Before the annual contingent of student lobbyists goes to Harrisburg on April 29, Temple’s administration wants to prepare them to act more like a flock and less like a swarm.
The Owls on the Hill program, which sends students each year to the state legislature to get representatives to address Temple’s funding needs, will be preceded this year by a series of classes to prepare students for the challenge of speaking with legislators.
The six-week program, dubbed Owl Academy, will be mandatory for students who wish to go to Harrisburg. According to Temple Student Government, which has advocated for the program, the classes are designed to make Owls on the Hill a more focused initiative that will stick in the minds of legislators.
“In the past we tried to send as many students as possible,” said Student Body President Darin Bartholomew. “This year, we’re aiming for less students and more scheduled planning ahead of time.”
Bartholomew said the classes will teach how to be a good advocate and how to hold close conversations with legislators and they will give details on the legislative process and the history of Temple.
Past Owls on the Hill dates have garnered large support from students, faculty and alumni, and Bartholomew said Temple’s measure of success has always been the number of voices calling out the importance of the university to the state.
“The purpose is purely to remind the legislature how important Temple is to the Commonwealth,” Bartholomew said.
In 2013, President Theobald went to Harrisburg to lobby the state for relief from rising tuition costs. Despite his effort and the Owls on the Hill program, the state voted not to increase its annual appropriation for the university and funding stayed at $139.9 million. Flat-funding was set for all of the state-related universities: Temple, Lincoln University, Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh.
In February, Gov. Corbett proposed to again keep funding flat.
Ultimately, the state doesn’t levy tuition costs on students: it is the determination of the universities. Before the 2013-14 academic year, Temple increased tuition by $400 for in-state undergraduates and $600 for out-of-state undergraduates.
Barring an increase in appropriations from the state, Theobald said next year’s tuition could be affected.
With an increasing reliance on state funding, Temple’s administration has said it is building new sources of revenue so that tuition costs aren’t based on the state’s appropriation decision every year.
In his inauguration speech, Theobald announced plans to allocate $50 million to research over the next five years. Additionally, alumni donations have become a larger priority, with the university targeting large and small donors. In November, millionaire Temple trustee Lewis Katz pledged to donate $25 million to the university for an unspecified purpose.
In the meantime, state funding remains a vital source of revenue and the Owls on the Hill program has steadily expanded to fit the need. Last year, Bartholomew said participants could attend two classes before going to Harrisburg and close to 60 people came to them, far exceeding the university’s expectations.
This year, Bartholomew said the focus is more on “quality rather than quantity.”
“We’re planning to have sit-down meetings with legislators,” Bartholomew said. “That means fewer students, because if you want to get legislators, you have to go super early.”
Joe Gilbride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.