Each spring, Penn State students hit the road for Harrisburg to spend a day in the Capitol. They get face time with lawmakers, telling them about the importance of state funding to their university.
There’s a major difference in this year’s so-called Capital Day from previous years’ trips — their mode of transportation.
To bring more attention to the need for higher education funding, dozens of Penn State students will walk more than 110 miles from Old Main, through the rolling hills, ridges and valleys of central Pennsylvania to the Capitol. Their action comes as the latest proposal from Gov. Tom Corbett has the state giving the university $214 million, the same as what it has received in the past three years under Corbett’s administration.
“It’s an investment in the university, it’s an investment in the students and it’s an investment in the state as a whole,” said Katelyn Mullen, the president of the University Park student body, about state funding.
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Students say they hope lawmakers take notice of the lengths the students are willing to go to drive, or perhaps walk, home their message that Penn State needs increases in state funding. These students attend the second-most expensive public university in the country, with another Pennsylvania school, the University of Pittsburgh, atop the list.
Students will walk in four-hour shifts. They will depart Sunday after a rally on the steps of Old Main, and their path will take them south on state Route 26 to Huntingdon. From there, they’ll head toward Mount Union and wind through the Blacklog Valley of Juniata County to Perry County to Cumberland County.
All the students who participated in the walk will meet at a diner in Wormleysburg on Tuesday morning and march across the Harvey Taylor Bridge over the Susquehanna River into downtown Harrisburg.
They’ll have a vehicle, stocked with water, emergency supplies and other things, following them at all times.
The walk has the blessing of the university.
Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers praised the students for their advocacy in the cause for more money for higher education.
“We hope this planned journey to Harrisburg will be successful in increasing funds, as well as awareness about the value of Penn State and the need to keep a quality education affordable,” she said. “It’s gratifying to see our students recognize that an increase in support from the commonwealth could go a long way in affirming the critical and valuable role higher education plays, as well as in mitigating tuition increases that result from an erosion of support.”
The idea for the walk came from a Penn State-to-Harrisburg student walk in the 1980s, when there was similar concern over state funding.
Once in Harrisburg, the students will join up with Penn State alumni, and the day culminates with a rally in the Capitol rotunda. The university’s Grassroots Network co-sponsors the event.