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Students rally for better education
A couple thousand students, faculty, and alumni gathered in front of the Statehouse and Capitol last Thursday for the 11th annual Higher Education Day. The gatherers urged legislators to increase funding for universities across the state.
Governor Robert Bentley spoke to the crowd and joined in asking legislators to increase the state budget for higher education to 33 percent.
“We have great universities across the state, but we need an innovation of funds—especially with research institutions,” said Bentley.
The funds allocated to research institutions are matched by federal funds. UAB is Alabama’s key research institution, thus it demands a large amount of state budget dollars.
Alabama is ranked 39th in funding levels, according to The Education Law Center’s 2012 National Report Card.
“We’ve seen a slow improvement in the last few years, but we’re still six percentage points below what we need to be on a regionally competitive level,” said Gordon Stone, Executive Director of Higher Education Partnership.
Students were scattered across the Capitol’s lawn and front steps with signs. Even university mascots and bands assembled to show their support for the students’ messages.
On average, 68 percent of higher education funding comes from sources other than the state. Nationally, the average drops to 53 percent, placing Alabama 15 percentage points behind.
“That 68 percent of ‘sources other than the state’ is typically made up of students and their families. We’ve reduced the per capita income, but that still puts students at $700 behind the regional average per student,” explained Stone.
UAB’s Undergraduate Student Government Association (USGA) organized a trip to Montgomery. Over 75 students and faculty, as well as mascot Blaze, attended.
“Higher Ed Day is an opportunity for university and college students from around the state to make a statement to our elected officials that increasing higher education funding is crucial to the future of our state. With a strong attendance, we sent our message to our state leaders,” said Katie Crawford, Vice President of UAB USGA.
The Higher Education Partnership’s alliance with Student Teams Achieving Realistic Solutions (STARS) has created a statewide purpose to “provide a common student student voice and message between all 15 universities,” according to the Higher Education Partnership’s website. STARS is organized through each university’s Student Government Association.
UAB’s STARS team prepared for Higher Education Day by creating and distributing handbills, yard signs, and fliers. The group set up informational tables and encouraged students to sign up in advance via email or sign-in sheets.
“This year’s Higher Ed Day had a higher number of participants from UAB than it has had in quite a few years. I also think this was the start of a new beginning. I believe next year there will be even more students to attend,” said Michelle Hodges, UAB STARS Coordinator.
Higher Education Day is STARS’ biggest event of the year. STARS also participates in College Colors Day and USGA programs and services.
“STARS’ acronym alone tells how important Higher Ed Day is. Although it may be hard to reach the state funding issue, it allows STARS students and participants to approach the situation, as a team, realistically. I think overall, this year’s Higher Ed Day was a success,” said Hodges.
The Higher Education Partnership encourages students to actively voice their message for more state funding, even after Higher Education Day. The partnership dedicates a section of their website to advocacy tools that suggests for students to send letters to the editors of newspapers and magazines, correspond, and meet with legislators.
“I encourage all UAB students to contact their representatives and senators to communicate their desire to lower tuition rates and generally support higher education for public universities,” said Crawford.
The Higher Education Partnership plans to continue Higher Education Day in upcoming years.