Photograph: Columbia students in Albany Feb. 17, from left: Walter Sweet, GS; Oscar Garcia, SDOS; Wayne Washington, GS; Karen Rojas, CC, and Adam Walsor, SDOS. Photo Credit: Anne Canty.
More than 60 Columbia and Barnard students traveled to Albany last week to urge legislators to restore funds for student financial aid and Medicaid subsidies which support the University's Dental School and its community clinic. Overall 900 students from 40 private colleges and universities participated in Independent Student Lobby Day sponsored by the Coalition for Independent Colleges and Universities (CICU).
The Columbia delegation, including students from the School of Dental and Oral Surgery, Columbia College, Barnard and the School of General Studies, and parents of high school students who participate in STEP (Science and Technology Entry Program), met with 28 State legislators, including Assemblyman Edward Sullivan, who represents Morningside Heights.
Sullivan said: "Every society has as one of its roles to educate young people into the ways of that society." The proposed budget, he said, would change that relationship by restricting students' access to higher education. Slated for elimination in the proposed budget is the Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP); the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) is targeted for significant reduction.
Karen Rojas, a Columbia College junior and HEOP recipient, represented Columbia in a joint student press conference. Rojas said that HEOP was mischaracterized in budget cutting proposals: "Columbia College has an 88 percent graduation rate for HEOP and at Barnard the rate is 95 percent. It's questionable to have a discussion that the program is not working when it is definitely successful." Rojas said that without HEOP, many people would not be able to attend college. She also said that the loss of HEOP students would significantly change student life since they tend to be involved in important campus extracurricular activities.
President Rupp could not attend because of a long-standing commitment to alumni on the West Coast. In a message read on the bus he said: "I am extremely proud that Columbia and Barnard students are joining with other members of the University community and engaging legislators in discussion about reductions in student financial aid. It is important that our elected representatives hear from the people whose lives would be most directly affected by these cuts."