Canton Repository

March 24, 2004

Timken grad makes pitch to Congress for student aid

Copley Washington correspondent

WASHINGTON —— Without considerable government help, Matt Draiss could not afford college, the Canton student told a congressional panel Tuesday.

Draiss, who gained attention locally for the grit he displayed after his mother’s unexpected death last year, said that for students like him, “the golden key to earning a college education is often the assistance provided by these federal and state programs.”

A freshman at Hiram College, Draiss was asked to speak on behalf of the Student Aid Alliance, a higher-education coalition urging Congress to increase student financial aid.

He addressed an appropriations subcommittee chaired by his local congressman, Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Bethlehem Township. The subcommittee, an arm of the House Appropriations Committee, plays a key role in determining the amount of tax dollars that Congress allocates to educational programs, medical research, job training and other government services.

Draiss, 19, said a package of federal, state and private aid made it possible for him to attend Hiram College, which costs more than $25,000 a year.

“Most of my classmates come from families much like mine, with family incomes below $60,000,” he said. “Your continued support of federal financial aid programs ... is not only appreciated, but most necessary.”

Draiss led off more than a dozen witnesses who urged the subcommittee to maintain or increase funding for various educational initiatives.

A popular and acclaimed student, athlete and leader when he went to Timken High School, Draiss recalled the profound influence exerted by his mother, Linda Draiss. She died unexpectedly last March after being taken to a hospital feeling ill.

“I wouldn’t be anywhere near here without the support of my mother, who pushed me to do the things I did during school,” he said. “It’s just all in honor of her.”

Dressed in a conservative coat and tie, Draiss was serious and measured as he read his statement to the subcommittee.

“While I am here today to talk to you about the importance of financial aid in my life, I also represent the hopes and dreams of all students of Hiram College, and those of my hometown, Canton, Ohio,” he said.

Draiss expressed particular concern about the fate of the $67 million Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnerships program, the source of one of his grants. President Bush has proposed eliminating the program, which provides a match to state assistance.

Regula said there’s a good chance Congress will continue the program anyway. Bush proposed ending the program last year, but Congress chose to fund it.

Later, Draiss confessed to nervousness, a feeling that he said evaporated quickly.

Speaking to the panel, he said, “was a tremendous honor. Not very many kids have the opportunity to do this, especially as freshmen.”

Draiss flew to Washington accompanied by his father, Stephen Draiss, and grandfather, Joe Fleming.

Regula liked the fact that Draiss is majoring in education.

“We need outstanding people like yourself in the classroom,” Regula said when Draiss finished. “Thank you again for being here. Stay with your dream.”

After the hearing, Regula said he expects Congress to slightly increase federal funding for financial aid programs. But he added that since more students are taking advantage of the help, aid per student would stay about the same.