Friday, October 1, 2010

University Considers Strikes

The University of Puerto Rico system is once again considering going on strike. Students are in an uproar regarding the receipt of federal financial aide money. I’ve seen several signs across campus this week illustrating the effects of the delay in scholarship money and blaming the delay on the Governor of Puerto Rico. Today I saw a sign that included statements from students of what they are going without because of the delay in receipt of funds. The list included quotes such as “I am pregnant because I can’t afford condoms”, “I am playing volleyball in Crocs because I can’t buy shoes”, “I can’t afford gasoline”, “I can’t buy textbooks.” While I sympathize with the students, I don’t think blaming the Puerto Rican government and conducting a strike is the correct answer.

Changes made by the Obama administration to the U.S. Department of Education altered the way that federal financial aid is distributed and certified. Unfortunately, as the kinks are worked out of this new system, schools across the country are witnessing two weeks longer of a waiting period for the receipt of federal money(USDE, 2010). My Puerto Rican colleagues aren’t happy. It is evident that the organizers of this strike have not taken the time to research the reasons why they have not yet received their federal financial aide money. If they had, they would have learned that this problem is not confined to Puerto Rico and accordingly is not the fault of Puerto Rican leadership.

According to the Department of Education, federal financial aide or scholarship money is to be used only for expenses directly related to education including housing, textbooks, and matriculation fees. It is a federal offence to use federal financial aid money to purchase condoms and shoes. I will not be so crass as to tell Puerto Rican students to “go get a job”, but students simply cannot rely on the federal government to cover the costs of personal expenses! The delay in receipt of your scholarship money did not make you pregnant, choosing to have unprotected sex made you pregnant.

Obama has been one of the most pro-Puerto Rican presidents in recent years. When taking office the maximum allowance for Pell Grants was 4,050$, “Obama has worked in a bipartisan way on the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee to achieve an increase in the Pell Grant to $5,400 over the next few years. As President, Obama will continue to work to ensure that the maximum Pell Grant award is increased for low-income students, including Puerto Ricans. (OFA)” This is particularly important when considering that the average cost of public University education in Puerto Rico is under $3,300 per year (UPR, 2010). In fact, my professors at University of Puerto Rico have explained to me that there are huge numbers of students to enroll in a University with no intention of attending classes so as to take home the extra money they receive in scholarships. The University of Puerto Rico places a strong emphasis on attendance because they recognize that, if they don’t, some students will never attend classes.

Like everyone else who receives scholarship money from the federal government, I hope that measures can be taken to streamline the process in the near future. Students should have access to money as soon as is possible. In the meantime, students of the University of Puerto Rico should research the issues and write letters to the U.S. Department of Education instead of going on strike.

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