Wednesday night’s basketball game may have pitted IUP against Edinboro University, but the two Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education schools were on the same team Thursday afternoon in the Capitol Rotunda.

Hundreds of students and faculty members from all 14 universities – Bloomsburg University, California University of Pennsylvania, Cheney University, Clarion University, East Stroudsburg University, Kutztown University, Lock Haven University, Mansfield University, Millersville University, Shippensburg University, Slippery Rock University and West Chester University – joined forces to advocate for a higher education funding increase in the state budget.

Students and faculty members traveled from each of the schools to Harrisburg in order to voice their opinions, concerns and feelings about their education to legislators.

The rally began with opening remarks from Interim Chancellor Dr. Karen M. Whitney, whose fervor about the State System’s potential future energized the crowd of students standing on the rotunda steps behind her and prompted them to cheer for their schools.

“These are our universities. These are our students … this is our time,” Whitney said. “Our No. 1 priority is ensuring student success. The future depends on a continued investment in our universities.”

A chain of speakers elaborated on what the State System meant to them in both their collegiate and professional careers. 

Most of the speakers have interwoven these two parts of their lives so they are indivisible, such as Dr. Laurie A. Carter, Shippensburg University and Clarion alumna.

“We prepare our students to be the next generation of Pennsylvania’s leaders,” Carter said, “and we are proud to do that.”

IUP was represented by Dr. Michele Papakie, the journalism and public relations department chair, and Brian Swatt, Student Government Association president and one of the student members of the Board of Governors. 

Each spoke about their experiences at IUP and their hopes for the State System.

“In 1993, the state was funding 63 percent, or roughly two-thirds, of my education,” Papakie said, “and it still took me 15 years to pay off my undergraduate student loans. I would guess that students today, who are only benefiting from one-third of the appropriations I received, will be paying on their undergraduate student loans for at least 30 years – unless our state invests more in higher education.

“I am a proud product of the State System, and today, I work to produce future proud products of the State System. I am invest in Pennsylvania’s future – our state needs to be, too.”

Swatt appealed to the economic side of an investment in higher education.

“The education and opportunities we receive at a State System university are unique and invaluable,” Swatt said. “There will undoubtedly be a huge return on the investment put into the state system.”

Approximately 92 percent of alumni from state schools find employment after graduation, and 72 percent work in Pennsylvania – which puts the money spent investing in universities and supporting students back into the state’s economy.

However, despite the benefits to funding higher education, Pennsylvania is currently ranked 47 of 50 states for its financial backing of the state system.

The advocacy event followed the State System’s appearances before the state House and Senate appropriations committees for the last two days. Gov. Tom Wolf addressed this year’s Pennsylvania State budget Feb. 6, during which he proposed a $15 million increase for the state system’s 2018-19 year, but this proposal must be approved by legislators.

Abigail Evans (freshman, exercise science) and Attilah Ali (freshman, business management) attended the rally on a State System-sponsored bus and agreed with each other that the event was worthwhile.

“It was great,” Evans said. “I was surprised that there was a lot of diversity. It was a good representation of the State System.”

“Everyone wanted to be more involved,” Ali said. “Students wanted to help.”

Caleb King (junior, economics), who has been to Advocacy Day before due to his position as the student trustee on the IUP Council of Trustees, said the speakers were a boost for the rally.

“It was great to hear from all the speakers,” he said. “I think today created a big splash in the media, and I hope it’s getting the State System closer to being funded fully.”

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