Students Travel to Support HEOP

Emily Gravett

On Tuesday, February 8, ten Colgate representatives traveled to Albany, New York in order to protest a potential 50% funding-cut for Higher Education Opportunity Programs (HEOP), as a part of Independent Student Lobby Day.

So why did this group of 8 students and 2 faculty members care about these funding cuts? Because to them, HEOP is extremely important to our Office of Undergraduate Studies (OUS).

Junior and OUS student Cassie Quirindongo said, “Often times, the conditions that qualify students for OUS are related to limited resources. Thus, many OUS students receive financial assistance via HEOP.”

Thus, this funding is a crucial issue for the eight OUS students, the OUS Multicultural Affair/Academic Advisor Christine Miller Kelly, and the OUS Assistant Director Aurelius Henderson who all went to Albany on Tuesday.

Henderson explained that he learned about the potential cut from the regional HEOP meeting which he attends every month. “That’s how we found out,” he said. “But we knew early on. It’s nothing new to us. It’s happened to us for the past 10 years.”

Quirindongo knows all too well of the consistency of such budget cuts. “It seems as though every year the governor passes a budget cut,” she said. “This is not the first year that Colgate and several other schools have organized lobbying like this.”

The students learned about the potential cuts from the OUS office and then from Henderson himself.

Quirindongo said, “Aurelius Henderson, the director of OUS, spoke to us in person and persuaded us to join him on the protest.”

But why did the group bother to protest if these type of funding cuts occur every year?

Henderson explained, “The government sees that everybody’s still showing up each year, so people still care about it, even though we know it’s a routine.”

The routine began when the Colgate representatives arrived at the legislative office in Albany around 11 a.m., joining representatives from about 60 other colleges. After registration, students and faculty began to participate in the day’s activities.

Henderson said, “Senators Kenneth P. LaValle and Assemblyman Ronald K. Canestrari came out and really fired us up.” These men motivated the students and gave them some tips on what to say when they talked to other officials.

After these speeches, there was roll call.

“Colleges were called by region to cheer as loud as possible to show their attendance but more importantly, claiming their rights to be heard,” Quirindongo said.

Next, students went up to the podium and gave personal testimonies.

Henderson said, “Some of these stories just bring tears to your eyes. They just blow you away.”

At noon, Colgate students met with Senator Dave Valesky, the representative for the Syracuse area. Quirindongo said, “He seemed to be for rebalancing the higher education budget, which is all the legislature has the power to do.”

Henderson explains the politics that occur in Albany. “The governor has to play politics and make some decisions to satisfy his base, but in his mind, he knows that the legislature will restore the funding,” he said. “They play this little political game.”

Even the senators admit to this game-playing. Quirindongo said, “Senator Valasky explained how it works for the governor to cut the budget, stress fiscal responsibility, and please conservatives. At the same time, he is aware that the legislative will do their best to restore the deficit and thus, in the long-run, it pleases both parties.”

Unfortunately, this year will be unlike any other.

Quirindongo explained. “The problem this year is that the New York State Court of Appeals found the means through which legislation usually contributes such money unconstitutional,” she said.

Because of this finding, the legislature will now have to pass a separate bill to give funds to higher education, after the governor’s budget.

Quirindongo said, “This new procedure makes not only the likelihood of restoring the budget more difficult, but it may also add a delay in the time it takes for such bills to be passed, and more importantly, for money to eventually trickle down into the reach of students.”

First-year and OUS student Genisa Babb agreed. “That is why so many people are scared,” she said.

After their talk with Senator Valasky, the Colgate group tried to visit various other senators and committees chairs offices to share their opinions about the negative effects of this proposal.

Henderson explained what would happen if the funding were cut. “Without this program, some students would probably have never been able to go to college, let alone a Colgate University,” he said. “A group of students would just get cut out of the loop.”

Babb is one of those students. “I attended the lobby to show my support with fellow students about the absurdity of the cuts,” she said. “I need that money.”

Babb recognized that she was not the only one who would be affected. “The cuts this year would be drastically life-altering for many other New York State college residents,” Babb said, “Many students would have to drop out of school and go back home because they cannot get money or loans to pay for college.”

Hopefully the colleges’ protests will be heard by the higher powers. The Colgate representatives surely feel passionate about their subject.

Quirindongo summed up why she went to Albany on Tuesday. “Well, I am an OUS student. More importantly, though, I highly value education yet I know, not everyone can afford it. Everyone should have an equal opportunity at obtaining a higher education,” she said. “We should not be so quick to deprive them of their dreams.”