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Higher Ed Day participation reduced

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Currently, USA only plans to send fifty-five students to Higher Education Day this year.

Currently, USA only plans to send fifty-five students to Higher Education Day this year.

Shannon Lundgren

Shannon Lundgren

Currently, USA only plans to send fifty-five students to Higher Education Day this year.

Natasha Spradlin, Reporter

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Alabama’s fourteen public universities come together in Montgomery on Higher Education Day to stand before state lawmakers and rally for one-third of the Alabama Education budget. The event was open to all students in the past and the University of South Alabama frequently had the largest university delegation, with more than two hundred students. However, the Higher Education Partnership recently announced the rally will be limited to one bus per university on Feb. 22, 2018. The change reduces student participation from the hundreds to fifty-five students.

SGA College of Education Senator Chelsia Douglas believes the Higher Education Partnership instituted a limit on student participation to provide better representation and facilitate a meaningful, personable experience for all involved.

“Normally, it is as many students as the university can bring,” Douglas said. “You come and you holler at the rally, you walk in the parade, you go outside and sit on the lawn and then you head back to your university. There are a whole lot of students and a small group of legislators and it has been hard to get a word in or a point across.”

According to Assistant Director of Governmental Relations Nick Lawkis, two-thirds of the education budget used to go to grades K-12 and one-third would be distributed between Alabama’s fourteen public universities. Now, roughly 25 percent of the total budget goes to higher education while K-12 receives around 69 percent. Lawkis is hopeful the change in structure on higher education day will create lasting impact on legislators.

“Tuesdays and Thursdays are the days legislators are actually in session,” Lawkis said. “During a session, if they don’t break for lunch, they don’t come out. They stay on the floor and debate their bills. So a lot of the challenge is making sure we get them out. What we are trying to do this year is get a smaller group of students from each institution and get more legislators out of the building to network and spend more one on one time.”

The fifty-five students who will attend Higher Education Day on behalf of USA have been preselected by SGA. SGA Attorney General Grace Newcombe said they sought students who actively participate in conversations on campus regarding the education system and Alabama’s current political state.

“I will be meeting with those invited at the beginning of Spring semester to inform them of the changes made to Higher Education Day as well as why it is important to us as college students,” Newcombe said.

SGA declined to announce the selected students at this time.

“We looked at students we believed would communicate to our legislatures the importance of higher education and its impact on us as students.” Newcombe said. “There is no one size fits all definition of leadership because everyone leads differently. Our goal when selecting attendees was to accurately represent the students at South Alabama. We made sure to include students from various organizations to make sure the conversations held would be diverse and represent the many different organizations on South’s campus.”

Senior Taryn Hammond is concerned the selection process is not fair. She said she feels left behind.

“I’m still a student leader even if I can’t be actively involved in an organization on campus,” Hammond said. “I’m getting my education to better myself and become a productive member in my community. My education matters too. I would’ve liked to have access to the same opportunities to share my experience.”

The opportunity to submit questions to the preselected student leaders for state legislators will be available during an event called “Falling in Love with Higher Education.” Falling in Love with Higher Education is still in the beginning stages of development but students can get involved through social media by using the hashtag: #Falling4HE

The Vanguard will continue to update students as details are released for the event.

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Higher Ed Day participation reduced