Between 300 and 400 students from public universities across Michigan rallied in Lansing yesterday to show state representatives and senators their concern over decreased state funding for public colleges.
The Student Association of Michigan, a combination of student governments from public universities in the state, organized the demonstration in which students marched outside the Capitol building and met with individual legislators to discuss cuts in state funding for higher education.
Part of the reason for the rally was to show opposition to a bill that passed in the state Senate on Tuesday that calls for a 3.1 percent cut in funding to public universities and community colleges. The bill has now been sent to the House Appropriations Committee.
Business School junior Alex Serwer, a Business School representative for MSA, said one of the major goals of the rally was to lobby to stop cuts in state appropriations that are expected to appear in the upcoming state budget.
He also said the rally focused on asking legislators to bring back the Michigan Promise Scholarship, which was cut from the 2010 fiscal year budget. In her budget plan last month, Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm proposed a new version of the scholarship that gives a $4,000 tax credit to students who choose to work for one year in Michigan after graduation and who go to a state university.
LSA sophomore Amanda Caldwell helped to organize the University’s participation in the rally by arranging meetings between students and legislators in their offices. She said other students, who had never lobbied before, contributed to the enthusiastic atmosphere at the rally.
“There was great school spirit, with everyone in the state coming together,” Caldwell said. “They were waving their school flags in the crowd and making a lot of noise.”
LSA senior Fiona Ruddy, who went to Lansing, said she felt the speakers at the rally made many valid points about students who feel they need to leave the state after graduating.
“Speakers talked about the fact that students don’t want to leave Michigan,” Ruddy said. “There are many students who are concerned about Michigan and grew up here who really want to stay invested in the state and don’t want to have to leave.”
Ruddy said 10 of the 15 public universities in Michigan had students attend the rally, including schools located in the Upper Peninsula like Northern Michigan University and Michigan Tech University.
Caldwell said representation from multiple schools is necessary in order to make legislators understand that students don’t want more budget cuts.
“We could all see that maybe we have rivalries in football, but we need to come together on this issue to make something happen,” Caldwell said.
The students who talked with legislators distributed a letter compiled by the Student Association of Michigan and College Democrats. The letter included statistics about how much tuition has increased over the past 15 years and explained how the government’s decisions have forced students to bear the financial burden of higher education.
According to Caldwell, the average amount of student loans is nearly $25,000. Caldwell added that students’ need for loans increases with each tuition hike.
Caldwell said the meetings with members of the state legislature were frustrating because representatives tried to defend their reasons for cutting funds for education.
“(In the offices) we kept hearing that we’re in a recession and the budget is being cut across the board,” Caldwell said. “We know we need to look at the bigger picture, but education is the foundation of that picture.”
After the rally occurred outside, students were brought into the galleries for both state representatives and state senators to see the student turnout.
Serwer said standing in the gallery made legislators connect faces with their budget cutting decisions.
“We showed that students really care about higher education,” Serwer said. “It was very, very successful.”