SALT LAKE CITY- Higher education is an issue that affects thousands of Utah residents, and last Friday, the Utah Student Association gathered at the State Office Building to discuss the issue with state legislators.
The student association’s executive board is composed of the student body presidents of 10 Utah universities. “Our job is to lobby and advocate on behalf of students to the state legislature and government, ” said Doug Fiefia, Utah State University’s student body president and president of the Utah Student Association.
A major issue that the group has tackled in the past is sexual assault. They teamed with the White House and were the first to hold conference calls with the First Lady of the United States’ Chief of Staff to extend awareness and promote solutions. Other state student associations followed their lead.
Among states nationwide, the State of Utah has the third-lowest cost of tuition in four-year public universities. Despite this, students still struggle to fund their education. In response to this alarming trend, this year, the Utah Student Association is tackling college affordability.
“What we’ve seen through collecting data is that in 2008, the portion of tuition that the state was covering, compared to what students were paying was about 70 to 30 percent. Since then, there has been a trend of increased tuition costs with the current [ratio] being about 50/50,” said Fiefia. His concern is that the Utah’s Legislature has been prioritizing other interests at the cost of higher education.
The group gathered last week to see what they—as students—could do to support the legislature and bring attention to higher education funding.Sen. Stephen Urquhart and Rep. Keith Grover, co-chairs of the Higher Education Committee, have sponsored a resolution to better fund higher education.
“We can eliminate many known graduation obstacles by requiring Utah colleges to take direct financial responsibility for the progress of students,” wrote Urquhart in a November 2014 blog post.
Though the resolution was unable to be read at the Friday subcommittee meeting, members of the Utah Student Associated decided to personally approach legislators and discuss alternative approaches to slow rising tuition costs.
Rallies and protests merely make noise, said Fiefia, but by consciously deciding to stay away from “making noise” or causing public commotion, students can be more effective by sharing personal stories and developing relationships with legislators. Their tactic has proven effective, he said, as they have taken on the role of lobbyists rather than protestors.
“I’m really proud of what these students are doing, ” Salt Lake Community College student Emily Quezada said. “In the future I hope to see a better balance between what the state pays and what I pay for my education. I know a lot of kids who would go back to college if it’s more affordable.”
As they continue to promote their cause, the Utah Student Association continues to grow and bring a voice to the voiceless students of Utah.