Signs boasting a better future for education in the state of Alabama scattered the Capitol lawn Thursday morning as the sound of cheering students and a blast of trumpets could be heard from the statehouse steps.
The annual Higher Education Day took place in Montgomery on Feb. 22 and included students from the 14 public colleges and universities from around the state.
Auburn University SGA’s Lobby Board was a big presence at the event with around 30 students representing the school.
Schyler Burney, incoming SGA vice president, said that Higher Education Day was an important part of what SGA Lobby Board does.
“It’s something that is really special to us,” Burney, junior in economics, said. “Throughout the year, our Lobby Board comes together and really forms relationships with the legislators. So to be able to come out today with the other universities and form relationships with those other universities is incredibly important.”
Burney said the day is an opportunity to form relationships with the other higher education institutions within the state.
“It’s so easy to do on an individual university level, but when you come together as a state, it makes a bigger impact,” she said. “It’s really fun to be out here with Alabama, AUM and Athens State as well as others.”
Alabama Sen. Tom Whatley was pleased to see the representatives from Auburn University in front of the state house chanting cheers like Bodda Getta and touting signs that displayed support for the state Legislature.
“It means a lot when Auburn University students come down for Higher Education Day because I want to make the distinction between what Auburn offers and what other institutions offer,” the Auburn senator said.
Auburn boasts a student body comprised of nearly 60 percent in-state students and 40 percent out-of-state students and is the premier research institution in the state, according to Whatley.
“Jobs come out of Auburn University, development comes out of Auburn University and industry comes out of Auburn University,” Whatley said. “That’s what these guys stress to legislators when they are up here talking about funding for higher education.”
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Auburn student Michael Bennett, freshman in political science, was optimistic about attending his first Higher Education Day.
“We are out here today advocating for all of the 14 four-year state universities across Alabama, specifically for Auburn University," Bennett said. "We are talking about getting more funding for education in the Education Trust Fund, which has recently passed. Not only that but also all of the bills that have recently been passed to make Auburn a better place to work and for people to make a living and for faculty."
Lee County Rep. Joe Lovvorn joked that he wouldn’t talk Auburn basketball with all of the other schools that were in attendance, but he said he was proud of Auburn for showing up and showing such great support for the initiatives in the state House and Senate.
Alabama President Pro Temp Del Marsh encouraged students to go speak with their representatives and to make their voices heard among the crowd.
"You’re standing on the statehouse lawn, it’s your lawn," Marsh said. "This is your state. ... We can invest in solutions, or we can invest in problems. Investing in education is investing in a solution."
Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon echoed the sentiments of many in attendance.
“When it comes to the higher education priorities, we took time to make sure that we looked at the funding for higher education in a fair and equitable way," McCutcheon said. "We made sure that all universities had a voice. These universities produce good folks for the state of Alabama so we can keep this state moving forward."
SGA’s Lobby Board will return to the statehouse on March 6 for their Lobby Day, where the 36 member students will meet with legislators to discuss big ideas for the funding and future of Auburn University specifically.
“I really think it shows the power that the students make on the Legislature," said Ashley Satterfield, a representative for Lobby Board. "These legislators are elected officials, so they work for us – it’s very important to remember that."