Courtesy The Office of Rep. Chris Van Hollen Sens. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.) look on while Luis Torres (COL ’05) speaks out in favor of increased Pell grant funding.

Luis Torres (COL ’05) stood yesterday with Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and other lawmakers at a press conference in the Capitol to call for increased federal aid to colleges and universities.

“I was born in Laredo, Texas – a first generation American – son of a migrant farmer and a caring Mexican teacher,” Torres said. Thanks to private scholarships, federal loans, grants and almost $25,000 in yearly assistance from Georgetown, Torres said he was able to afford university tuition.

But Torres is now worried that opportunities like his will not exist for future students if federal financial aid stays at current levels. Congress looks poised to keep the maximum Pell grant steady next year at $4,050, the first time in years that aid would not be increased, according to Cyndy Littlefield, director of federal relations for the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities.

“This is not the America . that allowed [me] to go from behind a little mechanic shop in South Texas to study at one of the most prestigious universities in our country,” Torres said.

As senators moved past the 20-hour mark in a Republican-planned 30 hours of continuous debate to highlight Democratic opposition to President Bush’s judicial appointments, Kennedy, joined by aryland Democrat Rep. Chris Van Hollen (LAW ’90) and Sens. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and James Jeffords (I-Vt.), said the Senate should focus on more important issues.

“We believe affordability of college is key for our nation’s future and for our students’ future,” Kennedy said.

Van Hollen hosted students at a higher education forum earlier in the day. Ten Georgetown students attended, mostly members of College Democrats, in addition to students from the University of aryland, George Washington University, Catholic University and Howard University.

“It’s important to hear from you,” Van Hollen said to the group. “It’s my view that everybody, if they have the motivation to go to college . should be able to.”

House Republicans have introduced a plan to keep college tuition down by threatening to withdraw federal funds from schools that increase tuition by more than twice the rate of inflation.

“That is a plan that would penalize students,” Van Hollen said, adding that withdrawing federal funding would mean a lack of financial aid for those in need.

Scott Fleming (SFS ’72), assistant to the president for federal relations, said that while “today everybody was a Democrat, Republicans have also been friendly to increasing student aid.” He mentioned that Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), among others, recently supported legislation benefiting student financial assistance.

Torres said after graduating high school he felt he was prepared academically for college, but did not know if he would be able to afford it.

“When I realized Georgetown was a full need, need-blind institution, that really influenced my decision to come here,” he said. “I wouldn’t be at Georgetown if it weren’t for financial aid.”

Torres, who testified before Congress on similar issues last summer, said that if more students who receive financial aid knew what was happening on Capitol Hill they would be more involved.

“I am concerned for the futures of my brother and sister,” he said. “What type of America are we leaving behind?”

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Comments are closed.