Student Government advocates on capitol hill
Members of Student Government traveled to the state capitol for Students United Advocacy Day Feb. 13 and 14.
Students met with legislators to advocate for a tuition freeze, free college and basic student resources.
The tuition freeze proposal is included in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system biennial budget request with this year reaching $350 million. The Tuition-Free College bill passed through the Senate Higher Education Committee. The bill is heading toward the Finance Committee next.
Student Government President Emma Zellmer said a tuition freeze would allow students to know how much they would be paying for the upcoming academic year.
“With tuition up by 3.5% yearly, it makes it almost impossible to budget ahead of time because you don’t even know what you’re going to be paying for the next year. Tuition freeze is really helpful because you will know exactly how much your next year will cost and also helps keep costs low,” Zellmer said.
About 100 other students from different universities such as St. Cloud, Bemidji and Winona also attended. Student Government Vice President Idman Ibrahim said it meant a lot to her to see others showing up to advocate.
“Seeing faculty and other unions showing up and making sure students have at least two years of tuition freeze was amazing,” Ibrahim said.
Idman said a tuition freeze would be the most beneficial to first-generation and international students.
“When you come into college, you don’t know what to major in, so you take general education classes, but it feels like you have to hurry up to pick a major,” Ibrahim said. “I feel if students would have two years of free college, they would have more flexibility of going into things and deciding what they want to do.”
One of the basic needs resources students advocated for was menstrual equity. Through her internship at the Women’s Center, Ibrahim noticed the number of menstrual products, raised through fundraising by the President’s Commission Status on Women, is not sustainable.
“If you don’t have enough products, you have to use something else that’s not sanitary. I’ve heard stories where some students will use the bathroom’s paper towels,” Ibrahim said.
Students United requested funds to offer free menstrual products to students at all seven state universities.
Off-campus senator David Mesta agreed, saying finding alternative ways to have accessible products would benefit MSU students.
“Fundraising is a limited source and that means faculty has to increase their budget. Having funding support would be helpful,” Mesta said.
Ending hunger on campus was another issue addressed. With the Maverick Food Pantry seeing over 300 students a week and the cost of food going up, it’s become more expensive and harder to operate. MSU students advocated to free up more grant money through the Hunger Free Campus grant.
Students also braved the cold and took to the capitol steps to rally for free college. The concept ensures every student has an opportunity to achieve a higher education degree. Zellmer said free college coincides with the tuition freeze.
“If students had two years free, they could work fewer hours to focus on their studies. I work 50 hours a week between three jobs and I still cannot afford college out of pocket. It’s no longer the concept of working really hard during the summer to pay off your next year,” Zellmer said.
Mesta said free college would help students struggling to pay for and get through college.
“I think having free college could help students be able to get their feet in the door to college and have that accessibility to get there,” Mesta said.
Zellmer noted change is happening quickly.
With the $17 billion surplus expected to increase, there will be money to fully fund the Minnesota State system’s request, something that has never been done. The state only funds a third of the cost of higher education. Despite MSU having the most students out of the seven state universities, MSU gets the least funding per student in the system.
“Typically, we barely get half of it when state statute says the state of Minnesota will fund 67% of the cost of public higher education. The last time that happened was 1999, so it’s about time we start getting back there,” Zellmer said.
Ibrahim said her biggest takeaway was having senators and legislators take time out of their days to speak with students to listen to their concerns.
“They were listening in and making time for us. That’s kind of saying ‘I put you in office.’ This is what we want as students and your constituents,” Ibrahim said.
Header photo: Student Government members traveled to Capitol Hill to advocate for a tuition freeze, basic need resources and rally for free college. (Photo courtesy of Emma Zellmer)
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