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A Voice for the Students

For the past 2½ years, the office of the University of North Carolina Association of Student Governments has shifted between Jonathan Ducote's living room and the trunk of his car. Now the organization has a plush new space in a prime downtown location in the state capital of Raleigh.

The new office, paid for with a new systemwide student fee of $1 a head, is not the only sign that the organization has arrived. Hundreds of students from the 16 public colleges and universities that belong to the association regularly trek to the Capitol, demanding to be heard.

With a tightening state budget for the next two fiscal years, students in North Carolina fear they may be forced to pay for any cuts to higher education. Student lobbyists hope they can convince lawmakers that increasing tuition could restrict access to higher education, eventually hurting the economy.

Mr. Ducote, a junior at North Carolina State University and the association's president, said his group is pushing lawmakers to increase financial aid and keep higher education costs down.

"It's a combination of those two that's going to allow some of our working-class families to be able to afford a college education," he said. To convince legislators of that, "it became very apparent to me that there needed to be a presence downtown," Mr. Ducote said, referring to the new office.

College and university students in North Carolina are not the only ones to become full-fledged lobbyists for affordable tuition. In states such as Maryland, New York, and New Mexico, students are making their presence known.

After years of a prospering economy and flowing funds, higher education recently has been taking a budget blow nationwide. For example, colleges and universities in Maryland were forced to cut back their $867 million budget by $67 million, after both freshman Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and his predecessor, Parris N. Glendening, reduced higher education funding for this fiscal year. As a result, students have been socked with midyear tuition increases of up to 5 percent.

Mr. Ducote and other North Carolina students want to avoid a similar fate. About 750 students went to Raleigh on Feb. 4, a day designated by the association for students to lobby legislators. Similar events have occurred in the past.

"They got to go down en masse and just keep saying the same message," Mr. Ducote said. "It makes people listen."

—Hattie Brown

Vol. 22, Issue 26, Page 19

Published in Print: March 12, 2003, as State Journal

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