‘Steps for State’ Walking From Old Main To Harrisburg, Advocating For Appropriations
When advocates march for a cause, their walk typically goes down a main street for a handful of blocks. It’s not often that supporters walk 114 miles in order to raise awareness for their cause.
The University Park Undergraduate Association, Penn State’s undergraduate student government, is doing just that over the next few days. On Sunday afternoon, a group of walkers departed from the Old Main steps heading to Harrisburg.
The “Steps for State” initiative is in its second year, walking for three days ahead of Capital Day on Tuesday. The UPUA is advocating for higher state appropriations to help alleviate high tuition costs for Penn State students.
UPUA president Anand Ganjam said that Governor Tom Wolf’s proposed budget, which allocates an additional $49 million to the university, is a big step toward lowering tuition.
“It’s much needed and it’s a start in the right direction. But it’s not enough,” Ganjam said. “I hope that the state senate takes that budget and approves it. But having a governor that is going to prioritize higher education and accessibility, especially for a land grant institution, is so critical for the future of this university.”
Ganjam said that the walk is a unique way for students to raise awareness for the need of higher appropriations and the inaccessibility of a Penn State education.
“We need to be able to mobilize and this type of thing catches media attention and catches the attention of people all the way from here to Harrisburg,” he said. “If we just go in there and sit down in those meetings with them, that’s their game. That’s what they’re used to doing. This is something that makes it bigger, that makes it stand out and makes a real impact.”
UPUA representative John Lombardo said that he was initially skeptical when Steps for State was presented last year. Representative John Wortman was the man behind the walk, and Wortman is known for being ambitious when it comes to student governance.
“I wasn’t sure that we would be able to do this logistically. I thought that it was a far-fetched idea and it was obviously a John Wortman idea, so I was concerned,” Lombardo said. “Once we put the work into planning the route and making sure everyone would be safe, I realized that it could be a great event for us.”
Lombardo, like many Penn State students, has paid a large portion of his tuition with student loans. He said that any decrease in tutition, even a couple thousand dollars, would be substantial in alleviating the financial debt of graduates.
“We have the second-highest in-state tuition rate in the country behind Pitt, so it’s obviously a problem with Pennsylvania schools and the amount of funding that they get,” he said. “Any increase in our state appropriation would be helpful.”
Wortman, who is no longer in UPUA, addressed the assembly a few weeks ago to advocate for funding the walk. He’s taking part in the march again this year, and for Wortman, a Robert F. Kennedy quote comes to mind.
“There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why,” Wortman said, quoting Kennedy. “I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”