By Ember Herrick
From the sports arena to the job market, school rivalries have students competing.
However, once a year these students find common ground on the steps of the state Capitol to lobby for a common interest: money.
Utah legislators approved the Executive Appropriation Committees” solution to the $202 million budget shortfall, reducing funds to higher education and all state agencies, while managing to avoid dipping into Utah”s $120 million Rainy Day Fund.
The news comes just one day after students from 11 institutions of higher learning petitioned legislators to use the Rainy Day Fund and avoid budget cuts to higher education.
“It is almost impossible to not have higher education and public education affected somehow,” said Rep. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem.
To offset the reductions, the Executive Appropriations Committee restored $4.6 million to higher education.
“It is an investment in the state,” said Mike McKell, student lobbyist for the Utah Student Association and recent Southern Utah University graduate. “You can fund any state agency, but higher education and public education are the agencies that are going to create tax dollars.”
USA President Steve Palmer represents the 110,000 college and university students in Utah. Palmer was pleased students were able to discuss their concerns for higher education with the 75 to 80 legislators who attended the USA reception in record numbers.
“I am here at the Capitol to help legislators become aware that students are concerned about the budget as much as anyone else these days,” Palmer said.
BYU is a member of the USA and represents one third of the Utah student body.
BYUSA legislative assistant Janeal Thornock attended the reception at the Capitol and feels student involvement in the legislative process is very important.
“Things decided at the state legislature determine the quality of life of our students,” Thornock said. “They don”t determine tuition, but tax rates, minimum wage, housing and zoning laws, what is discussed and not discussed in city councils and job markets are all determined by the legislature.”
BYU and Westminster College are both private institutions which do not receive state funding and are not directly affected by tuition increases, but participated in Wednesday”s rally, Jan. 23.
Engels Tejeda, a junior from the Dominican Republic majoring in economics and political science at Westminster and Chair for the Utah Intercollegiate Assembly (UIA) delegation said Westminster is here to support the fellow schools.
“We are all students regardless of what school we go to and we think that we share common ground,” Tejeda said. “There are so many other issues that the students are allied in defending, even though tuition is not a part of our main concerns, the other issues are, and that means we share a common ground.”
Although not directly affected by state issued tuition increases, BYU students are affected by financial aid.
“We have 9,500 students on some type of financial aid at BYU,” Thornock said.
Utah”s current problem is that as tuition increases, financial aid stays the same, leaving students to resort to loans and part-time jobs to pay the tuition bill.
“Financial aid needs to move up incrementally with tuition costs so that people don”t have to go out and sign their lives away for four years of school,” Thornock said.
Julie Hutchins, 21, a senior from Sandy, Salt Lake Co., majoring in nursing, and staff member of the UIA said BYU tends to follow suit with what other universities are doing.
“Even though BYU is a private institution, financial aid affects us,” Hutchins said. “We are concerned if other universities have a rise in tuition because that may end up being a raise in tuition for us.”
But financial aid and tuition increases were not the only issues discussed at the rally.
“We are lobbying for the bonding of the buildings and also we are trying to keep tuition down,” said George Goates, Head Senator at Salt Lake Community College and representative of 60,000 part- and full-time students.
“There will be a tuition increase, but we are trying to keep it down to three percent and for that we are going to have to use the Rainy Day Fund because we are in danger of having a cap put on education,” Goates said.
Rep. Katherine Bryson, R-Orem, said this issue needs addressing.
“The possibility of capping enrollment is a big concern for me because I think students always need access to higher education,” Bryson said.
Neighboring school Utah Valley State College (UVSC) was also present at the Capitol to lobby for higher education funding.
“We are going to be the future,” said Ashlee” Crook, a senior at UVSC majoring in community health and psychology and academic chair for the International Club Council (ICC). “If you take away our education, you will be taking away future jobs and future careers.”
Crook said she is concerned UVSC would lose many students if the legislators” proposed 10, 15 or 20 percent tuition increase was implemented.
“There are a lot of areas that probably shouldn”t be cut back, but education is probably the biggest one you should funnel money into,” Crook said.
USA supports bonding because 70 percent of the buildings in the building bond are for higher education.
“We want to make sure that tuition stays low and the short fall doesn”t come out on the backs of the students, that is our main message,” Mckell said. “We want to make sure that there is financial aid so first time students don”t lose their ability to go to college.”
Palmer said all Utah college students are automatically USA members.
“To be involved in USA is basically to be involved in your own campus,” Palmer said.
“There are so many ways to get involved,” Thornock said. “We would love to have student input, students can come talk to me anytime at BYUSA.”
Palmer said USA will continue to lobby throughout the legislative session for financial aid increases from 1.1 to 2.2 million, and for $200 to $300 million in bonds to pay for higher education buildings that are needed across the state.