Hundreds of students from public universities across Alabama came to Montgomery to urge lawmakers for more funding for higher education Thursday, April 9.
The annual Higher Education Day is organized by the Higher Education Partnership with cooperation from each universities’ SGA.
Approximately 30 students from Auburn attended this year’s Higher Education Day.
Gordon Stone, executive director of the Higher Education Partnership, said they want to raise the funding for higher education to one-third of the Education Trust Fund. The current bill in the state Senate gives higher education 25 percent of the $5.96 billion budget.
Stone led the rally in front of the Statehouse, and, in between speeches by members of legislature and Gov. Robert Bentley, Stone spoke in a tent preacher revival style about the need to fund higher education.
“Do you know that if (higher education) were funded at one-third [of the ETF] last year, just last year, we would have had 570 million more dollars in higher ed, and your tuition, I want to bet, probably wouldn’t have gone up,” Stone said.
Stone also cited a report from the University of Alabama that found for every $1,000 invested in higher education, income improves by $8.7 million.
“Our 14 public universities aren’t just talk,” Stone said as the crowd shouted “one-third.” “We are fight.”
Bentley spoke the crowd and thanked them for coming.
“Higher education is what we have to have in order to have an advanced state,” Bentley said. “Every year that I’ve been Governor, we have had an increase in higher education funding.”
Bentley’s 2016 budget proposal increased higher education funding by $55 million, an increase of 3.5 percent, but the state Senate released a budget Wednesday, April 8, that only increased funding by $3.3 million, an increase of 0.25 percent.
“The question will be, what is the ultimate outcome,” Stone said after the rally. “It’s more likely to be somewhere in between those [numbers].”
Stone said he was encouraged by the chairman of the House Ways and Means committee, Rep. Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa), tell the crowd he wants to increase higher education funding.
“That’s why we do this, because we want them to know when they’re standing up there looking at that audience, and every one of those faces that they see represents a person that wants to change lives,” Stone said. “A person that wants to achieve dreams. A person that wants make a difference.”
SGA President Walker Byrd said he thought the day went well.
“It was cool to see all 14 public universities come support and rally for more higher education funding, because we know it’s something that’s been decreasing over the past decade or so, and it’s something we need.”
Byrd said he hopes the legislature will see the impact of higher education has on the state.
“These public universities are the economic drivers of the state of Alabama,” Byrd said.
Michael Bullington, SGA assistant vice president of external affairs, said he hopes the day shows Auburn has an active group of people on campus that are concerned about higher education funding.
“At the least, we were the best dressed group out of all the schools for sure,” Bullington said.