SARASOTA -- College students from around Florida have launched a campaign to convince state lawmakers to keep from raising tuition rates.
Even though Florida's tuition rates are among the lowest in the country, students are still finding themselves taking out loans and delaying graduation dates by only taking classes part-time to battle expenses.
Student government associations from all of Florida's state universities created the Aim Higher program in an effort to keep tuition costs from rising and to restore cuts in university budgets.
State university presidents have asked Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature to restore $300 million in funds cut from the budgets of universities last year.
$167 million of that budgeted amount is competitive, based on the number of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and medical) graduates, how much graduates earn on average, the graduation rate and the number of graduates that stay in Florida. USF Sarasota-Manatee suffered more than $3 million in budget cuts last year, and around $6 million in the past four years.
The university presidents have also asked for another $118 million for the state university system to prevent tuition from being raised again.
The student government association from the University of Florida came up with the idea of postcards to personalize the campaign.
According to Stephanie Hames, USF Sarasota-Manatee's student government association vice president, USF has collected 125 postcards since the campaign kicked off at the beginning of the semester.
"This is an attempt to keep the brightest graduates in the state, and we are not going to do that by raising costs and cutting programs," said student and senate president Paul Caijka.
"Tuition costs can only go so high before students can no longer afford it," said Hames, who, despite having the Florida pre-paid plan and a Bright Futures scholarship, still had to take out a $10,000 loan. Many of her peers have had to take out loans of more than $60,000.
"Legislators are detached with what students go through anymore," Hames said. "For many of us, it's a juggling game."
The postcards give a voice behind the campaign, something that Hames says is much more powerful than signing a petition.
"Higher education is they key to an active, open mind geared toward problem-solving that can save lives one day," a postcard by student Matthew Shattuck read.
Another reads: "My attitude, grades, and mood is [sic] positive, why shouldn't my bank account be?"
The student government association at USF will collect every postcard and deliver them Feb. 19 to Tallahassee for USF Day, formally called Rally in Tally, where they will discuss the need for more financial support for higher education.
Their goal is to get legislators to invest in their futures. Hames and student government association president Andrew Gould will go to the Capitol along with representatives from the Tampa and St. Petersburg locations, and the medical school. They will be accompanied by the campus regional chancellor Dr. Arthur Guilford. While students go annually to talk to delegates to promote the USF system, this year is one of the biggest pushes.
"Nothing is hurting as significantly as higher education and social work," said Guilford.
Dr. Guilford also spoke of the importance of graduates for the local economy.
"Universities create critical thinking graduates, who will create new jobs and may even develop entire businesses," he said.
Restored funds for USF Manatee-Sarasota would go toward their first incoming freshman class that will begin this fall along with creating a bachelor's degree program for biology and opening labs at Mote Marine.
"I'm hoping this campaign will have a big impact, as it is a great initiative," Guilford said.