Aggie student lobbyists educate Utah Legislature on USU priorities
Published: Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 14:03
SALT LAKE CITY — Three bills were in the minds of Utah State University student lobbyists during this year’s state legislative session. The bills involved the broadening of the Alumni Legacy Scholarship, an attempt to receive funding for a new biology building, and getting the OK to begin construction of the Aggie Life and Wellness Center.
Student members of USU’s Government Relations Council (GRC) traveled to the Capitol multiple times to meet with lawmakers, representing the USU student body and student needs to the Legislature. As usual, funding is a hot topic. The bill aiming to broaden USU’s Legacy Scholarship, which extends tuition support to sons and daughters of Aggie alumni, was one of them.
“One of the main things Utah State wanted to receive was to extend the Alumni Legacy Scholarship to include grandparents,” said GRC chair Daryn Frischknecht.
The current scholarship allows out-of-state students to pay in-state tuition if their parents are USU alumni.
“We were hoping an expansion of the scholarship would offset the missionary age change,” said Frischknecht. Last fall, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints lowered the minimum missionary age to 18 for men and 19 for women, which prompted students across Utah to take a leave from college — many this semester — and apply for LDS missions.
Expanding the Legacy Scholarship would counter some of that enrollment loss, the bill’s proponents argue. “It would also get more students from out-of-state to come to Utah,” Frischknecht said.
Maintaining USU’s low tuition costs is important to the university.
“President Albrecht and the other presidents across the state are very concerned about the cost for the students,” said Neil Abercrombie, USU director of government relations, who works closely with the GNC and represents USU at the Legislature. USU has always been a financial bargain, he said, and it needs to stay that way.
“We have a lot of students that work while they’re going to school, and at the same time we have a lot of students who graduate with very little debt,” Abercrombie said. “I know that’s important to our administration to see that continue to be the trend. So any tuition increases are going to be scrutinized very heavily.
“The Legislature is concerned about that, too,” he said. “They see that as one of the great benefits of the system here — that it is a great value — so they are going to try and keep tuition as low as possible.”
Biology Building Proposal
Although Frischknecht was confident about the scholarship bill before its passage last week, she was hesitant about the bill regarding the new biology building. Legislators often approve projects like this — educational buildings that support STEM degrees like math, science and engineering — because those skills are in demand. Abercrombie explains it as an investment.
“If you were to go to a list of the top higher-end projects of buildings needing to be built, a lot of them are science buildings,” he said. “What (legislators) want is a return on investment. If they’re going to appropriate X amount to Utah State, they want to know it’s going to degrees where there’s job demand.
“They say the more they can educate in [these fields], the better for our state economy, not only to fill current positions, but those are the kind of businesses we want to attract for the future.”
The GRC approached the biology building bill from this angle, Frischknecht said. She said their main course of action was to show legislators how USU is invested in STEM degrees, and the need for more state support.
“We met with a few legislators about that and (Sen. Stewart Adams) said, ‘Oh, probably not this year,’” she said.
Frischknecht said the Legislature is supporting new science buildings, with Utah Valley University and the University of Utah ahead on the funding list. Abercrombie is understanding about the need for USU to wait its turn.
“In general, I would say most of our legislators feel a good partnership with the universities,” he said. “I’m pretty proud about of what we’re doing. We invest in higher education because there’s a return for the business community, return on the government development.”