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GPSS lobbies in D.C. with national coalition on higher education concerns

Immigration, student indebtedness, and federal research funding are all topics the Student Advocates for Graduate Education (SAGE) Coalition are lobbying for in Washington D.C. today.

Three GPSS members represent the UW at this year’s conference and will meet with Washington State legislators later today. They will present policy papers with SAGE’s recommendations on the three issues.

“Every year they go to D.C. to advocate for certain issues that they think are relevant to graduate students,” GPSS Vice President Adam Sherman said.

The topics, voted on by SAGE members earlier this year, were chosen for their relevance to graduate and undergraduate students alike, said Kelsey Knowles, UW student regent.

“A lot of these issues affect students across the board and, frankly, undergraduates as well,” Knowles said. “A big issue that the conference is focusing on and that the SAGE Coalition focused on is making graduate education accessible to students.”

To increase accessibility to higher education, SAGE focused on reducing the burden of student debt. They recommend the expansion of the Pay as You Earn program to do that. This program allows students to make loan payments based on their income.

“There’s a lot of policies and conversations we’ve been having about how to make student debt more manageable for graduate students but also more manageable for undergraduates so that they aren’t burdened before they even think about coming to graduate school,” Knowles said.

Due to decreasing state funding for higher education, student indebtedness is particularly concerning to students from Washington State.

“The issue of indebtedness and taxation is just so important right now, especially at UW,” said Kiana Scott, GPSS policy analyst. “In Washington State for every 100 graduate degrees that we produce, we have to import 125 more degree holders and part of that is because of financial burden to graduate students.”

Also relevant to UW students is SAGE’s focus on federal research funding. SAGE leaders recommended such funding is expanded to encourage innovation and development.

Because many graduate students are funded through research grants, expansion of federal funding would also reduce student indebtedness.

“There’s a big focus on ensuring that these research programs are still strong and will remain a focus of the federal government,” Knowles said. “We’re talking about students in medical schools, students in science, students in humanities, in business, in education. There are a lot of different research programs throughout the country that are funded by the federal government that these students have access to.”

Improving access is also the main goal of SAGE’s efforts on immigration. Particularly, the coalition focuses on reducing the H1-B visa cap, which would allow more graduates to remain in the country to work.

Additionally, the coalition encourages the passage of bills that create priorities for worker immigration visas for graduate students in STEM fields.

“If we can get civilization of those policies I think it would make a big difference in terms of international students and their ability to contribute to the economy after they graduate,” Sherman said.

Improving the terms of the student visa F-1 is also important, Sherman said. F-1 visas currently are single entry, eliminating the possibility for international students to travel between their homeland and the U.S. SAGE recommends a reform to allow these students to travel home when necessary.

“We’re trying to change that policy to make it so that it’s easier for them to go back home and take care of their family,” Sherman said.

Over the past weekend, members of the coalition have gathered to finalize the policy papers they will present to legislators over the next two days.

“We are hoping to bring all these issues to the forefront of what [legislators] are working on and basically making sure that they have the chance to speak directly to students,” Scott said.

Reach reporter Jillian Stampher at news@dailyuw.com.

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