College students are visiting the home offices of U.S. Senators and U.S. Representatives during spring recess this week to demand support for President Obama’s student financial aid package which would add many billions in financial aid for low and middle-income students.

Bill Schriebler, national field director for the United States Student Association (USSA), said students across the nation have joined in the campaign for enactment of Obama’s budget that includes $115 billion for education.

“We have a student walk-out at the University of Vermont going on right now, students visiting lawmakers’s offices in Ellensburg, Washington, and lobbying by students in Arizona and Michigan,” Schreibler told the World in a phone interview. “Today, April 13, we have a town hall meeting at Drexel University in Philadelphia with Sen. Arlen Specter. We have a national call-in day to members of the House and Senate for next Tuesday, April 21.”

Obama’s plan, he said, would terminate the system of federal subsidies to private lending institutions like Sallie Mae that reap billions in profits from the student loan industry. Instead, Obama’s plan would restore direct federal loans to college and university students saving the federal government an estimated $94 billion over the next decade. It also would save students many thousands in federal loans that often swell to $60,000 to $90,000 and take decades to pay back. The banks, swollen with profits until their greed took them down, are waging a determined drive to block Obama’s plan.

“The program that President Obama has proposed makes the firmest commitment to education that we have seen in generations,” Schriebler said. “Obama is essentially turning the page on the student loan industry to provide billions more in federal grants to help students and working families go to college.”

Under Obama’s plan, funds generated by re-payment of student loans would be funneled to increase Pell Grants for low-income students and make them mandatory.

“Right now, the private lenders are telling Obama and Congress they want the system to stay the way it is,” Schriebler continued. “They want the federal government to continue paying large subsidies to finance private loan companies that issue bad loans to students. President Obama’s plan takes the nation in a new direction for education that puts students and working families first.”

When Congress returns from recess, Schriebler concluded, “The lawmakers will vote on a budget resolution that will decide whether they continue to fund private loan companies or invest in students’ future by making a promise that Pell Grants will always be available to students and working families.”

Obama’s budget for higher education comes at a time of drastic cutbacks and layoffs of faculty and staff at colleges and universities nationwide despite skyrocketing increases in tuition, room, and board.

The crisis erupted at the University of Vermont (UVM) last February when UVM President Dan Fogel announced big layoffs, termination of baseball and softball programs, and increases in tuition to close a $10.8 million deficit. Students, staff and faculty launched a fightback that resulted in a walkout of classes by nearly 1,000 students April 9.

The protesters are demanding that the layoffs be rescinded, no increase in tuition and no cuts in the sports program. At a strike rally on the campus quad, the students denounced the “starvation diet” that includes elimination of one full-time teaching position in UVMs flagship Environmental Program leaving only 5 and-a-half teaching positions for a department with 400 majors. The English Department would lose three full time positions including the only expert on Victorian literature.

Fogel has continued to stonewall, even though the Vermont legislature restored full funding for UVM as a condition for receiving funds under Obama’s stimulus package. UVM received a reported $5.4 million of that stimulus money. “You might expect some reconsideration, especially given the restoration of state funding plus the federal stimulus money that closes the current deficit,” wrote a student blogger who identified himself as Paul.

English Professor David Shiman, president of the UVM Faculty Union wrote, “We believe that our congressional delegation, in voting yes on the federal stimulus package, and our legislature’s….restoration of higher-ed funding, are doing so because of their commitment to keeping the faculty and staff needed to maintain academic quality at UVM.”

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