Troy University students joined college students from the state’s 14 public universities in Montgomery on Thursday to rally for increased funding for higher education.
The Higher Education Partnership of Alabama’s annual Higher Education Day began with a parade through the streets of downtown to the Alabama Statehouse and later gave students the opportunity to hear from and interact with members of the State Legislature and Gov. Kay Ivey during lunch on the lawn of the State Capitol.
Gordon Stone, executive director of the partnership, said spreading awareness of the impact of higher education is a key part of the message of Higher Education Day.
“Higher Education has a $20 billion economic impact on the State of Alabama,” Stone said. “We have 1.5 million Alabamians employed in the 12 counties where our universities are located. We only have 4.8 million people in the state, so think about the economic engines that universities help to create and are a part of. We just want to remind our leaders that when they make those budget decisions to consider the value and impact of pre-K through Ph.D.”
The Partnership advocates for the state’s public universities to receive one-third of the appropriations from the Education Trust Fund, while leaving a full two-thirds of the funding to go to Pre-K through 12th grade education. Stone said the state has allowed its appropriations to public universities to fall below 27 percent.
TROY Student Government Association President Gus McKenzie said Higher Education Day offers the opportunity for students’ voices to be heard by state officials.
“I think it is important for students to realize that their voices can be heard by those who run our government,” McKenzie said. “The education budget is not split the way we would like it to be so we are here today to ask for that one-third of the budget for higher education.”
Having representation from all of state’s public universities at Higher Education Day activities is important.
“I think it is great to see all of the colleges and students come together and work together in an effort to bring about positive change,” McKenzie said. “If it were just one or two colleges that would be one thing, but to see students from all public colleges and universities come together like this is really great.”
Justin Brown, a junior criminal justice homeland security major from McCalla, said he hoped that state officials would hear the students’ message and come through with the proper funding for higher education.
“I am involved in the Student Government Association, and I felt like it was important for me to be here today to help represent our students and their concerns,” Brown said. “I hope the leaders will hear our message and recognize the impact that our universities have on our state so that they can understand the importance of proper funding.”
For Ashlan Kelley, an Andalusia native and SGA Senator representing the College of Arts and Sciences, the message on Thursday was about “One TROY.”
“To me TROY is one of the most important universities out here because we have campuses that serve students throughout Alabama not just the Troy Campus,” Kelley said. “I just want to make sure that the voices of all TROY students are heard and that we receive the proper funding we need to support our efforts at all of our campuses.”
Gov. Kay Ivey addressed students during Thursday’s luncheon, telling those gathered that their voices were being heard by state officials.
“As Governor, I have made it my mission to improve Alabama’s education system and that will not change,” Gov. Ivey said. “This year, my education budget will again increase the amount of appropriations that I recommend go to our colleges and universities. I commend all of you for being a part of that success.”