I stood up to the state’s budget cuts-and you can, too

My father was laid off last month after 16 years at his New Jersey company. Next month, my mother will also be out of work after 11 years at the same company.

Soon, my family will join the thousands of other New Jersey families that are gradually sinking below the poverty line because of a troubled economy.

With a younger sister also enrolled in a New Jersey college and my brother applying this fall, my family is deeply affected by the $169 million in cuts to higher education. My parents have suffered hardships, back-breaking work and severe racism so their children could have a chance to go to college. Yet these drastic cuts to higher education threaten all that sacrifice.

My chance to impact the men and women who will make the final decisions that will affect my family and others came on April 11, when I spoke before the State Assembly’s final public hearing at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

I knew I had to leave a strong impression, so I spent two days reading through Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s proposed budget and the many public testimonies found on the New Jersey legislature’s Web site.

That is when I turned to page 28 of the Budget in Brief, which states, “this Budget maintains New Jersey’s commitment to a diversified, accessible system of higher education. In particular, programs providing need-based financial assistance to students receive $6.3 million in increased funding in this Budget, to assure that our neediest students will not be denied the opportunity to go to college.”

Yet when I analyzed the figures on higher education found on page 74, I made a startling discovery. If this budget is passed as is, the state will be cutting almost 16 percent of appropriations to the 12 senior public institutions alone, knowing full well that there will be an increase in tuition and room and board rates, along with a spike in applications for financial aid. Yet, the state will only increase financial aid by 0.21 percent.

After I delivered my speech, I received positive comments from three members of the Assembly Budget Committee. Chairman Louis Greenwald then asked me more about my personal story.

The assembly members who commented promised that the cuts would not be drastic. However, they said that it was a very difficult situation for the entire legislature.

Greenwald promised that higher education would be one of the biggest topics of debate when the legislature comes together.

Assemblyman Kevin J. O’Toole expressed his understanding of my family’s situation and offered to help my parents find jobs so that our family could get on its feet again.

Some might say politicians are no longer in touch with the people whom they serve. I want students to know that whether this is true does not matter.

What matters is that when you, as a student, take time to write, call or meet with your legislators, you do something to them that no member of big business, no high-powered student official, no big-shot politician can do – you make them feel.

Once they start remembering what it was like for them in college, and what they would do if they had children in state colleges, you will watch something remarkable take place … change.

Now is the time to have your voice heard and make a difference; not next year, when you are having a hard time paying your heftier college bills.

Write and call your state legislator to protest these drastic cuts to higher education.

If not for yourself, then for your parents, your siblings and the thousands of hardworking college students in critical financial situations.