Students rally for more higher education funding

The UNA Student Government Association recently traveled to Montgomery to rally for more funding from the state legislature.

Students across the state from many of the public universities converged at the state house to let lawmakers know that higher education in Alabama is important.

“We are in somewhat dire straights for our universities in this state,” said Alabama Governor Robert Bentley. “We have not used our universities to create jobs in our state.”

Bentley urged students in attendance to stay in school, get their educations and stay in Alabama after graduation.

In years past, money has been drastically cut from higher education, said Gordon Stone, executive director of the Alabama Higher Education Partnership.

“Whatever (money) is left over from K-12 goes to higher education, and that cannot continue,” Stone said. “Our public colleges and universities are economic engines for our state.”

The Alabama Higher Education Partnership believes education is from pre-kindergarten until students obtain Ph.Ds, Stone said.

UNA and other universities have lost a large amount of funding from the state, said UNA President Bill Cale.

“During periods of proration, which does not include our current year, our university lost a little more than $10 million in state appropriations, which is a little over 30 percent of the total amount received from the state,” Cale said. “We’ve coped with that through a combination of increased tuition and elimination of the contingency accounts.”

UNA’s contingency accounts included accounts that were designed to meet unexpected needs. During years of proration in Alabama, UNA has also stopped funding a number of initiatives on campus, Cale said.

To cope with proration, Cale said the university also hasn’t given pay raises to staff and faculty and has frozen some positions.

“We’ve made a really concerted effort to leave academic programs untouched,” he said.

The state needs to return to the days of K-12 getting two-thirds of the education trust fund and the remaining one-third going to higher education, Stone said.

Vice President for Business Affairs Steven Smith said he remembers when the universities in the state received two-thirds of the education trust fund. He said the university has been smart with budgeting and spending during the recent years when the state legislature has cut funding.

“We’ve never gone out there and looked at what we are going to (get from the state) and budgeted on that,” Smith said.

Cale and Smith said if the university had the additional funding that has been cut in years past, they could give cost of living adjustments and hire faculty into positions that have been left empty in the past.

With additional funding, the university could expand its academic initiatives and improve the performing arts programs, Cale said.

Higher Education Day in and of itself generates action in the legislature directly for higher education, Cale said.

“It places (legislators) in a very public setting where they are asked to come forward and state a position, which I think is really valuable,” Cale said.

SGA should form a student committee that focuses primarily on legislative issues and takes part in activities like letter writing in order to find different ways of interacting with legislators for more higher education funding, Cale said.