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VIA: AJC.com

College students carried signs warning Georgia’s lawmakers that they voted. They reminded budget writers that today’s college students are tomorrow’s leaders. They pleaded for money, saying that the Legislature is “budget-cutting my future.”

Several hundred students from nearly all of Georgia’s 35 public colleges united for a rally Monday morning to protest proposed budget cuts. At one point, the University System of Georgia was facing up to $600 million in cuts for the 2011 fiscal year. While the actual cut may be closer to $350 million or $400 million, students said that deep of a cut still puts their education in jeopardy.

Students drove from as far as Athens, Savannah and Augusta to attend the rally, which student leaders have been organizing for weeks. Sophomore Courtney Sims was among a group of Savannah State University students that left campus at 5 a.m. to make it to the rally.

Sims, a behavioral analysis major, worried the college may have to eliminate his program because of state budget cuts. He’s annoyed that his classes are getting larger because the college can’t afford to hire more professors. He stressed over getting the courses he needs to graduate in four years.

“They need to see our faces and hear our voices so they can see who they are hurting with these cuts,” Sims said. “When you cut money to the colleges, it hurts us. I think they’ve forgotten that.”

Sims started with the rally at Hurt Park, organized by the University System of Georgia Students for Quality Education, mostly led by student body presidents. A couple of students carried a small coffin, inscribed with “R.I.P Georgia Education.” Others carried signs saying “Students are not ATMs.”

Student leaders read a statement urging lawmakers to protect higher education from severe cuts.

“The primary student objective is to preserve the quality of education and the integrity of our degrees” through four priorities: maintaining access to college; allowing students to graduate on time; keeping Georgia’s college competitive; and attracting and retaining quality professors, according to the statement.

Following the speeches, students marched from Hurt Park to meet with other groups, including Georgia Students for Public Higher Education, already at the Capitol. As they walked, a few students yelled: “Education is under attack, what do we do?” The crowd screamed back: “Stand up, fight back!”

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