Sarah Couch was the 2013-2014 President of the California State Student Association
Looking to lobby for more funding for higher education in your state? Here are three ways that we advocated for $95 million in additional funding for the California State University (CSU) system.
As the former President of the California State Student Association (CSSA), I represented over 446,000 students in our higher education system by advocating for them at our Chancellor’s Office and at the state legislature. One of our main goals for the year was to increase the amount of state funding our system received in order to restore some of the heavy cuts we endured the past ten years. This funding is essential for our 23-campus system to reduce time-to-degree, open up more seats, ensure quality financial and academic advising, and repair outdated and unsafe buildings. During the campaign, we were proud to partner with our CSU Board of Trustees, the faculty and staff union, and the Academic Senate to make our needs become a reality. This partnership, the first of its kind for the CSU, was essential to our success because it was only by joining forces that we were able to make this request come to fruition.
Out of all our tactics, there are three main initiatives we found to be successful that you can replicate on your campuses.
- A Student Summit: Every year, we host nearly 300 CSU students for the California Higher Education Student Summit in Sacramento. During the summit, students learn how to lobby and then spend the following Monday at the Capitol telling their stories. This year, all of the delegates were focused on presenting a united message about the CSU’s need for additional funding and were well-versed on the reason behind it. To solidify our presence that day, we had students wear professional, campus-pride attire to designate them as a college student so it looked like CSU had swarmed the Capitol.
- An Intense Campaign: One conference would not have been enough to keep the CSU at the forefront of conversation in the Capitol. We needed something else to ensure that students were still on the agenda; leading to the creation of the “Stand with the CSU” campaign. CSSA and CSU staff developed amazing posters with pictures of CSU students. We delivered the posters to offices that signed a member letter, a letter written by a senator or assembly member which publicly supported additional funding for the CSU and asked other members of the state legislature to stand with the member in getting more funding and drawing more focus to the need of the CSU. Then we posted the pictures with the members to social media on our own sites and those of our many collaborators to show the legislative community who was a true champion of the CSU. In addition to this creative messaging, we held numerous lobby days with committee members to reinforce our message and attended every relevant hearing to speak about the needs of our students. As a result of the posters and social media presence over half of the legislature signed onto the letter.
- Persistence: At a time when we expected to finally get the $95 million in funding for higher education, we didn’t because of California’s restricted budget. It shocked us, but didn’t stop us. In fact, even now this campaign is still occurring and people are still attending hearings and fighting for our incredible system. A bill in the state legislature has recently been amended to fund $50 million to the CSU. This is a step in the direction we need for the CSU.
So don’t give up and fight for what your campus needs! We focused on what we needed to do and collaborated with amazing partners to ensure that it all got done. Despite our exhaustive plan and all of the strife that came along with it, with this bill we’ll finally have more of the advisors we need, the spaces to have more students in our classes, and safer buildings. It might not be the full $95 million now, but the relationships we built with the state legislature and our administration in the CSU is tantamount to our success in lobbying for more funding in the future.