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Regents Day just the beginning for student advocacy

BY GUEST OPINION | MARCH 09, 2011 7:20 AM

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On Monday, more than 300 students from the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and the University of Northern Iowa descended upon Des Moines to engage state lawmakers. Regents Day is held every March, but this year’s event was held during a critical point for our universities — unprecedented appropriations cuts are being proposed by state Legislature and Gov. Terry Branstad. The large mass of students banded together with a single voice and delivered a simple message: Stop disinvesting in our education and our state’s future. Over the last two years alone, state funding for our universities has been reduced 20 percent, and lawmakers and Branstad are proposing cutting an additional 6 percent ($42 million) this year.

At the event, students from all three institutions spoke passionately about their school, their education, and their college experience with legislators. The wide range of students who addressed their concerns on Monday demonstrated that higher education doesn’t benefit just Democrats; it doesn’t benefit just Republicans. It benefits everyone in Iowa, as it provides countless intellectual, cultural, and economic benefits to our state.

The proposed cuts and those previously enacted will not only force students around to state to pay more overall tuition dollars, but they have led to fewer course offerings, larger class sizes, and the elimination of programs for all Iowa public universities. The tens of thousands of students who attend our public universities today will become tomorrow’s teachers, lawyers, doctors, legislators, artists, business leaders, and entrepreneurs. They will go on to make a profound difference in their communities. If our state continues to disinvest in us, can our state expect that we will invest in it?

Again, our message is clear: Iowa legislators and Branstad need to stop the cuts and stand up for public education in Iowa. The large number of students who joined together at our State Capitol on Monday and those who have been reaching out to legislators all year know as well as anyone that we are in difficult economic times. They feel it at home when their parents get laid off, deal with it when working to pay their rent and tuition, and see it at graduation when competing for scarce jobs. UI students and their families have made, and continue to make, their fair share of sacrifices; the state Legislature should not continue to balance the budget on their backs.

We also want to strongly emphasize that Iowa’s public universities have never been more important to our state’s future. Through the education of successive generations of students, no other institutions do more to grow Iowa’s population, create well-paying jobs, support Iowa industry, increase family incomes, and improve overall quality of life.

Although Monday’s event at our Capitol sent a strong signal to our elected officials, many lawmakers are still not making students and their education a priority. They blame the state Board of Regents, administrators, faculty members, and a receding recession, yet they remain the root cause of our despair. Until every legislator understands the negative consequences of cutting appropriations for our universities, our efforts must not cede, our spirits must not break, and our fight to defend public higher education in Iowa must continue.

John Rigby is the president of UISG. Lee Henely is the UISG government-relations liaison.


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