On April 18, students, alumni, faculty and administrators, including USF President Judy Genshaft, will be taking a trip to Tallahassee for the annual USF Day at the Capitol.
The group will be meeting with legislators from the House and Senate Higher Education Committees to discuss issues pertinent to USF students, such as block tuition proposals, the protection of the Bright Futures program and to advocate on behalf of international students. They will also be participating in a luncheon to emphasize civic awareness in college.
According to Silverlee Hernandez, director of student lobbying for Student Government, the trip has taken place for at least the past five years and has grown steadily over the years.
“Before, it was Student Government and alumni only who went; it was not as big as it is now, but it has always been pretty successful,” Hernandez said.
While there are several recommendations being made by the USF lobbyists to the senators, the main focuses will be on the protection of the Bright Futures scholarship program and keeping Florida a low-tuition state.
In 2006, Florida Student Association Executive Director Mike Fischer distributed a legislative recommendations list to SG. He reminded University lobbyists of the importance of Bright Futures.
“The Bright Futures program was created to keep Florida’s best and brightest students at home and to reward them for excelling in high school,” Fischer said. “We shouldn’t make drastic changes to a program that has worked as well as it was intended to.”
The FSA is comprised of student body presidents from Florida’s 11 state universities.
Fischer also listed in the recommendations the importance of keeping tuition low in Florida.
“While Florida has the eighth cheapest tuition in the nation, it is important we remain a ‘low-tuition state,'” Fischer said. “The affordability of a college education in this state is one of the reasons we are able to keep our brightest students home.”
Fischer also reminded Student Government that tuition has increased 47.7 percent in Florida since 1996 and said later that nowhere else but in Florida can students get such a high-quality education at an affordable price.
Hernandez also plans for USF Day attendees to speak to the Higher Education Committee on changing mandatory curriculum.
“Some students have five exit requirements, and others have two instead,” Hernandez said. “We want it to work for everyone.”
A change from previous trips, according to Hernandez, is that this year SG has been placed in charge of planning the entire event. Hernandez said the groups that usually coordinate it – Government Relations and the Alumni Association – are still connected to the event.
Another change is this year, five interns from USF have been placed in the Capitol city all year. Hernandez said she believes this will work in the University’s favor because the legislators who the interns have come in contact with will remember USF and the issues they are bringing to the table, as opposed to simply being saturated with Florida State University lobbyists because of its proximity.
There will be 56 students attending, as well as six representatives from each of the colleges within the University. According to Hernandez, a maximum of 56 students were permitted on the trip because SG does not want students to be bored while waiting for legislative meetings, nor does it wish to bombard the senators with students.
Of the students attending, Hernandez said many are student leaders majoring in political science, but students from other majors are welcome. This year there are many from the field of biological medicine attending, as well as some freshman, which Hernandez said is uncommon.
What the whole event comes down to, according to Hernandez, is showcasing USF. Even for students who cannot make the trip, Hernandez said it is important to put a name and face out there for the University. She suggested making a trip to Tallahassee even if on one’s own to get involved.
“If there is anything our government proves, it is that involvement is necessary,” said Hernandez. “Always write letters and call our representatives, tell them that this is what students are about; these are our student leaders.”