SMC Associated Students Celebrate Return from D.C. Conference

Last weekend, student leaders from across the nation attended the National Student Advocacy Conference in Washington, D.C. The event, which took place from March 17 - 20, provided workshops to community college students on congressional lobbying, practical advice on how to advocate for issues that directly impact community colleges, as well as opportunities to speak directly with our Congressional and Senatorial representatives. 

Santa Monica College sent four student leaders to the event: Student Trustee Chase Matthews, A.S. President Jennifer Chen, Director of Student Advocacy Santiago Guerrero, and Director of Budget Management Charlene Alex Boyd. President Chen stressed the importance of events like these in building leadership skills, saying, "I got to learn what Congress is actually doing and learn how to push and advocate for what we want."

Board members at the event had the opportunity to speak to members of Congress at the event on specific issues, while taking away information to share with the student community at large. Chen's focus remained largely on Pell Grants: a source of federal funding for college students, which comes in the form of cash aid awarded each academic year. Community college students receive 30-percent of all Pell Grants annually, which makes the Pell Grant their largest source of financial assistance for attending college.

Chen was particularly concerned that the maximum individual grant amount of $5,920 - which has been increased to match inflation in previous years - will no longer be tied to inflation due to recent decisions made by the Trump administration. Student Trustee, Matthews, also pointed out that there is a massive surplus of Pell Grant money, and that our representatives are currently fighting to "constructively use that surplus to further advance higher education instead of seeing that surplus be lost to military spending."

Boyd, who focused on student loan reform at the conference, was pleased to find out that Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) is "very active on student loan reform." Boyd was particularly impressed by the fact that while our delegation was debating on how to best approach our representatives about issues like such as student loan relief, Senator Harris was simultaneously tweeting about the very same issue. While speaking to Harris, the Santa Monica College delegation found out that our congresspeople are currently pushing to extend the grace period from six months to twelve, in order to, in the words of President Chen, give "students more time to get a job, so they wont be bumping into high interest rates to repay the loan."

One of the most important issues to many SMC students is the status of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) legislation. Guerrero specifically focused on this matter, pointing out that "currently it's [DACA] is caught in the courts, and it's estimated that it will stay in the courts for at least two years." During those two years, Guerrero explained that "anyone already registered with DACA is safe, but they're not allowing anyone else to register"; however, Director Boyd pointed out that already registered DACA recipients can re-register. Our representatives want to, in the words of Guerrero, "keep kicking the can down the road," in order to pass comprehensive immigration reform in the future. 

In addition to the extensive information acquired, our delegation also began to form personal relationships with the movers and shakers of D.C. One of Senator Diane Feinstein's (D-CA) aides was a former SMC student, and allowed our delegation into the chambers of Congress to sit in on both a session of the House and Senate. Though the information and advocacy were the main focus of the trip, Chen said, "it's so amazing to learn that our congressional leaders are really pushing to help the students."