Did you know the federal budget hurricane, known as the sequester, is set to land on college students tomorrow? Federal student aid will be cut by 6 percent. What does 6 percent mean? According to the Student Aid Alliance, if Congress does not act by its March 1 deadline — to avert a disaster it created — more than 100,000 students will lose a “major portion” of their student aid, and millions of students will lose some portion of their aid.
These are not empty numbers. If we translate the percentages to cash, we find that some students will lose up to $876 in aid. For a student struggling to make ends meet, $876 dollars may be the difference between going to college and dropping out.
When we ask students if they know that their federal student aid could be cut by up to $876 dollars, we are met with shock, awe and outrage. Most ask: What can we do? How can we stop this? How can we champion our interests?
Unfortunately, there is not much we can do. We are not organized. Minimal infrastructure exists for youth to campaign for our own interests. Student governments are the only institution common to most universities, and they are understandably wary of political action.
Common Sense Action is a new student organization founded in Providence for moments like these. We believe the United States needs a common sense nation-building strategy that invests in opportunities for the next generation and finds a compassionate way to reduce our long-term budget deficits. We imagined a grassroots organization that could mobilize a bipartisan network of youth voices who demand society open the gateways of opportunity for our generation. Currently, we are representing Brown in the Up to Us Competition to raise awareness about the impacts of long-term federal debt on our generation.
As student contestants, we cannot support any political parties or pieces of legislation. But we can support a common sense approach to deficit reduction.
So what are some “common sense” ideas? We believe in increased investments and strategic — not political — cuts. And our work begins with defeating the sequester. Whether we are conservative or liberal, engaged or apathetic, we owe it to ourselves and to our future to demand the 113th Congress avert the 6 percent cuts to federal student aid, known as the student fiscal cliff. As students, we cannot afford to allow Congress to mortgage our future and the futures of our classmates for the sake of political maneuvering. Yes, addressing the long-term debt is important, but we cannot be goaded into taking a cleaver to the federal deficit and calling it a day. Across the board cuts that eliminate desperately needed investments will not only have an immediate impact on federal student aid, but they also will set a dangerous precedent.
Young Americans are already mobilizing against the sequester. On Feb. 23, students from colleges across Rhode Island convened at the Rhode Island Fiscal Summit to discuss our generation’s spending priorities. College Democrats, college Republicans and student government leaders from Brown, the University of Rhode Island, Roger Williams University, Rhode Island College and the Rhode Island School of Design assembled at the summit.
Unsurprisingly, the sequester was a major topic of discussion. The students assembled had a clear message for Washington: Congress should avert the sequester.
But students gathered on a Saturday in Rhode Island cannot make a difference if the conversation stops here. To truly affect the decisions being made in Washington, we must first have a voice. We must tell our elected officials that as young Americans, we refuse to sit on the sidelines and watch while our economic future is derailed by a crisis of leadership in Congress.
So what actionable steps can we take against these looming automatic cuts? Unfortunately, the hour is late. Even if we mobilize against the sequester, it may still occur.
Yet we must still come together as proud Democrats, proud Republicans and proud Independents — as proud youth — so that we are prepared to fight the next battle and the battle after that. So if you are a young American, start to raise your voice. Organize with your classmates. Contact your elected officials. Vote in the next election.
Most of us don’t do any of those things. Voice by voice, decibel by decibel, let’s raise the volume of our demands, so they can be heard at the policymaking table. It is time young people had a say in the future of their country.
Andrew Kaplan ’15 and Sam Gilman ’15 are cofounders of Common Sense Action, which is representing Brown in the Up to Us Competition.