Student Government Association (SGA) presidents from universities across the state joined in writing an open letter to lawmakers this week in an effort to emphasize the importance of higher education.
According to a newss release, SGA presidents collaborate through the University Student Presidents Council, organized under the Alabama Higher Education Partnership (AHEP), to advocate for the state’s public universities.
Leaders held a joint news conference on Thursday to discuss the letter, which urges state legislators to take into account recent findings by the University of Alabama Education Policy Center study. The study notes that Alabama’s public universities have endured a 34 percent decrease in funding since 2008, the second-deepest cuts in the country, and adds that “for every $1,000 increase in state higher education funding there is a reciprocal $8.7 million increase in total per capita income.”
“My peers from around the state have come together today to stand in solidarity with one another, because we understand the tremendous impact our public universities have on the well being of Alabamians,” University of Alabama SGA President Elliot Spillers said in the release.
“Because over 85 percent of the Education Trust Fund’s revenue comes from income and sales tax, we know that increasing income-earnings potential for Alabamians is one of the key ways we can increase investment opportunities for all of education: Pre-K through PhD,” Auburn University SGA President Walker Byrd said.
Gordon Stone, executive director for AHEP, noted that a letter coming from the elected officials of Alabama’s 14 public universities sends a strong message as leaders descend on Montgomery for the legislative session.
“They are elected by their peers,” Stone said. “For them to be able to speak from that perspective is an important voice.”
Stone noted that this is only the organization’s first attempt at raising awareness on the importance of higher education this year, noting that Higher Education Day, which is scheduled for Feb. 25, is one of the group’s biggest advocacy efforts.
“It’s not a one-shot attempt on our part,” Stone said. “We will continue to do this over the course of this year.”
Stone noted that, while funding is integral, the key message his organization and the SGA presidents are trying to get out is that either by “direct or close indirect” connections, higher education impacts every facet of life in the state, from healthcare to infrastructure.
“We want to make sure the legislators keep in mind that public universities are integral to success,” Stone said. “We hope they’ll recall and put some value to what we’re showing them today, which is the value of our public universities. It’s not about specific legislation at this point as much as it is helping everybody involved in public policy to understand the importance of public education.”