Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Internship at Arizona Students' Association

This semester, I had the honor and the privilege of being a part of history for Arizona students, and I owe it all to the Arizona Students' Association for accepting me as an intern.

For those of you who don't know who the Arizona Students' Association is, it is a student-run, student-funded, student-directed organization that advocates on behalf of students for more affordability and accessibility to higher education. Their four main focuses are on tuition, books, financial aid and total cost of attendance.

This semester, we played a major role in a lot of excellent campaigns to meet this goal. One of the things that we accomplished this semester, which I am very proud of personally, was that we were able to kill HB 2675, the minimum tuition contribution bill. This bill, introduced by Representative Kavanagh in the Arizona house was going to require all public university students in Arizona to pay a minimum of $2000 out of pocket in order to qualify for financial aid.

Arizona Representative Kavanagh (R)
While his intentions were good, and he only wanted to make sure that students had "skin in the game" and were invested in their education, this bill had a lot of potential to hurt Arizona students, especially those who were truly in need of financial aid, came from a rough background, and were  hoping to get a good education in order to better their lives and secure a good life for their families and future children.

Arizona being one of the lowest ranking states for financial aid in the United States (51 out of 52 including Puerto Rico and Washington D.C.), it is already hard enough for students to be able to afford an education especially after the state withheld nearly 1.4 billion dollars that we promised to go to higher education, which forced universities to use up all the money they had saved to protect tuition rates and eventually have to raise tuition by around 90% in the past 5 years, and 40% in just the previous year alone! Considering that my full $7500 federal student loans I take out annually on top of the $3000 grant I received last year barely pays for tuition and books, while at the same time having to maintain a job to pay for housing and food, I don't blame students for getting riled up about the issue.
Arizona Representative Campbell (D)

Representative Campbell made some excellent points in the Appropriations Committee where the bill was being held (and where Kavanagh was chair) when he said: "There are over a thousand students who said they disagree with this bill, and not a single person said that they support it. Who are you trying to pass this legislation for?" And when he said, "Nobody is asking for this bill. I don't understand why you are so desperate to get it passed. This is just creating another unnecessary barrier for students who want to get a good education."

After witnessing the dialogue that took place in that committee from both defenders of the bill and by those who supported it, as well from a lot of people who attended the committee in order to get it shut down and hearing the responses from different representatives, I truly gained a new respect for Representative Campbell who truly fought very hard to help protect our education.

This bill did pass in committee, and for a moment, I was very concerned. But ultimately, this was a victory for students, thanks to the efforts of the Arizona Students' Association, which I was able to be a part of, and because of the amount of support and effort we were able to get from fellow students, truly showing that students do have a voice.

Through my internship, with the Arizona Students' Association, I was able to directly lobby my legislatures, organize students under one voice, and was able to learn more about the political process and ultimately how to effectively campaign for something you believe in.

We have made a lot of efforts to reach out to students which has given us leadership skills, such as phonebanking, finding volunteers, making announcements in front of classes and creating databases. We also had a lot of success with our vote campaign where we were able to register thousands of students to vote and effectively increase our political voice.

Now we are working on the Quality Education and Jobs Act to help increase state-based financial aid by over $150 million and increase educational spending for higher education by an additional $150 million, through a 1-cent sales tax. This will certainly become another historic victory for Arizona students which thanks to the Arizona Students' Association, I can say I was a part of.

And although this internship has taken a lot of time and effort throughout the semester, it is about to come to an end in the next few weeks. I have definitely learned a lot and have acquired a lot of new skills. I will benefit from this experience for the rest of my life and have had an opportunity to make some changes through my own efforts and contributed to my own education with some real-world experience. I absolutely recommend this internship for anyone who is interested in expanding their horizons and furthering their education while learning a ton of new skills. I met a lot of great friends. I had a lot of great experiences. And now I am looking forward to the future where I will probably pursue an advanced internship in the fall.


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