Northern Iowa Student Government

A Message From President Walrath

By: mojohn on Tue, 06/14/2011 - 11:40

Last Monday morning I spoke at the Iowa Capital Building to the Senate Education Appropriations subcommittee. Below is a transcript of the remarks that I made. After other student leaders and I had finished speaking, Senator Hamerlinck said that he didn't like it when students came to the capital to lobby. We were told to go home and focus on our studies. It is my belief that if students do not talk to their elected officials about the effects that continued cuts to our Regents Schools have on us, I will not need to worry about studying because I will be unable to afford my tuition. I believe that part of my job as President of the Student Body is to lobby on behalf of students to make sure that their voices are heard and their tuition remains affordable. I did not appreciate the Senator telling me that he does not like it when I do my job. The students that I have spoken to did not appreciate the Senator implying that we should trust in our politicians to do what is best for us. If anything, his behavior tells me that we need to take a more active role at the Capital to show our elected officials the implications of their decisions and to remind them that their job is to represent the views of their constituents, not to regurgitate their party message or to decide that they know what we want better than we do.

Please, write to your legislators and explain to them how the cuts they are making to our universities affect you.

Good Morning! My name is Spencer Walrath and I am a senior music and psychology double major with a minor in political science at the University of Northern Iowa. I also have the great honor and privilege to serve the students of UNI as their student body president. Thank you very much for having me here today. Piggybacking off of President Miles' remarks, I'm here to ask that you do not eliminate my school.

Additional cuts to the Regents Universities, and specifically to UNI, would have a dramatic impact on the educational experience of our students. I am proud to say that during my first year at UNI my classes were small and intimate, and all of my professors were just that - professors. Due to cuts already imposed by the state on UNI, I have seen many of my classes double in size. This denies many students the opportunity to succeed in their studies. I have also seen a substantial increase in the number of adjunct educators teaching courses at UNI. In my opinion, the quality of education provided by these professors is lower than that of the regular faculty at UNI, which cheapens the education that students are paying so much for.

Students are graduating with higher debt than ever before, and Iowa's students are graduating with the 4th highest debt in the nation. My freshman year I was able to attend UNI through a combination of scholarships that completely covered the cost of my tuition and had some money left over for books. The affordability of UNI was a major factor in my decision to attend an in-state institution, and I am very grateful for the financial support that I received. However, after my first year, tuition increased, and my scholarships would no longer cover the cost of my tuition. Luckily, I was hired as a Resident Assistant and was able to use my stipend to pay for the rest of my tuition and books. My third year saw another tuition increase. This time, even with the combination of my scholarships and my job, I could not afford to pay for my education on my own and was forced to take out a loan. My fourth year at UNI saw an even more dramatic rise in tuition and I was forced once more to take out student loans and to request support from my parents. My parents were unable to provide their own financial support for my education, and they too took out loans to aid me.

I am now about to begin my fifth year at UNI and my scholarships have run out. I am working four jobs this summer to put some money into savings to help me pay my tuition and prepare for any unexpected financial burdens this coming year. I, like many of my peers, have decreased the amount I budget for necessities like food and gas. I am learning just how many flavors ramen noodles come in. I have a contest with my roommates to see who can go the longest without filling up our gas tanks. I have learned to appreciate the beauty of a walk through the park instead of taking my dates to a nice restaurant or show. Students are adjusting their lifestyles and shouldering their share of the burden in this economic crisis. We understand that money is tight and that everyone is going to be hurting. However, we ask that in your budget deliberations, you give some thought to the future of our state. Roughly three quarters of UNI students stay in the state to work after they graduate. Every single dollar invested in higher education sees a fourteen dollar return to the state in economic activity. That is an investment opportunity that you cannot turn down.

On behalf of the students of UNI, I strongly urge our legislators to consider and vote for the Senate budget proposal over the House budget proposal. The state cannot afford to neglect its own economic future. Students cannot afford to bear the burden of yet another cut. A generation ago, when my parents were my age, the state provided nearly eighty percent of the funding for a public university and tuition covered the other twenty percent. Now, for the first time in Iowa's history, students' tuition is providing more funding to the state universities than the state is. State support has fallen below forty percent and the students are covering over fifty percent of the bill! I fear that we will soon reach a point where students will refuse to put up with the wildly rising cost of an Iowan education and take their ideas elsewhere. And what of out-of-state students, who pay additional tuition because their families' taxes do not support our schools. How can we encourage them to come study in Iowa, get a job in Iowa, and raise a family in Iowa, if we make it impossible for them to afford that first step?

In closing, let me offer this: most students go to college to get a good job that pays well. However, the college degree that we require to get that job is becoming a luxury that we can only afford if we already have that job. Please, stop the cuts, keep college affordable, and ensure the economic future of this great state of Iowa. Thank you.