PSU Grad Students March on Old Main

By Mallory Lane

Published 04/03 2014 05:33PM

Updated 04/03 2014 06:17PM

PENN STATE, UNIVERSITY PARK - Penn State graduate students are hitting the pavement to protest rising health care costs.

Dozens of students are worried proposed changes to their health care plans will keep many of them from returning to school in the fall.

The changes include a 30% increase in insurance premiums, which will raise some students plans by nearly $2,000.

Thursday, members of the university's Graduate Student Association organized a march on Old Main to get the community involved in the debate.

"I think the next step is to be constantly reminding them," grad student Enica Castaneda said.

"This is not acceptable, these costs can't go up and they need to be a lot less than they are now," Javier Motta said.

"This is not a graduate student issue, it's not just a Penn State issue, it's a community issue," grad student Jeffrey Masko said.

Masko said no net loss is the goal.

"We can't take home less money," he said. "Some of us are on food stamps, I'm on food stamps, myself."

Penn State graduate students make between $14,000 and $23,000 a year and many of them are paid part-time. Combine that with the cost of living in State College, plus a 30% increase in insurance premiums, Masko said students will struggle.

"I'll have to move back and this is not an isolated case," he said. "There are many students like me that this is going to effect."

"They need to speak out," State College Mayor Elizabeth Goreham said. "The grad students need to be heard."

Goreham is behind them.

"They are learning, so they don't get a full salary and to burden them with double or triple the cost of health care would be a disadvantage to them and to the university as well," she said.

Penn State says they do value these graduate students work and know how much their research matters.

So far, they've offered a 3% increase in pay and have created a task force to find other solutions for the health care plan. Those recommendations are due July 1.

Enica Castaneda said it's not enough.

"That's too much time," she said. "We'll be gone by then. We want an answer by May 1."

Students say they'll continue to meet with members of administration to discuss their concerns and are hoping a mutual agreement will be found soon.

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