We’re so proud of the amazing work our students have accomplished over the last year. But even as students are making progress at the local and statewide level, we wanted to highlight another unexpected source of progress: the federal level! Students have the power to drive change and win policies that will help their peers succeed, and they’re doing it across the partisan divide.
On Monday, Student PIRG leaders from across the country converged in Washington D.C. to discuss, learn, and advocate for federal financial aid and free open textbooks. Elizabeth Radcliffe, junior and state board chair, and Hailey Coleman, junior and Wildlife Over Waste campaign coordinator, represented our three chapters in Oregon. They brought their campus campaign work to the Capitol and advocated for increasing the Pell grant, and the Affordable College Textbook Act, building off of the successes we had from last year’s advocacy.
Increasing funding for open textbooks
We won the original funding for the Open Textbook Pilot program in 2017 that gave the Department of Education $5 million to grant out to open education projects around the country. These projects have the potential to save students millions of dollars on textbook costs, and the policy drew support from Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Dick Durbin (D-IL).
We’re excited to report that this year, we not only increased funding for the program to $7 million, but also won new requirements that the Department of Education must issue a new public comment period, a wider call for proposals, and distribute the money to a larger set of projects.
Making it easier for students to access federal student aid
Last year our students successfully advocated to simplify the FAFSA. Championed by Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Congress passed the bipartisan FUTURE Act, which permanently funds historically black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions, and streamlines financial aid. Specifically, it allows the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Education to share data that will shorten the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and automatically re-certify the income of borrowers who are in an income-driven repayment plan.
Why is this important? Millions of students will soon spend countless hours filling out the FAFSA as they look to enroll in college this fall. Making the FAFSA easier to fill out will help more students access federal student aid, and increase the number of young people who can afford higher education.
I’m excited to see what our students will continue to accomplish with your support in 2020.