Kentucky student body presidents defend higher education

Jamie Williams

SGA President Jay Todd Richey has penned a petition in support of funding for higher education which now has over 600 signatures online.

The petition, sponsored by the Board of Student Body Presidents of Kentucky, asks the Kentucky legislature to reverse current trends that have made it more difficult for students who rely on need-based scholarships to attend college.

“We’re trying to keep the rally and the petition very broad,” Richey said. “We are not asking for legislators to voice their support for, or opposition against, a particular bill. We just want this to say, ‘stop what is almost the perennial cuts to higher education, and restore need-based financial aid in its entirety.’”

In 2015, according to the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, nearly $30 million was transferred from need-based scholarship funds to Kentucky’s general fund. Some of this money will be used to fund Gov. Matt Bevin’s Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship Program, which awards financial aid to students who study in fields that are in “high demand,” such as healthcare and construction.

The petition, which will be sent to Bevin along with the Kentucky House of Representatives and Senate, states, “We believe our legislature and governor should stand with students and defend higher education for a new generation.”

Buddy Wren, a senior from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, said he signed the petition since he knows how lack of education funding has affected students in his own state.

“Being an out-of-state student who comes from a state where education is not funded very well, I’ve seen the repercussions of that,” Wren said. “I’ve seen many repercussions from it, and I don’t want Kentucky to follow in the same footprint.”

Wren added that many lawmakers often believe millennials are lazy and uninformed, and that he believes this problem arises from cuts to education.

“I tend to believe that when you invest in your people, the government and society will reap the benefits of that investment,” Wren said.

WKU assistant professor Meghen McKinley also signed the petition.

“As a college professor in the arts, it is vital that we continue to educate the future of our country,” McKinley said. “We need compassionate, forward-thinking, creative problem solvers for a successful workplace, community, and country.”

McKinley teaches dance and said all of her students have been affected by cuts to higher education programs, as many people do not see artistic fields of study as having value. She believes that a post-secondary education provides students with vital skills, such as creative problem solving, that anyone would want in an employee.

“No matter what their final job is, we want them to be successful and a contributing factor in our society and culture,” McKinley said in an email. “Higher-education gives a student an opportunity to grow, expand, and improve.”

In addition to the petition, the Board of Student Body Presidents of Kentucky will be organizing a rally to defend higher education. The rally will take place Feb. 13 from 1-3 p.m. in the Kentucky State Capitol rotunda.

“The rally and petition are to serve one purpose, and that is to demonstrate to legislators that students care about these issues, and that we are listening, and we vote,” Richey said. “And if our concerns don’t bother them, if our ideological stance about the common good of higher education does not please them, hopefully the fact that we vote … will galvanize them to taking action.”

Reporter Jamie Williams can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected].