Students from Kentucky universities defend higher education

Photo by Jenny Rohl/TheNews

Story by Ashley Traylor, Staff writer 

In light of budget cuts to higher education, students from nine universities took a stand against Gov. Matt Bevin and defended higher education at the Capitol Rotunda Feb. 13.

Bevin decided on a 4.5 percent cut to higher education last fiscal year, in which the Kentucky attorney general, Andy Beshear, sued Bevin for his actions and pushed to restore funds in court. The court ruled in Beshear’s favor.

Regardless of it not being a budget year, Clint Combs, Student Government Association president, helped plan the Rally for Education, along with student body presidents from eight Kentucky universities.

“Students don’t see their pockets being affected until it is a budget year, so it’s hard to recruit students to come up here if they don’t see that direct impact,” Combs said.

Students from Northern, Eastern and Western Kentucky University, the University of Louisville, Morehead State University, Lindsey Wilson College, Spalding University, the University of Kentucky and Murray State gathered in Kentucky’s capitol building.

Some made signs that read: “Education should not be a debt sentence,” “Help fund success, not drop out rates,” “Don’t throw shade, give me aid,” “Don’t make me fret about debt,” “Don’t gamble with education” and “CAP helps me get my cap and gown.”

At the rally, 14 guest speakers discussed reprioritizing higher education and funding the Kentucky lottery, which is college-funded scholarships and grants.

Secretary of State Alison Grimes was the first to speak, opening the rally.

Grimes

Grimes said higher education is the key to put Kentucky back on solid ground by improving civic engagement, maintaining a healthy commonwealth and growing the economy.

“We will fight every step of the way for our students,” Grimes said. “You are the future of this state.”

She said she wants to see legislation that helps students attain degrees with less debt.

Jay Todd Richey, Western Kentucky University’s student government president, said since 2008, the amount of state funding has been cut by 32 percent. He said Bevin took it a step further last year when he cut $41 million.

“This is wrong for students,” Richey said. “This is bad for Kentucky. This is unacceptable.”

He said the Kentucky lottery has been used as a “piggy bank” because nearly $30 million has been diverted from the lottery funding annually, leaving many students without financial aid.

Beshear said the key to making Kentucky strive is investing in higher education.

“There is no question education paves, and education saves,” Beshear said.

Beshear said a big threat to education is legislators trying to directly control universities.

Senate Bill 107 would allow the governor to disband any university board if it is dysfunctional.

“That is a threat I cannot and will not allow for you,” Beshear said.  

Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles said he believes in education because he grew up on a tobacco farm, and his parents were the first ones in either of their families to attend college. He said growing up, his parents told him if he worked and studied hard he could become anything he wanted.

He said there is more student loan debt in America than credit card debt, and because of that, higher education needs to be made affordable.

Quarles challenged students to communicate with their legislators and build relationships with them.

Sen. Max Wise, educator at the University of Kentucky, said we need to fulfill the powerball promise: need-based financial aid that helps fund College Access Program (CAP) and Kentucky Tuition Grant (KTG).  

Rep. James Kay also stressed the importance of the powerball promise and restoring the funds for those who need the financial aid to receive higher education.

Ashley Simpson, junior from Lindsey Wilson College, said the rally was a mix of each political party’s perspectives, which she enjoyed because it was not one-sided.

“It wasn’t a bash fest, like you see on the news,” Simpson said. “It was solely all of us here for education, which was one thing that will completely change the world.”

She said today starts a big movement in education, and when she becomes a teacher, she hopes this rally will benefit her students.