Iowa students to lobby at the Capitol today

BY ARIANA WITT | MARCH 07, 2011 7:20 AM

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Students from Iowa’s three regent universities will show more school spirit than they typically do during their annual trip to the State Capitol today.

Instead of traditional suits and ties, their attire will be splashed with black, gold, red, and purple — the schools’ signature colors.

Roughly 300 students from the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and University of Northern Iowa will make the now-annual trip known as Regents Day to lobby legislators to make funding the state’s public institutions a priority.

UI Student Government members said they expect roughly 20 graduate students and 30 undergraduates to board two buses to Des Moines today. ISU expects 100 students to attend, and the UNI officials said they’re bringing roughly 150.

“It’s just really encouraging school spirit and reminding legislators, many of whom have gone [to UI, ISU and UNI], that these universities provide great education to the future of Iowa,” said Lyndsay Harshman, the president of the UI Council for Graduate and Professional Students .

Last year, the UI only sent 15 students, she said.

Though student-government officials sent a university-wide e-mail on Feb. 28, they said, they’re not disappointed with the number who will ultimately attend.

“We’d certainly like to have more students, but we don’t want those students missing their midterms,” Harshman said, adding she and others have garnered input from the students.

UISG President John Rigby said he will speak to legislators about the potential brain-drain effect budgets cuts may have on the state.

“Eventually, people will see the state is not investing in their future and will think, ‘Why would I attend a state school where appropriations decline and my education isn’t valued,’ ” he said.

Rep. Dave Heaton, R-Mount Pleasant, said students should remember legislators are working to provide adequate funding for many areas at once.

“It isn’t just them or whether or not they’ll be paying more in tuition,” he said. “We’re concerned about an overall sustainable budget.”

But Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, said under-funding universities creates problems when it comes to retaining graduates.

“Student voices are important, and I hope a number of those individuals talk about wanting to stay in Iowa, raise families and stimulate the economy,” she said.

Gov. Terry Branstad has proposed a 6 percent cut to higher education for fiscal 2012, though the state Board of Regents had asked for an $18 million increase in funding.

UNI students will focus on the school’s dependence on state appropriations given its large in-state population, said Joel Anderson, the president of the UNI student government.

“Every time [legislators] cut, they’re pretty much telling students and families in the state of Iowa, ‘It’s OK — we don’t need these degrees,’ ” he said.

Students from UI, ISU, and UNI plan to share personal stories with legislators during today’s lobbying, Harshman said, to add a “human element” to those affected by state cuts.

“We are definitely pushing in-state students to discuss how they are affected personally,” said Jessica Bruning, the director of ISU ambassadors for ISU’s Government of the Student Body. “We’d like to be provide legislators with a face to this growing issue.”

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