BY RAEGAN NEUFELD
Affordability, accessibility, sustainability and food insecurity are the four main topics for this year’s Higher Education Day, a day where college students meet with state legislators and advocate for higher-education needs.
The annual trip to Topeka — scheduled for Feb. 15 — is organized by the Student Government Associations of each Kansas Board of Regents institution. These are Emporia State University, Fort Hays State University, Kansas State University, Pittsburg State University, University of Kansas and Wichita State University. Washburn University, which is partly governed by KBOR, is also participating.
Every student, no matter what school, will talk about the topics — which were chosen by the student body presidents of each school. Those presidents work together as the Students Advisory Council.
“Each of us when we’re there will talk about those four goals mainly, but we’re also welcome to talk about things we’re passionate about on our own campuses and that are different within the different institutions,” said Ella Burrows, the FHSU Student Government Association Legislative Affairs Director.
One of the other focuses for Burrows and her fellow FHSU students is funding for a campus recycling program. Additional focuses will vary from school to school.
According to Jay Thompson, the SGA Director of Legislative Affairs at WSU, students from WSU will advocate for housing, mental health, the development of their campus and the KBOR taskforce on workforce education.
While it is hard to directly measure the impact of Higher Education Day, the main goal of students is to have their suggestions taken into consideration while legislators create the higher-education budget.
“The most important aspect of Higher Education Day is the fact that students are allowed the privilege of directly speaking to members of the Kansas State House (of Representatives) and Senate on matters that directly affect them,” Thompson said. “Representative democracy is most successful when there is interaction between factions of a population and the individuals that have access to the means to make real policy change.”
That sentiment was shared by Cameron Meseke, the legislative director in Washburn’s SGA.
“Higher Education Day really shows that (the legislators) do care about students, and they are willing to listen to people who are willing to listen to them,” he said. “I’m definitely looking forward to the day, as well as meeting our representatives.”
Many aspects go into creating the budget for higher education. That budget committee is made up of nine representatives and is a subcommittee of Appropriations. The process begins by hearing from public and private universities, community colleges and technical schools. Adjustments are made to the governor’s budget, and the budget is voted on by the committee before being sent to the Appropriations Committee.
According to Rep. Susan Humphries, who represents District 99 in the House, the process will begin in mid-February and end in April.
“Eventually the whole big Appropriations bill is voted on,” she said. “Then the same thing is happening on the Senate side with the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Eventually the differences between the House and Senate are worked out, then it goes to the governor and she signs the bill.”
Humphries is in her fourth term as a state representative. She spent the 2021 and 2022 sessions as chair of the Higher Education Budget Committee and has met with students on Higher Education Day in the past.
“It’s valuable for the students,” she said. “And of course, it’s valuable for the legislators to meet their constituents and hear what issues they have in mind, to have conversations about how they’re feeling and how things are going.”
Jennie Rose, a governmental relations officer at FHSU, said the students are able to bring a unique voice and perspective to legislators.
“I always tell people I’m the hired gun,” she said. “The bottom line is (the legislators) know I don’t go to Fort Hays, my student days are well behind me. It’s the students that their funding most affects. If we can get a student in to talk with their home legislator about why funding for higher education is important, that student really drives the message home.”