Students: more state funds for U

ralliers urge lawmakers to finance U projects

Molly Moker

More than 400 University supporters from throughout the state made a trip to the Capitol on Wednesday to lobby legislators for increased funding.

Lobby Day gave proponents of the University the chance to attend a House committee meeting and talk one-on-one with legislators and other participants about higher education issues.

The day was organized by the Minnesota Student Association, Graduate and Professional Student Assembly and the Legislative Network. The network is an organization of approximately 10,000 University alumni, students, faculty, staff and community supporters.

Many legislators indicated that they would like the University to receive more funding, but others said they want more information from the state before they commit to a recommendation.

Lobby Day began with a rally at the Capitol on Wednesday morning, where University supporters including MSA President Eric Dyer, Regent Maureen Reed and legislators spoke.

Recent University graduate Charles Hernick tried to fire up participants by talking about his own experiences at the University. Hernick is an employee in the University’s plant biology department.

He said he graduated with excessive debt and had difficulty entering the workforce.

“The way to pay for college is not through loans and credit card debts,” Hernick said.

House Higher Education Finance Committee Chairman Rep. Doug Stang, R-Cold Spring, said it was encouraging to see so many young people at the Capitol. “Your enthusiasm will go a long way, I can tell you that,” Stang said to the crowd.

He said students could greatly influence how much money the House will propose when its recommendations are released in a month.

“You need to see more for the high tuition you pay,” he said. “You want more, and you expect more.”

Senate Higher Education Budget Division Chairwoman Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said she was impressed with the number of students who came to support the University.

Supporters received Pappas with loud cheering and applause when she pledged her support to fulfill the entire $155.5 million bonding bill.

Not all legislators offer support so quickly.

Rep. Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, did not meet with students Wednesday, but said hearing student testimonies does not translate into automatic funding.

“There are some projects I would like to see receive more funding,” Knoblach said. “But I would want to wait and see what the (state financial) forecast is going to be before I decide how much the University should receive.”

Students came from Duluth, Morris, Crookston and the Twin Cities to ask specific questions about their campuses or the University at large.

University junior Teneka Graves said she wanted to see legislators put an end to rising tuition.

“They complain and complain about our graduation rates and how it’s taking so long,” Graves said. “But it’s because we have to work so much and take out so many loans.”

University of Minnesota-Duluth first-year student Tiffany Varilek said approximately 80 students made the two-and-a-half hour bus ride to lobby at the Capitol. Varilek said in the past Duluth student attendance was closer to 120.

Legislative Network coordinator Mike Dean said he thought attendance was similar to last year, with at least 400 participants. Dean said more than 600 people were registered to attend the event.

But Crookston junior Megan Conrad said she was disappointed with the turnout.

“Two years ago this was huge,” Conrad said. “There’s not that many here this year.”

She said she thought this year’s event was unorganized and she did not like that she had to meet with a legislator individually instead of with a small group like in years past.

“There’s more impact when you come in as a group,” Conrad said.