Many of you will be attending high school or college graduation ceremonies in the coming weeks, either for your own child or the child of a family member, neighbor or friend.

As you may have noticed over the years, those ceremonies also tend to attract federal politicians, who may be there to give a commencement address or to receive an honorary degree themselves.

Anticipating that you may find yourself in a situation where you are chit-chatting with a member of the U.S. House or Senate, here are some points you can make to him or her, in addition to talking about the weather, the performance of local sports team and, of course, the price of gasoline.

I’ve chosen to concentrate on these talking points on the level of funding for student aid. The fact is that increased federal student aid benefits all families because, to the extent that needier students are served with federal dollars, then state and/or institutional funds may be more widely available to serve middle-class families. Here you go:

  • As our [Representative/Senator in Congress], I hope that you will support increased funding for the federal student aid programs.
  • At [insert institution or, if a high school ceremony, then the name of a local college], it’s my understanding that a large percentage of students receive Pell Grants, Supplemental Grants, and Perkins Loans to pay for college. Without this federal aid, these students might not be able to choose [institution] to meet their higher education goals, and that would just be a shame.
  • The federal student aid programs are what make a difference for these students. However, I understand that the Pell Grant maximum has been stagnant for three years, and I hear that Congress is considering eliminating the Perkins Loan program for the purpose of deficit reduction. Is that true?
  • Reducing the deficit is important, but the budget should not be balanced on the backs of students. When students get a college education, they become productive members of society, cost the government less in support services, and add to the revenue base. It seems to me that investing in the student aid programs is investing in our nation’s economic well-being.
  • Increasing numbers of students are academically prepared for college, but federal funding of student aid needs to be increased to get them there. Continuing the nation’s 50-year commitment to making higher education attainable for every qualified student, regardless of his or her financial resources, depends on increasing funding for the Pell Grant and the other student aid programs.
  • Despite the tight cap on spending, the Pell Grant and the other federal student aid programs should be increased this year. I understand that the recently passed budget calls for a $100 increase in the Pell Grant maximum, but it does not specify funding to restore cuts proposed by the president, or to increase funding for the other student aid programs. On behalf of the students at [institution] who would not be here without federal student aid, I hope you will make increasing the Pell Grant maximum and the other student aid programs a priority this year.

I know that the above is a mouthful, but if you can even make one of the points above, I can assure that your voice will not only be heard, it will multiply. Having once worked for two members of Congress, I assure you that conversations with constituents who bring up real issues of concern get played back to staff people, who are asked to follow up and to make recommendations on how those concerns can be addressed in a macro way. I say macro because the assumption of the member of Congress is that you are not alone in your concern, but that you are reflective of a mood in the district or state. You can talk about the weather and local sports teams too, but student aid will definitely grab their attention.

Good luck, and don’t forget to have some fun – and take lots of pictures too – at the graduation!

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