Higher Education
9:08 am
Mon November 28, 2011

College students to rally against budget cuts in Olympia

"...There are ideas out there other than cutting.”

College students will descend on Olympia today as the legislature kicks off a special session to tackle the state’s budget shortfall. Nearly a dozen schools have banded together to send busloads of students to the capitol. 

Student leaders know they have to put a lot of their classmates in front of lawmakers to get their message across.  And they know the best way to motivate young people is with free stuff. Richard Wohl-Corbin, a student council member at Seattle Central Community College, helped organize the rally:

“When you mention free transportation and specifically free lunch, their eyes open and it definitely seems to get people interested,” he says.

He says rounding up hundreds of students and getting everyone to wear green – for the color or money – should send a clear message to lawmakers:

“I mean, you look at the figure that just came out this year that student loan debt overtaking credit card debt.  I mean, that’s a huge issue," he says. "And also, the idea of academic inflation – that you need more and more education and it’s becoming more and more expensive.”

Challenging cuts

The only way he says he can afford school is through financial aid. Governor Chris Gregoire proposed cutting some of that aid, specifically the state’s work study program that subsidizes jobs for student workers. She also suggests slashing community college budgets by 13 percent and even more at four-year schools

Wohl-Corbin says the legislature should find other solutions to the state’s budget problems:

“The main one that the lawmakers are afraid, obviously, and I understand to an extent with the economic climate – raising revenue," he says. "Closing tax loopholes for big business is another one. There are ideas out there other than cutting.”

Gregoire’s plan does include a temporary sales tax hike of ½ a cent. That’s only enough to stave off about half the cuts. 

Focus on the future

Students say if lawmakers keep trimming higher education, they’re worried nothing will be left for the next generation. The theme of the rally is “don’t cut the future.” 

George Marsh, a student at Shoreline Community College, says he expects to be $20,000 - $40,000 in debt when he finishes school, but he’s really worried about his 10-year-old sister:

“I don’t think my parents, or a lot of people, may be able to set aside that much money aside for higher education given the current state of our economy,” he says.

Students at Shoreline are so concerned, they’re sending four buses down to the capitol. They say they plan to keep pressuring lawmakers to stop stripping away at college budgets and already have other rallies in the works.