Tuesday, February 19, 2008

NAGPS: Legislative Action Days: Washington, D.C.



The National Association of Graduate and Professional Students held its biannual Legislative Action Days in Washington, D.C., February 6-8. The next set is scheduled for sometime in September. The NAGPS legislative platform has four main planks:

(1) Support for the Higher Education Affordability and Equity Act (HEAEA, H.R. 3412), which would return graduate student stipends to their pre-1986 tax-exempt status. This issue was the initial impetus behind the formation of NAGPS.

Specifically, section 2 “removes the limitation on the size of the student loan interest deduction and raises the income thresholds for who can take it”; section 5 “expands the definition of ‘qualified educational expenses,’ allowing room and board (the‘stipend’ of a graduate scholarship) to be tax-exempt income”; section 7 “makes permanent higher education tax benefits that would expire in 2010.” While we were in D.C another version of the bill (H.R 4137), essentially a reauthorization of the “Higher Education Act,” was introduced and will hopefully meet with success. NAGPS supports amendments 24, 25, and 35.

According to the NAGPS fact sheet each amendment respectively: addresses problems of increasing costs of graduate and professional education, requires the Secretary of Education to conduct an investigation into how student loan debt effects potential public servants, and will lead to thoughtful legislation to reduce loan debt (24); addresses the problem of increasing textbook prices, grants $5 million to ten schools to initiate textbook rental programs (25); states the support of Congress for freedom of speech for students on and off campus, supports a campus climate that encourages research and academic freedom in America (35).

(2) Support for reducing student loan interest rates for graduate students. Graduates have higher debt than undergraduates, less parental financial support, and may be deterred from pursuing their education (and contributing to the economy) because of the high cost. According to the NAGPS fact sheet, the “College Student Relief Act of 2007 (H.R. 5) applies only to undergraduate students.”

(3) Eliminating the HEA Drug Provisions. According to the NAGPS fact sheet, “In 1998, Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) added an amendment to the Higher Education Act (HEA) that denied federal student loan eligibility to anyone with a prior drug conviction. This provision is inequitable and unfairly targets at-risk students.” I met with Rep. Souder’s Legislative Assistant, Brett Swearingen, and found the situation to be quite different: students are only denied federal aid due to drug convictions they have received while attending school. And it is possible to become eligible for federal funding again if the student undergoes drug rehabilitation and two unannounced drug tests.

(4) Retaining foreign graduate student talent in the US. Immigrants contribute to the US economy both academically as researchers and teachers, and professionally as employers and inventors yet they have great difficulty in obtaining visas to work in the US after graduation (among other difficulties). NAGPS supports the creation of an F-4 visa class.

In related news, NAGPS International Student Concerns Chair Gautham Pandiyan (Duke) was recently featured in an article in InsideHigherEd.com (February 7) criticizing Michigan’s decision not to issue driver’s licenses to temporary residents, which would include foreign graduate students. Measures have been taken to remedy the situation, but the fact that it arose signals a troubling attitude to international workers about which everyone should be concerned.

About NAGPS…
The National Association of Graduate and Professional Students (NAGPS) is the only national organization that represents the interests of graduate and professional students in public and private universities at the local, state, and national levels. A grassroots organization, NAGPS actively works to preserve and expand federal student aid and other governmental programs and policies that benefit graduate and professional students.

*I welcome any feedback regarding the NAGPS legislative platform!*

Email: president@nagps.org Or office@nagps.org

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