Letter: Students have a stake in politics too

An Open Letter to Senator Shawn Hamerlinck:

Senator Hamerlinck,

As a senior at Iowa State University, and a fairly involved and educated one at that (and as you’ve so profoundly made me embarrassed to say, a slightly conservative one), I was unbelievably disgusted to hear your comments on Tuesday when a friend of mine from the Government of the Student Body, Jared Knight spoke to you at the Education Appropriation Committee hearing. Having been a member of GSB for the past year, I can imagine the preparation that Jared must have done before he spoke to you. Indeed, he probably prepared for days, making sure he got his facts straight and hoping that the legislators would take him seriously and listen to his comments.

I served on the Ames City Council the past year as the student representative, and it was through this role that I gained an inside look into the workings of our government. I met many fantastic individuals, all of whom were receptive to my thoughts and comments. The student opinion is greatly cherished in Ames as we comprise roughly half the population, and the City Council encourages us to speak our minds. It’s a real shame that an adjunct professor like you doesn’t feel the same way.

I will graduate this December roughly $15,000 in debt. Not too bad considering the average ISU student graduates with slightly more than $30,000 of student debt. I’ve had to do a lot of penny-pinching and cringing as I write checks along the way. I have had no scholarships other than my $500-a-semester aid from the College of Engineering and a few other small ones from my fraternity along the way. I personally should be fine as I enter the working world upon graduation with a degree in aerospace engineering.

However, a very close friend of mine will graduate from Iowa State next May with a debt load of over $80,000. $80,000 from a public school! Believe it or not, Iowa State University is just that, a STATE school. My younger sister (who will attend Luther College this fall) will graduate four years from now with a debt load roughly equal to that of my close friend. How does this make sense? Luther’s tuition costs are more than double Iowa State’s, yet her private school is right on par with Iowa State. As she went through the admissions process this past spring, and Luther laid out the costs (which were initially quite staggering), it soon became apparent that should could get a private-school education for roughly the same cost that she could at Iowa State.

Increased tuition due to the decline of state-level funding has cost ISU students a great deal. We face larger classes and fewer sections and available class times. Lab equipment that was outdated before I entered high school is being used in labs across campus. More and more classes are charging course fees, and colleges are even moving to differential tuition rates. All of this results in a lower-value education for us. We are paying more than ever while receiving less.

Tuition aside, boosting the economy is a primary goal of many politicians today. What better way to do so than creating new well-paying jobs right here in Iowa? However, at the root of job growth is education. Bear with me here as I use a “student” metaphor, but have you ever played Sim-City? If you want a booming commercial district and high-tech industry to come to your city, you have to have a good education system. That’s where it all starts. The same can be seen in real life. It’s an investment in the future of the state. While the rewards might not be felt for some time, if the state continues to cut the system, irreversible effects will be felt for years to come.

I will soon be a living example of this. My hometown high school, Andrew High School, is closing this year. This dynamite little school has produced some of the top test scores in the state for years and was ranked as one of America’s Best High Schools by U.S. News and World Report. However, due to decreased state appropriations, this school will now close, forcing its students to go to inferior neighboring schools of Bellevue and Maquoketa. This will have a rippling effect on the Andrew community; I would guess that, within ten years, the elementary and junior high school will close as well, and the town will simply dry up.

Believe me, I understand that the government must make cuts when necessary. I sat through budget season while on the Ames City Council. Having to make cuts to important social services while giving the Fire Department a seven percent increase (due to state-mandated retirement packages) stung a little. While I certainly do not support education cuts, if you have to cut funding to the Regent institutions, I understand in this economic climate. But for you to sit there and tell my colleagues to go home and leave it alone is simply ludicrous. At least listen and respect what they have to say! As an elected official, you are supposed to represent the people. Not just the age-25-and-over-with-a-full-time-job-people. Maybe you forgot that. Last time I checked, college students were eligible to vote, and I even seem to remember a certain president getting elected with the help of an under-25 crowd.

I don’t know the specific demographic makeup of Dixon, Ia. or the rest of your district, but I’m hoping there are a lot of young adults — particularly students — there. I hope I’m not the only one who writes you. I hope you realize what a valuable demographic the student population is (you’d certainly think an adjunct professor would). And I hope you start paying attention to students’ opinions. If you don’t want to hear our voices, perhaps you shouldn’t be a part of the Education Appropriations Committee or sit through open budget hearings. What’s the point listening to open hearings if you don’t want to hear the voices of those who are most affected by the budget?

So, Mr. Hamerlinck, go back home. Leave the political circus alone, and stop spending your time worrying about what they’re doing up there.