By EMILY HOLLINGSWORTH
Within the imposing buildings where decisions are made and among state leaders where ideas become bills passed into law, student leadership within the University of Mary Washington’s Student Government Association traveled to Capitol Hill and to Richmond over the past few weeks to discuss issues concerning college students.
SGA president Hannah Tibbett traveled to Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Jan. 27 to speak at a roundtable discussion with student leaders from 20 Virginia colleges. The discussion was organized by senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine.
The student leaders, according to UMW’s website, discussed concerns regarding the rise intuition and the prospect of student debt.
“Even though UMW is a ‘best buy’ school, the high cost of tuition is still limiting to students,” Tibbett said. “There are so many scenarios where students aren’t able to finish their degrees because of the cost, leaving them in debt and without a degree, and it needs to be addressed.”
According to data from UMW gathered by the Institute for College Access and Success, the average debt for UMW graduates in 2014 was $17,460. Nearly half of graduating students had student debt. For the average Virginia student, their student debt comes to $26,432 and affects 60 percent of students.
Members of the Legislative Action Committee, headed by LAC Chairperson Sarah Campbell, traveled to another prominent city, Richmond, on Feb. 3 to discuss increased funding for need-based financial aid, budget amendments and increased funding for counseling with Speaker William Howell and Senator Bryce Reeves.
The LAC formed a 13-member subcommittee specifically for Lobby Day. The most important meetings were with Howell and Reeves, according to Alex Obolensky, SGA vice president, which included the entire committee. Subcommittee members met in smaller groups with their hometown senators and delegates. In addition, the LAC met with Chiefs of Staffs and education policy legislative assistants.
During the meetings, members of the subcommittee discussed support for a proposed budget for higher education that contained over $30 million for increased funding for need-based financial aid. A number of budget amendments were also discussed by subcommittee members that were introduced by members of the House of Delegates and the Senate of Virginia. One amendment would increase counseling funding for mental health counseling in higher education, according to Obolensky, and another would be a capital funds request, which would be used mainly to refurbish UMW’s Seacobeck Hall.
According to Obolensky, the experience was challenging, but one that the subcommittee was more than ready to take on.
“The experience of carrying important issues to state legislators, and representing my constituents to other elected officials is both challenging and extremely rewarding,” Obolensky said. “Events like this allow the SGA to really do its job, and advocate for the students of Mary Washington in an effective, vocal manner.”
Issues of student debt, need-based financial aid and counseling services on campus have also been important to UMW students. Leah Machesney, junior psychology major, believes that student debt puts too many students at a disadvantage when trying to achieve higher education.
“College shouldn’t cost that much,” Machesney said. “You shouldn’t be drained to get an education.”
Freshman Christian Watt believes rises in tuition, which could contribute to student debt, come from Universities competing with one another for students. This could result in renovations or new facilities in universities, which could cause rises in tuition.
“You can see competition between CNU and UMW. CNU renovated a bunch of buildings, and so did we. And then we built the University Center,” Watt said. “Ours is on a smaller scale because we’re a smaller school, but you can still see it in some circumstances.”
Watt said a solution could be for Universities to come together and decide in what ways the schools are competing with one another. This could give schools definitive guidelines to meet student needs and could possibly decrease spending.
Student debt, need-based financial aid and increased funding for counseling services will continue to be discussed by students and members of SGA on and off campus.
Editor’s Note: In the original story, it incorrectly said that the SGA formed the Legislative Action Committee for Lobby Day. The LAC is a permanent committee that formed a subcommittee who traveled to Richmond. The Lobby Day event and the subcommittee were completed and organized by the Legislative Action Committee’s chairperson, Sarah Campbell. We are deeply sorry for the errors. – Emily Hollingsworth, News Editor.