DES MOINES — The State Capitol in Des Moines became a sea of black and gold Tuesday as University of Iowa students packed the halls to share their stories with lawmakers and to advocate for a third tuition freeze.
Hawkeye Caucus is a student organization that focuses on building relationships between students and state lawmakers, said Joelle Brown, the president of Hawkeye Caucus.
“Our main focus is to build a relationship so lawmakers think more about the students they are representing,” she said. “We encourage students, if they’re from in state, to advocate for another tuition freeze. Otherwise, we have students thank the lawmakers for their support.”
The state Board of Regents called for a third-consecutive freeze on tuition for all in-state undergraduate students in December 2014, and this year, Gov. Terry Branstad recommended putting in appropriate funding for a freeze in the state budget.
The Legislature holds the purse strings and sets funding for the UI, Iowa State University, and the University of Northern Iowa. One-third of Iowa regent university funding comes from state appropriations.
Hawkeye Caucus members wearing UI colors spoke with representatives in the Capitol’s rotunda among various tables displaying programs of study at the UI.
REACH, UI’s program for individuals with disabilities, was one of the most heavily discussed during the day.
Caucus members talked to representatives about what brought them to UI, their experiences at school, and their plans for after graduation. Many students also chose to use their time with legislators to advocate for a continuation of the in-state tuition freeze.
The freeze has attracted many supporters in the Legislature since last year.
The Hawkeye Caucus is a good opportunity for lawmakers to see the effect of items they pass, such as a tuition freeze, can have on the state regent universities, Rep. Kevin Koester, R-Ankeny.
“This is a good reminder of how important each of the state universities is to the state,” he said. “It’s really engaging; as a [UI] alum, I’m having a lot of fun.”
John Forbes, D-Urbandale, said it’s important to be reminded of the role the regent universities play in Iowa.
“It’s good to see the impact the university has on research and development that creates jobs and generates revenue within Iowa,” he said. “It’s important to me to see that the investments the state is making in the university is having positive results.”
Rod Lehnertz, the UI interim senior vice president for Finance & Operations, said the Hawkeye Caucus also gives the university the chance to showcase the diverse areas of study available to students who attend.
“I’m impressed each year with the connections and impressions our students make with lawmakers at this event,” he said. “It’s important to engage with lawmakers and remind them of the students and their needs.”
Hawkeye Caucus member Brendan Power said building relationships was his main goal for the day.
“We want to get legislators to see students’ faces when they read ‘University of Iowa’ on a piece of legislation,” Power said. “It’s really all about having a conversation with them and getting to know them.”