Student senator lobbies at state capital

Jars of M&M’s with the slogan "It’s the Mind that Matters" were distributed among state legislators in Olympia, Wash., on Jan. 18 by Senator-at-Large Jason Van Winkle, a junior. The M&M’s were intended to remind the legislative leadership of the importance of financial aid distributed to students attending private schools.

For the second consecutive year, Van Winkle traveled to the state capital with members of the Washington Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (WAICU) to lobby for increases in student financial aid.

"I know that financial aid is critical to many SPU students, and I wanted to represent their concerns in Olympia," Van Winkle said.

WAICU, an association of 10 independent colleges and universities in Washington, lobbies at the state legislature with the concerns of private schools. SPU is one of those schools.

According to Van Winkle, their main cause for lobbying is to maintain the current levels of student financial aid and to ensure future increases in the levels of financial aid.

"With the help of students … we lobby for increases in student aid so that students from all economic backgrounds will be able to attend independent colleges and universities," President and CEO of WAICU Violet Boyer said.

Without government aid many students would not be able to attend SPU or many other private colleges. Currently about 57 percent of all SPU undergraduate students receive need-based financial aid, according to Student Financial Services.

Boyer believes that student aid is not only an important resource for students, but also an important investment for the state.

"Student aid is creating the future leadership of the state. Our state’s economy and culture will be stronger because our citizens will be well educated," Boyer said.

According to Van Winkle, increased lobbying and awareness about the necessity of student aid is essential because there is currently a $1.75 billion deficit in the Washington State budget.

"Student aid is the highest discretionary budget in Washington State and would make an easy target for quick cuts," Van Winkle said.

According to Boyer, 2002 is a very tight budget year, and efforts to balance the budget may result in cuts of student financial aid.

"The problem is so big (that) every area of state government will be cut, including higher education," Boyer said. "When the legislators are making those decisions, they need to understand the importance of student aid."

During his day in Olympia, Van Winkle met with members of the House and Senate and thanked them for their support of student aid. As he handed out the jars of M&M’s to the legislative leadership in the capitol building, he talked to them about the importance of students attending college.

Boyer believes that it is important for students to meet with the leaders of the state because while they are responsible for passing laws and making significant decisions about the budget, they rarely have the opportunity to meet the students who are directly affected by those decisions.

"Students are the most effective lobbyists because they can tell their stories and let [the legislators] know how important financial aid has been in allowing them to pursue their dreams," Boyer said. "That message really sticks with legislators and makes a tremendous difference in their thinking about student aid funding."

Director of Research and Communications at WAICU Erin Park said she believes that students have a great impact on legislators.

"When discussing the budget, it is easy for legislators to get lost in numbers. Meeting and talking with students reminds them of the human element in their work," Park said.

The results of Van Winkle’s lobbying are not yet evident.

"We won’t know the results of our efforts until the end of the legislative session," Van Winkle said. "I think that our efforts were received very cordially and that they will have a positive long-range effect."

According to Boyer, the legislators appreciated the M&M’s, and she believes that the message of the importance of student aid is being heard.

"The jars are everywhere," Boyer said. "People are asking when the refills are coming and thanking us for thinking of them."

The jars will continue to be refilled throughout the legislative session to keep student aid in the front of the minds of the legislative leaders.

People interested in talking to their home legislators and lobbying for student aid can contact Park at erin@waicu.org.

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Title: Student senator lobbies at state capital | Author: Simone Van Breda | Section: News | Published Date: 2002-01-30 | Internal ID: 2420