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Aggie student lobbyists educate Utah Legislature on USU priorities

March 15th, 2013 Posted in Arts and Life

By Dani Hayes

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.

HayesLege72Student 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 stop-out of college—many this semester—and apply for LDS missions.

• See New Utah law seeks to counter loss of college students to 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.”

Life & Wellness Center

USU student lobbyists also pushed for the new Aggie Life and Wellness Center. This bill is an easier sell because the university is not asking for money, just permission to build.

“The [ALWC] is going to be funded by student fees and outside donors, so we aren’t asking the state for money,” Frischknecht said. “That one will pass easily.”

Before the legislative session, Abercrombie, Frischknecht and ASUSU Vice President Ben Wilson met to discuss the university’s priorities for the year, and to create a plan to bring to Salt Lake City.

“Neil works with us, me and Ben, and lets us know what Utah State’s main goal is for this year’s legislative session,” Frischknecht said. “He gives us some ideas and we go out and research it, and figure out how we want to approach it from a student’s standpoint.”

This year’s approach for GRC was more passive.

“We wanted to go out and not necessarily beg for money,” she said. “We just wanted to go out with the idea of, ‘Look at all the wonderful things Utah State has done with the money we received from the state.’ Just kind of a ‘please don’t forget about us’ stance.”

Abercrombie said that having a student presence at the Legislature is “beneficial because they provide a good face to our institution.”

“Legislators like to hear from students directly and what their concerns are—what’s working well and what’s not working well on campus,” he said.

As a USU alumnus, Abercrombie said he is proud of what the school has accomplished, with student support and involvement.

“I think one of our greatest assets is our students, and that’s not just this year, but every year,” he said. “We have a reputation for having bright, hard-working students. You can hire an Aggie because they are going to work hard and are going to be professional. The students we bring down here are the same.”

Frischknecht found a similar response during her first legislature experience as a student lobbyist.

“A lot of the legislators liked our reasons for being there and liked seeing the students,” she said. “It gave the university a better stance with the Legislature. It gave the Legislature a chance to ask us questions about our different views and different bills that we’re trying to get passed.”

This year, students involved in the GRC were recruited by Wilson as people he thought would be assets. Next year will be handled differently, as Frischknecht was recently elected ASUSU Student Advocate Vice President, which will take on many of the responsibilities her current GRC position.

“My experience with the chair this year has really prepared me for that position next year,” she said. “I want to broaden the applications for the GRC. There’s a lot of other students who are interested in politics, who want to be involved with politics, besides political sciences students. I want to make it a bigger deal to students throughout the whole university and get a better representation of the university.”

Wilson and Frischknecht will be looking for council members who will represent the student body professionally and accurately.

“The most important thing is that they be proactive, hard-working and well-spoken,” Wilson said.

He also added that along with lobbying efforts, the GRC puts on other events that encourage civic engagement.

These include voting registration and a lecture series called “Why Should I Care?” to create political awareness and involvement on campus.


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