HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (Feb. 25, 2014) – Over 150 students from The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) will join thousands of their peers in the annual Higher Education Day rally, which will kick off at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 27, in front of the Alabama State House in Montgomery, Ala.
"Each year funding from the federal government for higher education is cut, and those costs are then passed on to students in the form of tuition increases," says Nandish Dayal, a student in the College of Nursing and the president of UAH's Student Government Association. "So the rally allows students from Alabama's 15 public universities to gather together and present a united front in asking for increased federal funding from our elected leaders."
To facilitate the effort, the SGA provides free breakfast and transportation to and from the event, and each student receives a class excusal from the Provost's Office. "They will also get a free t-shirt and are eligible to win an iPad," says Dayal. "And the student organization with the most participants wins a trophy!"
But it's not all fun and games. The topic is a serious one – and one that Dayal says is close to his heart, not just as the SGA president but also as a student, husband, and father. "College is expensive and I pay tuition just like other students," he says, "so am passionate about higher education funding issues."
That's why he regularly traveled to Montgomery throughout the past semester to meet with legislators like Representative Bill Poole and Senator Tom Whatley. He also attended the STARS Leadership & University Advocates' Conference this past summer, which he describes as "an informal setting that allows us to have an honest conversation about what higher education means."
Just what does it mean? More than many people realize, Dayal continues. "Studies show that a person with a college degree earns two times as much as one with a high school education over the course of a lifetime," he says. "So it's vital for Alabama to invest in higher education because that means more dollars coming back into the state treasury."
Unfortunately, this investment is lacking at present. According to the Higher Education Partnership, Alabama's advocacy group for the state's public universities, only 22 percent of Alabamians have a four-year degree. And with the national average at 28 percent, that limits the types of jobs the state is able to attract.
"The argument is always that universities can cover any decrease in federal funding by raising tuition, but that's not sustainable in this tough economy," says Dayal. "Not everyone can afford to pay higher tuition every year, and as a result, bright students are being prevented from achieving their full potential."
That's why, he continues, it is so important for state representatives to hear students' voices. "We are already thrilled to have 150 registered to join us at the rally, but as with any public demonstration, there is power in numbers," he says. "We want to encourage anyone who hasn't signed up yet to do so, and help us show our legislatures that we care about our own future and that of generations to follow."
Registration will remain open through 5 p.m. on Feb. 25 and can be done by visiting https://uahchargers.wufoo.com/forms/higher-education-day-signup/. Registrants will meet at the University Center at 5:30 a.m. on Feb. 27 for breakfast and buses will leave for Montgomery at 6:30 a.m. Lunch will be provided by the Higher Education Partnership following the rally on the State House lawn, and the buses will return to Huntsville by 4 p.m.