Wayland Students get Taste of Lobbying in Capital Trip

AUSTIN – Students from Wayland Baptist University and other private schools got a taste of state politics in action while lobbying for a student aid program during TEG Day at the Capitol on Feb. 14 in Austin.

Wayland seniors Jeff Vanlandingham of Plainview and Josh Lubenow of San Antonio, junior Lisa Hamilton of Slaton and sophomore Jordan Kuss of Lubbock made the journey to Austin with students from other West Texas private universities in order to make personal pleas to their respective legislators about the Tuition Equalization Grant, a need-based program which provides funding for private school students in order to make the cost of education more comparable to state schools.

The group arrived on Tuesday, Feb. 13 and took a tour of the capitol building, then met with Carol McDonald, president of Independent Colleges and Universities of Texas (ICUT), for a briefing about the TEG program.

McDonald encouraged the students to share their personal stories about how beneficial the TEG program has been during visits with individual senators and representatives. She underscored the importance of the visits, held every two years when the state legislature is in session.

“It’s really important for members of the legislature to have a face to put with an issue, not just the numbers, which we can give them all day long,” McDonald said. She noted that $211 million was appropriated for the TEG in the last legislative session in 2005, and proposed changes made the visits even more vital.

Governor Rick Perry has proposed a blending of the TEG and Texas Grant program, which benefits students of state schools, into the Tuition Assistance Grant, which would provide more funding per student but would operate more like a loan program. The money would have to be repaid by students if they did not graduate in four years and keep a B average.

Students felt the weight of their roles in light of that news.

“This grant is important because I really felt led to attend a Christian school and the tuition is higher here,” said Kuss, who is studying early childhood education. “This grant allowed me to be able to attend a Christian school.”

Kuss found the workings of the Capitol interesting, as she and her peers sat in on the beginning of sessions of the Senate and the House of Representatives. They also had meetings with the legislators or their staff members on Wednesday morning.

“I thought it was interesting to see how everything works at the Capitol,” said Kuss. “I was honored to be asked to come. It was neat to see all these official people and it made me appreciate what they do even more.”

Vanlandingham, a married student who is majoring in special education, said he appreciated the chance to be face-to-face with legislators. He made the same trip in 2005.

“These visits are important because it lets our representatives and senators put a face on who the TEG is helping and to hear personal accounts of why we need the grants,” he said.

The Wayland group was especially glad to be able to meet with freshman representative Joe Heflin of Crosbyton, who represents Plainview and Hale County as well as several other counties to the south. The students left their thanks and a small token of gratitude from Wayland at the offices of Rep. Delwin Jones of Lubbock, Rep. Carl Isett of Lubbock, Rep. Patricia Van De Putte of San Antonio, Heflin, Senator Robert Duncan of Lubbock, and Sen. David Liebowitz of San Antonio, each of whom represents at least one of the students on the trip.

“I really appreciated the opportunity to come,” said Hamilton. “I’m thankful not only for the TEG but also to be able to come on this trip. It’s really an honor to represent Wayland here.”

The TEG program supports 40 independent colleges in Texas, enrolling 114,716 students and awarding 22 percent of all bachelor’s degrees and nearly 25 percent of all graduate degrees in the state. These institutions provided more than $368 million in institutional financial assistance to students in the 2006 fiscal year at no charge to taxpayers, in addition to land, endowment and staffing.

Wayland received $1.8 million in TEG funds for the 2007 fiscal year.