Students’ Passion about Higher Ed Costs Leads to Super PAC

By Nicole Crossey, ’16, and Andrea Stickley, ’14
Widener University

WidenerTeacherWhat’s wrong with the kids of today? Young adults in today’s world are subjected to such wide-sweeping negative descriptors as being “socially apathetic” and “politically ignorant.” The reason that these labels might hold true, and be somewhat illuminating, is because we live in a society where a complex and out-of-touch political system has, for the most part, discouraged participation of young adults – leaving many to feel left out and alienated. Recognizing the problem, and wanting to be a facilitator of change, Dr. John Wesley Leckrone reached out to his American Government class at Widener University – asking the 14 freshman honors students if they wanted to be instruments of political change.

With everyone “on-board” for the project, the class decided that it would focus on an issue that affected each of them personally, as well as the nation in general: the cost of higher education. To describe this as a controversial subject would be an understatement. Many students have, and currently are, mortgaging their futures for the cost of an education. For many of these students, this debt will likely affect the rest of their lives. As a result of lively planning discussions, the Super Political Action Committee, known as College Students Concerned by College Costs, or CSC³, was born during the fall 2012 semester at Widener.

Widener_SuperPACAt first, the Super PAC was solely an educational experiment delving into the national federal election process and researching whether higher education (and its costs) manifested itself in any form during the various campaigns. After compiling and correlating research, the class came to the conclusion that discussions pertaining to the cost of higher education were cursory at best, and that the entire political process was not only out of touch regarding college students, but was blatantly ignoring college students. In the early days of CSC³, the main objective was to raise awareness and educate policymakers in order to facilitate the discussion of higher education costs. The Super PAC did not set out to advocate for a specific policy solution.

The primary issues that the Super PAC founders wanted to address were the difficulty of paying for college when families are strained financially, the difficulty of paying down student loans in a bad economy, and the real costs of college attendance. In an effort to inform prospective college students about the rising cost of college and to initiate discussion about the cost of higher education, CSC³ believed that social media was the perfect outlet to raise awareness and generally have a “voice.” Through the creation of a website and Twitter and Facebook accounts, the class hoped to guide prospective college students so that students could make better financial decisions in regards to the costs associated with college – not just those that must be paid today, but the bill(s) that would be due in the future. After spending a semester examining political campaigns and researching higher education costs, the class realized that the only way to garner any political clout was to raise funds.

The end of the fall 2012 semester did not mean the end of CSC³. The Super PAC carried over into the spring 2013 semester with Dr. Leckrone in another honors course, including many of the same students. This class also was part of an undergraduate research collaboration with professors and students in education and business in support of a project for The New American Colleges and Universities. During the spring semester students researched why the cost of college is increasing and publicized the Super PAC through social media. The goal for CSC³ was to expand the audience beyond students to include parents and legislators. The Super PAC wanted to be a part of implementing change that affects more than just those around them.

Widener_oskin_buildingAs part of Student Lobbying Day sponsored by the American Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania, the class went to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to spread their message to state legislators. The Super PAC hoped to gain support for Senate Bill No. 420, which earmarks more of the state budget for college grants, something seen as positive step to reducing the debt load since grants do not have to be repaid.

Taking this trip to the state capital allowed the students to get a perspective of how the legislative process worked and the necessary steps to implement change. It also allowed them to get their voice out there and start spreading information about their Super PAC to those in the political sphere. While CSC³ will continue its original focus on raising awareness among students, it is motivated to continue working with the legislature on actions that can help defer the cost of college. While the goal of the spring semester started out as raising money for the Super PAC in hopes of gaining political clout, the Student Lobbying Day experience proved to be much more educational for the students of CSC³.

This fall, a new group of students will take the reins for CSC³. Dr. Leckrone will continue the Super PAC with his Political Science 101 class of freshmen honor students. Past members of CSC³ will continue to work with them to keep the Super PAC focused on its original goals as well as allowing it to grow. The Super PAC is currently figuring out how to go about fundraising, the money from which would be used to promote the Super PAC and spread their research and ideas to people. What started out as a small, classroom-based idea has turned into an authentic Super PAC with a promising future. The students involved in CSC³ hope that it will continue well into the future and have an impact on raising awareness about the cost of college and enacting change.