Student leaders attend IBHE forum in Springfield

By Gus Bode

Some SIUC student leaders are asking their peers to participate in a letter-writing campaign for more higher education funding.

Undergraduate Student Government President Tequia Hicks and former Vice President Nate Brown traveled to Springfield Thursday for a forum with students from across the state, where they brainstormed ways to have students communicate with state legislators on higher education matters.

Sponsored by the Illinois Board of Higher Education, this is the first forum of its kind. One of the main driving forces behind this event was Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s recent recommended budget rejecting the board’s 1 percent increase proposal, or $23 million for college funding, said David Gross, SIU government relations officer.


About 40 students from nine universities discussed ways to engage their student bodies with higher education issues and get them to participate in lobbying efforts. For the fourth consecutive year, state funding has been either in decline or stagnant. If the legislature approves the board’s proposed 1 percent increase, it would go toward faculty salary increases and allow the University greater flexibility with the rest of the money.

Until then, it is a matter of getting the word out to students, Brown said. One of the plans is to launch a letter-writing campaign. Instead of having one generic letter signed by students, they would be asked to write their own personal letters urging legislators to support the 1 percent increase.

Representatives from Eastern Illinois University pitched their idea of putting a student face to the financial hurdles they struggle with from the shortage of assistance. Along the same lines, Brown said he hopes the “person-specific” letter-writing campaign will convey what state funding means for students and influence the elected officials.

Gross said students ultimately bear the financial burdens that result from the lack of funding increases by working longer hours or receiving less Monetary Award Program aid – financial assistance to low-income students, among other cases. And, Gross said, that is why communication between the students and the legislators are vital.

Earlier this year, university chancellors and presidents suggested the board reach out to students more directly.

Chancellor Walter Wendler said the forum provided students with a chance to speak directly with the board’s public information officer and other officials about the state’s budget on higher education and how it can affect students.

Also in the meeting, students discussed the possibility of joining forces with University employees April 13 at the state capitol, where university employee unions will be lobbying.


Combining the employees with the students can be effective in putting greater pressure on legislators to reconsider the budget, Gross said. The legislative session is scheduled to run through May.

“It makes all the sense in the world to coordinate the efforts,” Gross said.

Brown said he hopes to get the campaign started soon so the letters can be delivered to legislators by April for the union rally.

“We’re going to be the people being influenced by what they do and what they say,” Brown said. “It’s important that they hear from us and that we become more involved in the process. I think it’s certainly a step in the right direction.”

Reporter Jane Huh can be reached at [email protected]