Wayland students visit capitol to brag on TEG grant

Six students from Wayland Baptist University ventured to the Texas capitol in late March as part of a lobbying effort for higher education funding.

Students from Wayland and many other Texas private schools were in Austin to visit with legislators specifically about the Tuition Equalization Grant, a state grant that helps offset tuition at private schools and makes those institutions more accessible to students.

Independent Colleges and Universities in Texas (ICUT) organized the effort, which is typically done every two years when the legislature is in session. The organization plans meetings between students and their state representatives and senators. Students are also able to sit in on legislative hearings and witness state government first hand.

"This was neat for me; this is what I want to do with my life," said junior T.J. Messer, a political science major from Amarillo. "Our goal was to meet with senators and representatives and lobby them for the continuance of the (TEG) program or for more money."

An aspiring politician, Messer has received a TEG grant for two years and said it definitely made a difference in how much loan debt he will incur. He said the highlight of the trip was a lengthy meeting with Speaker of the House Pete Laney of Hale Center.

"We were hoping to have five minutes of his time but we were there for about an hour and a half," Messer said. "We found out really quickly that he was a big supporter and we didn't really need to convince him about the TEG. We just talked about what we were studying and what we wanted to do with our lives."

Messer said he was impressed by Laney's down-to-earth, personable nature despite his political stature and was excited about the possibility of someday being in politics himself.

Though she's not planning a career in politics, senior Talyia Lane also enjoyed the chance to witness legislators at work and be a voice for a valuable program. The Pampa native liked getting to visit with Laney about how the TEG she received each year at Wayland has helped her to study business.

According to Karen LaQuey, assistant director of financial aid at Wayland, the university chose a diverse group to represent them at the capitol, hoping to prove the scope of the TEG's reach and its benefits. While Lane, Messer, Juan Martinez and Emily Curtis were all traditional-aged students, two "non-traditional" students also made the trip: Rob Gould and Kimberly Washington.

Washington, who started her education in 1991 and returned in 1998 to finish, credited the TEG with being able to complete her degree in English and secondary language arts. She said the opportunity to brag on the grant program was a great experience.

"I saw it as a great opportunity to let congress know that the TEG was a good thing to keep for our educational system," she said. "It's especially great for nontraditional students, when you don't have the funds to cover tuition and everything."

LaQuey said the trip not only helps legislators see the importance of the grant program, but it also benefits the students who attend.

"Going there makes it easier for the students to realize how hard it is to get those funds, the political side of it," she said. "They realize that we have to fight for it. And we're always trying to get more funds to help more students."