UMBC senior Collin Wojciechowski served as the sole student member of the University System of Maryland’s governing Board of Regents, 2011-2012.
It’s been almost three months now since my term as student member of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents expired and I’m still in awe of what a year it was. Looking back, parts of it still seem almost too spectacular to have been real. From having the chance to introduce legislation to reform the way our universities set student fees, to voting on one of the most extensive merger studies higher education has recently seen, to meeting the President of the United States, each moment seems more surreal than the next.
However, for me, the greatest memory I carry out of this experience is the proven knowledge that students, when united together, actually can make a difference. Having worked in student government since I was in sixth grade I knew that students could have a tremendous impact on school policies if they really put their minds to it, especially at a place as engaged in shared governance as UMBC. Still I was skeptical, like many, as to how big of an impact students could have on larger policy issues, outside the walls of academia.
Flashback to April and the end of session for the Maryland General Assembly:
The legislature fails to adopt a balanced budget to fund the state as the new fiscal year inches closer and thus the “Doomsday Budget,” which is comprised of deep cuts to higher education and a steep tuition increase, is poised to go into effect. Desperate to ensure they and their peers can continue to afford quality higher education in Maryland, representatives from each college across the state assemble together and made a video to send to the General Assembly, letting the legislature know just how damaging these education cuts would be and urging them to recall the Doomsday Budget.
The group calls themselves “USM Students for Affordability” and starts sharing the video. Before they know it, the clip begins to go viral, most notably with a Twitter endorsement from Governor O’Malley himself. This video, along with the tireless efforts of scores of citizens from across the state, persuades the General Assembly to go back into session and reinstate nearly all funding for public education.
It sounds like it could be a fairy tale or a political drama penned by Aaron Sorkin but it’s the real life story of how a group of students helped saved higher education in Maryland this past spring. And it only happened because those students who stood in that room in April decided they were going to unite together for the common good of public education. I learned more than I can fit in any blog over this past year but the single most important thing I take away from my time on the Board is the astounding change we can bring about when work together.
Contact the author, Collin Wojciechowski, at email@example.com.