SGA members from across state meet at UCA

UCA’s Student Government Association led SGA members from the University of Arkansas in Little Rock and Arkansas State University in Jonesboro in the discussion of higher education at the inaugural Arkansas Association of Students (AAS) on Feb. 19.

Three out of the eight higher education four-year institutions gathered in the skyboxes in Bear Hall from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. with guest speakers Dr. Brett Powell, Director of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, Tara Smith, Senior Associative Director for Institutional Finance of the ADHE, Kelley Erstine, UCA Chief of Staff, Steven Shook, UCA Assistant Director for Student Leadership and Charlotte Strickland, Strictly Speaking UCA Professional Development and Training Coordinator.

SGA members were informed about statistics of remediation and graduation rates, higher education funding, the Legislative Budgeting Session in Arkansas and brainstormed ideas to guarantee success of the AAS.

“The hardest thing to do is get something started,” President Tom Courtway said as the first AAS meeting kicked off.

Students were told about the importance of higher education as Powell said that 97 percent of good jobs go to degree holders and that the value of degrees are rising.

Powell said that 6.2 percent of scholarships are awarded based on need and that, “we are moving to make it more about need,” instead of merit-based financial aid.

“We are an under-educated state.”

“Arkansas, even more than any other state, needs it [AAS],” senior class president Stephanie Daigle said. “Students need this sort of voice and support before our legislature. In trying to serve students in the best way possible, this organization is the best way to go.”

Daigle sponsored the event that was two years in the making from an idea UCA SGA members gained from a Conference of Student Government Association at Texas A&M.

AAS is expected to help lobby and create strong relationships with legislatures and get every school onboard.

“This is something that I was real passionate about two years ago,” UALR SGA Vice-President Chris Donovan said.

Donovan said that UALR worked on smaller projects within the school instead of working with legislation.

However, he said he will discuss ideas with UALR’s SGA and bring back issues that they will discuss at the next AAS meeting.

“We’re going to bring the issues of diversity and inclusion and student debt because those are huge topics on our campus as well as across the nation,” ASU SGA President Logan Mustain said.

AAS will bring issues to the Capitol such as funding and gun-carry concerns to represent the 90,000 students attending four-year higher education institutions.

The biggest threat to AAS’s issues is the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department.

“You’ve got to start somewhere and as a voice, you’re a lot more effective in a collective way than a singular way. You speak a lot louder as a collective,” Erstine said to the SGA members as they realized the large competition.

The Day at the Capitol is scheduled at 9 a.m. on April 8 at the Arkansas State Capitol Rotunda and is open to students and the public.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 26, 2015 print edition of The Echo.

image via Twitter

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