March 4th was a move towards affordable college for all Ohioans. Members from the Ohio Student Association, Ohio Education Association, Ohio Federation of Teachers, American Association of University Professors, and the Ohio Part-Time Faculty Association, came together to take a stance on the student debt crisis by urging the expansion of the Ohio College Opportunity Grant, OCOG. The organizations banded together in creating the Ohio Higher Education Coalition (OHEC).
The OCOG provides grant money to Ohio residents who need financial aid to attend college. In 2009, the budget was cut from $352 million to $171 million. Not only are less people receiving the grant, but they also made it so students had to use their Federal Pell Grant first, before using OCOG. What this does is force students to use the Pell Grant on tuition, rather than books or living expenses, since the Pell Grant can be used for other expenses and OCOG can only be used for tuition. This action made most community college students ineligible for OCOG. OSA and OHEC pressured Ohio legislators to expand OCOG by $40 million, and to make community college students eligible.
Students and teachers came together and shared personal testimonies, and other factual testaments. Kiala Riel (OSA), shared her personal experience, “My family didn’t have extra funds to save for my education. Before I transferred to OSU, I was working 40 hours a week and taking a full schedule of community college classes at night.” And John McNay (President, Ohio Conference of the AAUP), spoke “There is no excuse for an academic system in Ohio that punishes students with that kind of crippling financial burden.” Teachers and students, people from all areas of Ohio united for student debt reform.
I shared my story of how my mother worked two jobs, went to college, all while raising a child, me. I also conveyed how we struggled in poverty. Then I went in to discuss how I am currently a college student. Fall 2014 will be my first year, in 5 years, receiving any financial aid assistance. For 4 years, I have had to work and go to school at the same time, and it is a fight. Everyone should have the opportunity to get a higher education and better their lives. College itself is hard, we shouldn’t have to struggle financially and be punished for seeking knowledge.
After the press release, we all meet up at the OEA building, where we went into a further discussion on how to continue this movement towards affordable college. All the organizations sat down for some pizza, and deep discussion. We talked about being creative, but also connecting teachers and students as a team to create this change at the local level.
The morning had a certain type of splendor and accomplishment to it. After all, we were at the Statehouse, speaking, with media presence, about a critical issue. And we were truly doing something. I think I can speak for everyone, when I say it was a remarkable morning. Many positives came out of that day: media releases from four different media networks, State Senator Schiavoni was inspired to help us get started on the next step, and we took the first of many steps towards reform.
It was truly an amazing day. Thanks to everyone who planned it, to all those who spoke, to everyone who showed up for support. Some incredible first steps. Let us continue on our path for affordable college in Ohio!