As part of a statewide, student-led effort to increase financial support for Kansas universities, members of the Student Government Association at Fort Hays State University conducted a news conference this morning to announce a "Rally for Higher Education."
Mitchell Hall, FHSU's student body president, said the rally would consist of a letter-writing campaign to state legislators by student senators. The senators will write the letters during tonight's SGA meeting in the Black and Gold Room of FHSU's Memorial Union.
Kansas Rep. Eber Phelps, D-Hays, will speak to the student senators before they begin writing the letters.
The SGA meeting begins at 7 p.m., and Hall encouraged students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the university to attend the meeting and participate in writing letters to the Kansas Legislature.
Dr. Edward H. Hammond, FHSU president, watched as Hall and Kiley Eisenhour, SGA legislative affairs director, signed a letter to legislators at this morning's news conference to launch the campaign.
"I commend our student leaders for taking the initiative to encourage greater financial support for higher education from the Kansas Legislature," President Hammond said. "Everyone is aware that the state has been struggling with declining revenues, and that has required sacrifices in all sectors including K-12 schools and higher education. However, first-class education at all levels has been one of the advantages that has elevated the quality of life in Kansas and made us the envy of most states. The Legislature must endeavor to restore sufficient funding for education at all levels just as quickly as possible. Our children and our future depend on it."
President Hammond pointed out that FHSU had been able to withstand the potential negative impact of reductions in state funding. "We made the decision to hold the line on tuition, keeping our increases at just over 6 percent last year and just over 9 percent this year, while all the other Regents universities imposed double-digit tuition increases," he said. "As a result, our enrollments grew by more than 13 percent last year and more than 15 percent this year, far outstripping growth at the other universities. The growth from this 'Affordable Success' strategy produced sufficient new revenue to maintain the quality of education at FHSU."
The president warned, however, that the university's three-year growth strategy cannot continue indefinitely because the university will soon outgrow its facilities and resources. "The Legislature must step up to the plate and provide adequate funding," he said. "I'm proud that our students are making their voices heard in such a responsible way on such a vital issue."
Hall said the idea for the statewide rally grew out of a demonstration last year at Kansas State University. Students at K-State packed the library to protest a reduction in hours resulting from cuts in the state budget for Kansas Board of Regents institutions. Hall said that K-State officials rescinded their decision to reduce library hours following the student demonstration.
As a result, the Regents' Student Advisory Council -- student presidents from the six state universities -- put together this year's "Rally for Higher Education."
"While each institution is doing something this week, we're all going about it in our own way," Hall explained. "We chose this model as more effective than confrontational tactics that might be used at K.U. or K-State. Pitt State and Emporia State are doing things similar to what we are doing."
The entire week of Nov. 3-7 was set aside as the "Rally for Higher Education" at state universities. "We want to encourage any citizen who believes in higher education to speak or write to legislators to increase support for higher education and for the future of our state," Hall said. "At least don't cut us!"