Student leaders rally for higher education

Holding signs stating, “We are the 66 percent,” USU students gathered on the steps of the Utah Capitol Friday, in a rally for higher education. Nearly all of Utah’s colleges and universities promoted the participation of students and faculty in the demonstration.”What we’re saying is education needs to be our (legislators’) first priority, because education really is the economic driver,” said Erik Mikkelsen, USU student body president. “When someone gets a degree in higher education, they make a lot more money, put a lot more back in to the economy through taxes, and they also create a lot more jobs for other people in Utah.”Neela Pack, University of Utah student body president, spoke at the rally on behalf of Utah students. “We are the 66 percent.” Pack said. “We came here today to call for leadership and action to make education the state’s first priority. We are communicating our priorities to legislators today. We will do our part if the state does its part by giving us access to higher education.”The 66 percent is a reference to the Georgetown University study “Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2018,” which predicts that by 2018 two-thirds of Utah’s adult population must gain a degree for the state to stay economically competitive. This study and others like it have reached initiatives like Prosperity 2020 and Utah Education First — groups supported by citizens who believe putting education first is synonymous with a successful economy.”It all starts with research to guide our actions,” the Prosperity 2020 website states. “In the future, education will be even more important. If we want a prosperous future, if we want to succeed in a global knowledge- and skills-based economy, if we want to expand opportunities for our children and grandchildren … we must invest and innovate in education.”Beginning the day with the rally, the students then split into meetings with 53 of Utah’s legislators. Mikkelson said the hope was to communicate their positions to the men and women who can make a difference.”It was a great exchange,” said Rep. Jack Draxler, R-North Logan. “They helped me understand the students’ perspective about why it’s important that we have adequate funding for higher education — why it’s important to have world-class researchers and staff.”

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