On Advocacy: Legislative Relations Update

While news coverage regularly focuses on the political landscape in Washington, D.C. and the federal government certainly affects our students—particularly in the area of student loans and financial aid—as a state university, the decisions made in Atlanta also have a direct impact on our students. As the Georgia legislature enters the second month of its 2017 session, there is a continued need to make the case to the public and to our elected officials regarding our needs and successes.

As home to the state’s only 4-year public school of aviation, one area of focus in our advocacy efforts has been a multi-year plan to take Middle Georgia State aviation statewide. During the 2016 legislative session, the Georgia General Assembly allocated $4.2 million for phase one of that plan, during which we became the fixed based operator for the Macon Downtown Airport—where we now offer flight classes—and we will soon expand into Atlanta.

This funding was not “perk” money for the School of Aviation, but rather an essential investment in material updates for our fleet—one that has been growing to meet demands. Aerospace is Georgia’s largest export, an industry that brings some $51 billion into our state each year, and more students want to be part of it. In fact, we saw a 13% increase in aviation enrollment in the Fall over last year and 17% increase this semester. Governor Deal’s 2017 draft budget includes another $2.8 million for phase two of our aviation expansion, which would result in an expansion into the Valdosta area.

In addition to advocacy around one of our signature programs, there is a continued need to make the case for infrastructure support—additional resources that will allow all of our schools and programs to better serve students. Among the legislation we are watching closely this session is a proposed tuition cap. House Resolution 159 proposes a constitutional amendment authorizing the General Assembly to cap state university tuition, while its companion House Bill 229 provides the details on how such a cap would work. In a nutshell, the proposed tuition cap would tie tuition in the State University System to the rate of inflation.

While we certainly understand the desire to bring down the cost of higher education, this bill threatens to make the funding disadvantage at which Middle Georgia State currently finds itself—aiming to meet state university standards while still charging state college tuition—permanent. We will always work with our legislators to offer Georgia families the very best value for their money in higher education, but attempting to do so permanently at 72 cents on the dollar of our counterparts across the state would not allow for the support our students need.

In recent months, we have seen a rise in activism across the country. As we work with our colleagues in the USG to make a general case for public institutions and to raise our particular needs as the most affordable university in the state, we become active on your behalf. The state legislature is part of the public square of policy. Higher education has to be a major part of that policy and must therefore be an active participant in that public square. Thank you for all you do to make engagement and advocacy on your behalf not only our duty, but our privilege.