Seton Hill University students were among the crowd of approximately 200 students from schools across Pennsylvania to rally and advocate for student aid last month at the state capital.
The group of 15 SHU students traveled to Harrisburg, Pa. on April 9 as part of Student Aid Advocacy Day, along with Adriel Hilton, dean of students and diversity officer, and Michael Cary, professor of history and political science. Along with a rally in support of the PHEAA (Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency) grant, students also were given the opportunity to meet with legislators within SHU’s district and their home districts.
The event was sponsored by the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania (AICUP). SHU is a member of AICUP, and 40 private institutions were represented at the event.
Currently, Hilton said about 540 SHU students receive aid through the PHEAA grant, which is available to students who are residents of Pennsylvania. He said that a student can currently receive approximately $500-4,120 per year through the PHEAA grant.
According to the PHEAA website, the amount a student can receive through the grant depends on income level and financial situation, along with the type of school the student is attending. The PHEAA site also states that nearly $11.4 billion has been awarded to Pennsylvania residents since 1965 through the state grant program.
As the state of Pennsylvania attempts to balance its budget, proposals have been made to cut funding to the PHEAA grant. Hilton said the current proposal would decrease the amount of funding by approximately $700 per student each year.
“What average college student can come up with $700 on the spot?” said senior history major Sebastian Murabito. “That’s how much they want to take away from us, and it’s wrong. For the preservation of education, they should continue to fund PHEAA.”
“We’re not just numbers on a spreadsheet – we’re students,” Murabito added. “Some of us come from good backgrounds, some of us don’t. I have a good family background and I’m not scraping by, but some people don’t have that. Cutting from education is the worst thing any civilization can do.”
Out of the 40 institutions represented at the event, three were chosen by AICUP to have student speakers, including SHU. Murabito was the student selected to give a speech on behalf of the university.
“I tried to really profess what I believe in education and how much it’s important for us to fund it,” Murabito said. “I felt really honored to be able to share my story.”
Murabito is one of the 540 students at SHU who receives funding through the PHEAA grant. In his speech, Murabito discussed how the PHEAA grant gave him “clarity of mind” by helping him cover the rest of his tuition after he was denied for a second parent PLUS loan.
“It is in the best interest of our public to promote PHEAA, and we know that the future greatness of our country depends more and more on providing our youth with a great education, and PHEAA grants are an important part of that,” Murabito said in his speech.
While some of the students who attended the rally receive aid through the PHEAA grant, students who do not receive the PHEAA grant also went to support their peers.
“The PHEAA grant does not affect me personally, but it greatly affects my peers and that is extremely important to me,” said sophomore history and political science major Shannon Hubble. “It was an unforgettable experience because of the massive amount of energy in the room for the various causes people were advocating for.”
“[The PHEAA grant] may not cover full tuition most of the time, but it lessens the debt that students must live with on a day-to-day basis after graduation,” Hubble added. “This way, my friends can focus on their studies, interests and passions rather than massive amounts of debt and how they will afford to pay it back.”
In addition to attending the rally in Harrisburg, the SHU marketing department created videos featuring students explaining the significance of the PHEAA grant to them. The videos were shared on SHU’s social media pages on April 9 in conjunction with Student Aid Advocacy Day.
AICUP hosts a Student Aid Advocacy Day each year. In addition to attending events like these rallies, Hilton said contacting and writing to state representatives is a beneficial way to make a difference when it comes to advocacy.
“It was very impactful for me to see that funding for higher ed from state legislature grants is important for students to be here,” Hilton said. “I want to make sure that all students enjoy their experience, but also that they have the funding to be able to go here.”
Published By: Stephen Dumnich