Stephanie Preston, president of the University of Mary Washington Student Government Association (SGA), traveled to Richmond this past summer to meet with Gov. Bob McDonnell about the current needs of public colleges in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Preston, a senior history major, was elected SGA President in April 2013. During her meeting with McDonnell, she was accompanied by eight other student government presidents from other Virginia public institutions.
According to Preston, Virginia Commonwealth University Student Government President, Vikhyath Veeramachaneni, a senior political science major, contacted the other schools’ student governments over the summer to get them involved with the initiative.
Virginia21, a non-partisan organization that advocates for young voters, helped the students set up a meeting with McDonnell.
“The meeting was focused on getting McDonnell, who has one more budget to set before he leaves office, to push for statewide money for faculty members and financial offices,” said Preston.
Justin Hamilton, a senior French major at UMW, said it is important to have more funds for higher education.
“We should absolutely be lobbying for more funds for schools because it lessens our burdens,” said Hamilton.
Hamilton said that while he thinks financial aid would benefit from more funds, he does not think that more funds should go towards faculty.
“I think that financial aid is going to be the best thing that they can do for students,” said Hamilton.
The student government presidents thanked McDonnell for everything he has done during his time in office in regards to higher education.
However, not all students are satisfied with McDonnell’s efforts in higher education.
Hunter Rose, a freshman who grew up in Virginia, said, “I like him, but he hasn’t really addressed the fact that we pay so much in taxes and yet have to spend so much money on higher education.”
The students asked McDonnell for his help in putting whoever becomes the new governor on the same path as himself; making sure that higher education is a priority.
The same group of student government presidents that met with McDonnell are planning on lobbying the candidates for governor before the election, according to Preston.
Rick Hurley, UMW president, Douglas Searcy, vice president of student affairs and Cedric Rucker. associate vice president of student affairs and dean of student life knew about the students’ meeting beforehand but were not involved.
The students wanted McDonnell to know that their concern for higher education in Virginia. was coming directly from them, according to Preston.
Rucker said he believes it is important for students to present issues that directly affect them.
“For students to have a conversation with individuals who impact policy is truly something worthwhile,” said Rucker.
Throughout the rest of the year, student government presidents in the Commonwealth of Virginia will work on several statewide initiatives, such as use of the new system Turbovote, which will allow students to register to vote online, said Preston.
Preston is hopeful that McDonnell will be successful in putting more money toward higher education.
“He has made great strides to keep tuition low in Virginia,” said Preston. “Higher education is something that he is very passionate about, and he promised that he would do what he could.”