SGA President Tori Irvin does a celebratory dance with UM mascot Freddie the Falcon. Photo by Ariel Hall

Thursday, April 4, marked the 2019 iteration of Higher Ed Day, an advocacy event where student representatives from public universities across the state of Alabama discuss the importance of higher education with leaders and legislators on the steps of the capitol building. 

“Higher education impacted my life because I never really saw myself to my full potential and I never understood what I could be. Once I got here, I really understood that the reward of getting that education is something no one can ever take away from you,” said current SGA President Tori Irvin. 

Alongside the Higher Education Day Partnership, a Montgomery-based lobbying group, students called attention to the economic impact of higher education and advocated for a more equitable division of the Education Trust Fund (ETF). As it stands now, higher education has a $20 billion economic impact on the State but receives less than a one-third split of the ETF.   

The goal of Higher Education Day is to remind citizens and lawmakers of the importance of universities, while also connecting students with decision makers. Still, the ultimate goal of these activists is to receive at least a one-third split of the ETF, with rest going toward K-12 education.  

Grace Newcombe, SGA President at the University of South Alabama, also serves as the chair for the group of SGA presidents. Newcombe spoke briefly about her own take on the importance of higher education. 

“We need an affordable education system, accessible to every person across Alabama, because it is the students in this state who will one day be changing the world,” said Newcombe. “It is these students who will be saving lives, advancing technology, leading this country. It is absolutely necessary that we invest in their future, because when we support them, we invest in our own future.” 

Members of Montevallo’s SGA were present at the event, along with groups from almost a dozen other schools. Among a crowd consisting of more than 1,000 college students, UM representatives walked the streets of Montgomery, carrying signs and flags and banners, expressing their want for increased higher education funding.   

The march ended on the steps of the Alabama State House where each university’s SGA president signed a pledge to continue to advocate for higher education.  

Students were then joined by several state representatives who spoke on why higher education was important to them. This included Gov. Kay Ivey and Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth, as well as other state legislators, such as State Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, and Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston. 

Ivey, a former educator herself, has made education a policy priority since taking office and implored students to continue working together to make their voices heard.  

“We’ve been able to accomplish much during my time as governor, and this is because of our deliberate efforts and by working together. Our efforts to advocate for higher education will be no different. No matter what colors we wear or cheers we yell, we are all in this together,” said Ivey.