Before the sun rose this morning, about 60 USF students, dressed in green, gold and khaki, will have left on a bus for the states capital.
They will return to campus past midnight after their message has been delivered.
The students, who are joined by USF President Judy Genshaft, Athletics Director Doug Woolard, USF football coach Willie Taggart, USF mens basketball coach Stan Heath and USF alumni, will deliver hundreds of hand-written postcards asking legislators to invest in higher education before a month of intense legislative debates that will determine the budgetary fates of USF and other state universities begins.
While in recent years, Student Government (SG) has sponsored chartered buses for students to travel to Tallahassee as a part of the Florida Student Associations Rally in Tally for higher education, this year the students will have their own day USF Day at the Capital, a day exclusively for promoting USFs name in Tallahassee, a day that many other state schools, including the University of Florida and Florida State University have long had.
The group has meetings set up with more than 30 legislators, including leaders in the House and Senate, and will attend a reception at the Governors Club which legislators and alumni will attend.
USF student body president Brian Goff said the groups goals are simple.
In every meeting they will try to convey three points: they will request the legislators to reinvest in higher education, to prioritize in-state tuition for veterans and invest in state-wide online education.
The goals are similar to those of the Aim Higher campaign from Florida state university presidents; they too will request the legislature to restore the $300 million cut from the State University System last year and provide an additional $118 million to be distributed through performance-based funding.
If time permits, Goff said, the group has two additional requests funding for USFs Heart Institute and funding for USF St. Petersburgs College of Business.
We want to see a connection between the Legislature and our students, Goff said. The way we feel is that our students are the future of the state of Florida, so were going up there to convince them to invest in higher education to invest in the future. We want to make sure we make some personal connections.
Goff said he hopes the meetings with legislators will allow them to witness the impact of cutting funding to higher education.
We want them to see were not just whining and complaining about tuition, but that we have legitimate concerns, he said. The load theyve been putting on the backs of students …. as theyve continually cut the budget, is getting too much to bear.
USF last held a similar event four years ago. This year, Student Government allocated $74,200 in Activities and Service fees to re-establishing the event. Student Government will also sponsor buses for students to attend Rally in Tally during the first week of April.
Goff said meetings with legislators were coordinated with help from Mark Walsh, assistant vice president and director of government relations for USF, as well as political consultants and lobbyists from other universities.
Lindsey Lewis, adviser on governmental affairs for SG, said two buses will leave one from Tampa carrying about 40 students, and one from St. Petersburg carrying about 15 students. Some students from the Sarasota-Manatee campus will drive to Tallahassee as well.
Weve got a jam-packed day with a lot of things planned, she said. (Students are) missing out if they arent going.
Legislators will begin discussion March 5.