MONTGOMERY — College students from north Alabama were among the hundreds who rallied Thursday in front of the Statehouse to encourage lawmakers to boost higher education spending.
“We’re here to show that we care about tuition dollars and where our money goes,” said Will Riley of Tuscumbia, president of the University of North Alabama’s Student Government Association.
Riley said increases in tuition and a cut in federal grants have meant more students are taking less credit hours and thus delaying their graduation dates.
“They have to spread out classes, he said. “Their scholarships just can’t cover it.”
Gov. Robert Bentley told the crowd of more than 2,000 students, faculty, alumni and supporters that higher education is key to job creation. He encouraged students to contact their lawmakers because “the budget is now in their hands.”
In his 2014 budget proposal, Bentley suggests a $1.44 billion budget for higher education, a 1 percent increase over this year. Higher education in Alabama gets 27 percent of the state education budget and K-12 the remainder, according to the Higher Education Partnership. The advocacy group wants to increase the amount to 33 percent.
“We think the annual rally has a positive impact on the Legislature and is important as a visual reminder,” said Clif Davis of the partnership.
Nikki Messer, a UNA sophomore from Huntsville, said tuition hikes impact nearly all students.
Messer is taking 17 credit hours this semester, and is a residence hall advisor and works a part-time retail job.
“I have a couple of scholarships, but I still had to take out a loan,” Messer said. “A (tuition increase) means maybe not going on spring break or working full-time on Christmas break.
“This is money that comes out of our pockets.”
Associated Press writer Kathy Wingard contributed to this report. TimesDaily Montgomery Bureau chief Mary Sell Mary Sell can be reached at mary.sell@TimesDaily.com.