CAASD Program Students Travel to Albany to Advocate for Student Aid


CAASD student pose with signs advocating for CSTEP, HEOP, LPP, and other student support programsHundreds of young people voiced their support of student funding during the recent New York Student Aid Alliance Advocacy Day in Albany. Anthony Obas ’20 made sure he was one of them.

“Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go last year, but this year I made it my priority,” Obas says. The availability of student aid is vital for both his own time at Syracuse and for others who will come after him—he knows a potential incoming first-year student and funding aid opportunities will make it more possible for him to attend.

“Student aid has helped me a ton; I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for student aid,” says Obas, a marketing major in the Whitman School of Management. “It’s given me a better sense of education, and it’s opened my eyes to new opportunities.”

A group of 35 Syracuse University students joined more than 1,000 college and high school students from across New York to tell their personal stories and advocate for student aid Feb. 13 during the annual New York Student Aid Alliance Advocacy Day.

David Peterson, academic counselor with the Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) at Syracuse University, has made the trip with students for the past 10 years and sees how important it is to reconnect with legislators. Other University staff members who help administer aid programs on campus also attended with the students.

“We can tell them how awesome our students are, but when the legislators hear the students’ stories, it has so much more of an impact,” Peterson says. “The legislators know about these programs, but at the same time, they want to consistently see the success of these programs and the students they assist.”

This year’s executive budget included funding cuts of a combined $50 million from Bundy Aid, HEOP, the Science and Technology Entry programs (STEP/C-STEP), the Liberty Partnerships Program (LPP) and the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). Students urged lawmakers to restore the critical aid.

“This year we’re looking at a 17 percent cut in the HEOP budget,” Peterson says. “It really affects our students.”

Student aid programs assist hundreds of thousands of students every year. For example, TAP provides more than $900 million in student aid to more than 300,000 New Yorkers attending college.

Coalition of colleges and universities

The New York Student Aid Alliance is a coalition of colleges and universities and other stakeholder organizations that support funding vital student aid programs for students in New York. This is the 10th year the organization has hosted an Advocacy Day in Albany.

During their time in Albany, Syracuse students met with several state lawmakers, including Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli, Sen. Dave Valesky, Assemblywoman Pamela Hunter, Assemblyman Al Stirpe and Sen. John DeFrancisco. A representative from Syracuse University’s Office of Government Relations, Tim Drumm, executive director of special initiatives, traveled to Albany with the students and assisted in coordinating these important meetings.

“Students tell their stories and how appreciative they are,” Peterson says. “It teaches students how to be an advocate for themselves and how to pay attention to what’s going on in government—and how they can have their voices heard.”

Dreams into reality

For Obas, student aid “helped me turn a couple of my dreams into reality,” he says. Obas is co-owner of a promotions/event company, Voiceless Music, that promotes artists and helps them foster and grow their music. He also notes student aid assists in helping students graduate with less debt, which allows them to be in a better financial situation when they leave school.

Obas was impressed by the number of students who took part. “What I found interesting was that there were so many other students fighting for the same cause, from across the state. It’s the same story—without this aid I wouldn’t be able to graduate,” Obas says. “It’s tough to understand the story if you never came from the same shoes; we were just trying our best trying to relate that to the leaders.”

For students, this is also a way of paying it forward, Peterson says. They were helped by students advocating in years past, and they must model that to younger students.

Obas says that it’s important that even high schoolers are part of the dialogue, as it will affect them in the next couple of years, and they need to continue that into their college years, as he plans to. “It’s my responsibility to constantly advocate for everyone else who comes from the same background as me,” Obas says.

Original story by Kathleen Haley