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Students lobby for proposed boost in state financial aid

A delegation of about 15 Northeastern students took to Beacon Hill on Tuesday to lobby state legislators to support increasing state financial-aid programs for college students.

The visit coincided with “Student State Financial Aid Day” at the Massachusetts State House, which drew hundreds of students across the state. The lobbying day comes on the heels of Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposal to significantly increase education spending by $1 billion over each of the next four years. That proposal targets $152 million toward higher education, including $112 million—a 300 percent increase—in need-based financial aid for the MassGrant program, from which Northeastern students benefit.

During their visit, Northeastern students met with Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo, a 1972 Northeastern graduate.

“The amount a student may get from the state may seem small compared to a Pell grant or a Northeastern scholarship,” Dylan O’Sullivan, a fifth-year political science student, told DeLeo. “But it really makes a big difference, especially for us students on the edge.”

From left, students Matt Royal, Christine Law, John Brooks, and Justine Lambright, meet with Senator Daniel Wolf, whose daughter graduated from Northeastern last year. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

O’Sullivan, a native of Worcester, Mass., said he worked two jobs to pay for college and expenses like rent. Without state aid, he would have had to spend more time at work rather than dedicate himself to studying and classes—or forego his education altogether.

DeLeo called education “the great equalizer” and said he would continue to fight for increased financial aid to college students, a key factor in helping students attend college. He acknowledged that Patrick’s plan, which would require a tax increase, will be a hard sell for many lawmakers.

“It’s probably going to be very difficult, but understand that I am going to work very, very hard on these issues,” DeLeo pledged. “I’m proud of you all and I’m proud of your work. Trust me, this is how the law is done and I admire your dedication.”

The Northeastern delegation included students from across the state, many of whom were the first in their families to attend college, and four of whom had served in the military. The lobbying trip was organized by the Office of Government Relations and Student Financial Services.

For senior sociology major Justine Lambright, the lobbying effort was a personal cause, but hardly a unique one. After graduating in May, she’ll join the staff of AmeriCorps, working to help make college accessible for students like herself.

“My story is like so many others,” she said. “I got accepted into Northeastern, then the recession hit and made things really hard for my family. I don’t think I’d have been able to go to Northeastern if not for aid for aid like this.”

The “Student Financial Aid Day” at the State House was co-sponsored by the Association of Independent College and Universities and the Massachusetts Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

Northeastern students were front and center for a speech from Gov. Deval Patrick, whose proposed budget includes an increase in state financial aid. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

Speaking to the group of more than 200 college students in the State House’s Great Hall, Patrick said that education is Massachusetts’ greatest resource and praised students for lobbying their representatives on the issue. His proposed budget for the next fiscal year aims to boost education from early childhood through college, funded by changes to the state’s tax plan that include a reduction in sales tax combined with an increase in income tax.

“Intellectual capital is as important to us as oil is to Texas and corn is to Iowa,” Patrick said. “If we do not cultivate that, our future is in jeopardy.”