Students lobby for higher education policy changes

In light of the recent $384 million budget cuts to higher education proposed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, some students decided it was time students had a voice in the legislature.

Political science senior Brad Guin and accounting senior Aaron Brown were approached by former Student Government President John Woodard in 2013 to start an advocacy group for students at the Capitol. Unite Louisiana was born and recently revamped due to budget cuts looming over the University.

Guin said Unite Louisiana is an informative communication tool to alarm students of the severe consequences the potential budget cuts will have on them.

“I kind of wanted to utilize Unite Louisiana as a separate entity from SG, to sort of have a more aggressive voice in communicating the potential effects of the budget cuts and to also get students involved,” Guin said.

According to its website, the Unite Louisiana group wants to change higher education policy.

“We speak for the 226,000 Louisiana students and the 30,000 LSU students: higher education in Louisiana is critical to the success and economic vitality of the state,” the website says. “We champion commonsense policymaking when it comes to Louisiana’s public colleges and universities: protect and stabilize its budget, invest in Louisiana’s students and make college more accessible and affordable.”

The website warns of potential tuition increases, lower graduation numbers, faculty and staff layoffs, decreases in state investments and a loss of research money.

Brown said the group sees Unite Louisiana as a team of grassroots lobbyists and students informing state legislators of students’ opinions and thoughts on bills affecting the University.

“All these big corporations and everybody else has their lobbying teams and their grassroots networks, and that was something we were hoping to build,” Brown said.

Guin hopes to draw the same amount of attention to the governor’s proposed budget cuts as Jindal’s own prayer rally received.

“I think it’s kind of hard for a lot of students to realize this is going to be impacting them within the next year,” Guin said. “It’s easy to say, ‘Yeah, I read this in the newspaper today, but it’s never going to affect me,’ when in reality, it is.”

The group’s 2015 goal is to form closer relationships with lawmakers at the capitol along with University administration. In addition to forming close relationships, the group will also start a larger grassroots movement with the LSU Alumni Association and SG.

“That’s going to be one of the challenges this year, is building these relationships for the future,” Brown said. “Unite’s not just about now — these issues are always going to be facing the University — there’s always going to be something going on in the legislature that affects the students, so our goal now is to start building these relationships because we are a fresh and new organization.”

Both Guin and Brown urged students to get involved in Unite Louisiana and other advocacy groups.

Brown said without the support of students, the grassroots group will not go anywhere.

“We also want to show to our state leaders that the LSU student body and students in general in Louisiana aren’t apathetic about these issues,” Guin said. “As students, we are literal stakeholders in decisions they make everyday, and it does affect us.”

“We’re not just going to take it laying down either,” Brown said.