education and the White House since 1947. As banana slugs, we are proud to be a part of this rich legacy of student advocacy and activism for public higher education.

Throughout our history, we have been able to impact important federal issues such as the establishment of the Pell Grant and increasing federal support for public institutions across the country. Most recently, we’ve been able to lower student loan interest rates in the College Cost Reduction Act of 2008, redirected $56 billion to the Pell Grant program while increasing the maximum award in the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2010, preventing student loan interest rates from doubling again in 2012, submitted an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court — featuring a UCSC student — that successfully preserved equal opportunity throughout the country, and, most recently, the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act of 2013 that lowered interest rates for 11 million students across the country.  These are just some examples of the work that USSA has achieved and had a profound impact on, helping to keep college affordable and accessible to students like you.

What does it mean for those who don’t work or focus on policy? Let’s put this into perspective. Not only was USSA an original sponsor of the Pell Grant proposal when it was first introduced in the U.S. Congress, we were among the very few groups that supported it. Today, $6.2 billion (21 percent) of funding for the program is mandatory spending, meaning that by law this is the minimum the federal government must spend for the program. The remaining $22.8 billion (79 percent) is funded through discretionary funding, meaning that Congress can allocate however much funding they choose to the program.

Every year USSA has been successful in ensuring that Congress meets the needs of our constituents. Over 9 million students across the country depend on Pell to afford a college education and without a unified student voice Congress will continue to chip away at the program. At UCSC 6,801 students (43 percent of the campus) depend on the Pell Grant. When it comes to federal student loans, last summer USSA also played a critical role in negotiations that resulted in lowering student loan interest rates when it rose back up to 6.8%. That impacted 7,665 UCSC students (48.3 percent of the campus) for federal Stafford subsidized loans and 5,521 UCSC students (35.2 percent of the campus) for unsubsidized loans. These efforts have ensured that students who take out loans to finance their education did not have to suffer higher interest rates and ultimately pay more for their education. These efforts have brought over $58 million in federal funding back to UCSC each year. All facts and figures mentioned are available at: https://studentaid.ed.gov/about/data-center/student/title-iv and https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/college-university-search/university-of-california-santa-cruz

To bring more light to the matter, there is more historical context to consider. The Pell Grant used to cover two thirds of tuition in the 1980s and now only covers less than one third. The Cal Grant was originally established to help low-income students afford a PRIVATE SCHOOL education and it’s now a shame that the grant is a necessity for low-income students to access public institutions.

 

The number of students affected by these programs is more than the number of students that have ever elected any of us into office. In 2009, undergraduate turnout for campus elections was 20.78 percent. The following year we’d reevaluated the way we engaged the student body and turn out in the 2010 campus elections resulted in a record 42.36 percent — surpassing the then newly set 33 percent referendum threshold because the campus community worked together. With current campus elections concluding at under 25 percent voter turnout, the SUA must seriously reconsider whether it is in fact addressing the issues and needs that students care about and/or face?

As former officers and representatives, we’ve thought about a variety of things to engage the student body. We have contemplated hosting concerts, dances, education forums and many other things for the student body each year. We were able to do some of those things but not all. Time and time again, students have always prioritized issues that affected their ability to attend and be successful at UCSC — accessibility, quality and affordability in higher education. Time and time again, it has been our capacity through USSA that has allowed us to advocate for those issues.

 

USSA matters because no one else is representing students and fighting for their interests on the federal level but USSA. We have always been at the forefront of the battle on the issues that impact all students. It’s important to have UCSC’s voice when selecting USSA campaign priorities, leadership, board members and direct communication to federal officials (the White House, Department of Education and Congress). Will UCSC continue to lead and engage students in OUR fight or do we intend to stand idle and watch federal support dwindle? We hope not. Does the SUA think USSA membership is worth the return of millions of dollars our students receive and depend on each year? We think it is and we hope you agree. As student leaders we’ve delivered real positive change to students on campus and we know we can continue to do the same across the country through USSA with banana slugs leading the way.

Sincerely,

Nwadiuto “DT” Amajoyi, SUA Chair 2012-13, SUA Commissioner of Diversity 2011-12, USSA Board and Executive Committee Member 2011-12

Victor Velasco, SUA External Vice Chair 2012-13, SUA Internal Vice Chair 2011-12, SUA Queer Student Union Representative 2010-2011,

Kevin Huang, SUA Organizing Director 2012-13, SUA College Ten Representative 2011-12, USSA Board Member 2012-13

Wanjiku Wanyee Muhire, SUA Commissioner of Academic Affairs 2012-13, USSA People of African Descent Chair 2013-2014

Amanda Buchanan, SUA Chair 2011-12, SUA Legislative Liaison 2010-11, Oakes Senate Chair 2009-11, Oakes Representative 2008-11

Nelson Cortez, SUA External Vice Chair 2011-12

Sindy Denise Ramirez, SUA Organizing Director 2011-12, SUA Oakes Representative 2010-11 and 2012-13

Tiffany Dena Loftin, SUA Chair 2010-11, SUA Internal Vice Chair 2008-10, USSA President 2012-13, USSA Vice President 2011-12, USSA Board and Executive Committee Member 2010-11

Claudia Magaña, SUA External Vice Chair 2010-11, SUA Organizing Director 2009-10, SUA Oakes Representative 2008-09, UCSA President 2010-12

Nestor Rivera, SUA Organizing Director 2010-11, SUA Kresge Representative 2008-10, USSA Board and Executive Committee Member 2009-11

Kalwis Lo, SUA Chair 2008-10, SUA APISA Representative 2008-09, SUA Stevenson Representative 2006-08, USSA Legislative Director 2012-14, USSA Board and Executive Committee Member 2007-10

Víctor G. Sánchez Jr., SUA External Vice Chair 2008-10, SUA Oakes Representative 2007-08, USSA President 2011-12, USSA Vice President 2010-11, UCSA President 2009-10, USSA Board Member 2008-09

Matthew Palm, SUA Commissioner of Academic Affairs 2008-10

Sandra Lane, Organizing Director 2008-09, SUA College Eight Representative 2006-08, USSA Board Member 2007-08

Hailey Snow, External Vice Chair 2007-08, SUA College Ten Representative 2005-07, College Ten President 2006-07, USSA Board and Executive Committee Member 2007-08

Raymond Austin, SUA Chair 2006-07, SUA Internal Vice Chair 2005-06, USSA Board 2005-07

Jessica Pierce, SUA Chair 2004-06

David Harbaugh, External Vice Chair 2002-03, Lobby Corp Director 2001-02, SUA Oakes Senate Chair 1998-99, Author of Current SUA Constitution