The 2018 Florida Legislative Session concluded last month, which saw a number of bills passed into law impacting the state’s college students. A group that works throughout the year to make sure the issues most important to college students get addressed is the student leaders that make up the Florida College System Student Government Association (FCSSGA).
We recently spoke with FCSSGA immediate past president Jacobi Bedenfield, a junior attending Santa Fe College, to learn more about FCSSGA and the important work they do on behalf of the system’s 800,000+ students.
Q: Hello Jacobi and thank you for taking some time to chat with FCAN. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and why you choose to attend a Florida College System (FCS) institution?
A: Well, I was born and raised in Pensacola, Florida where I attended West Florida High School of Advanced Technology. My original plan was to attend a university straight out of high school. That changed when I was elected as the state vice president of the Florida FFA (Future Farmers of America) Association where I had to take a year off of school to serve following my high school graduation. The Florida FFA Headquarters was in Gainesville and I met several people who attended Santa Fe College at the time. After several recommendations and discovering the school was ranked #1 in the nation, I decided to enroll at the institution. This turned out to be the best decision I could have made, largely because of how affordable the institution was.
Q: What is the Florida College System Student Government Association (FCSSGA) and why did you decide to get involved with it?
A: The Florida College System Student Government Association (FCSSGA) is a professional organization that brings together the student governments from the 28 Florida College System institutions. Our mission is to evaluate the needs of students and be a vehicle to communicate these concerns to the Florida Legislature. I decided to get involved because I realized that many students and colleges throughout the state face the same issues and this organization was a way for all of us to collaborate and figure out meaningful solutions to some of the problems at hand.
Q: What are some of the policy issues that are most important to FCS students?
A: Florida College System students are most concerned with four main areas.
- College Affordability
- Safety & Security
- Increasing Academic Resources
- Increasing Budgets for Colleges
These are the main target areas that students throughout this state are focusing on. We evaluate bills and legislation, determine which category they fit under and develop a plan to address these issues before the Florida Legislature. This year, in regards to college affordability, students were very involved with the Bright Futures discussion at the Capitol and were successful in their efforts to get 100% Bright Futures coverage and textbook stipends.
A: Every year, we host our annual legislative conference where students are made aware of FCSSGA’s stances on the issues. At the conference we also facilitate and participate in what we call the ‘Rally in Tally,’ where every student government member present, community leaders and legislators come together at the Florida State Capitol building to speak up about the issues our organization feels strongly about. This is a time for us to formally announce our platform and what pieces of legislation we will are fighting for. Legislators and other officials will usually have an opportunity to briefly speak to the students as well. Following the rally, students will spend the majority of the day visiting with their local delegation to discuss the issues we are fighting for and attending higher education committee meetings. Additionally, student leaders often attend committee meetings and speak up on legislation that directly affects Florida College System students.
Q: Your year-long term just ended. What were some of your most notable accomplishments and what do you plan to do next?
A: This year has been fantastic! It has been by far the most productive year in our 60-year history. A few notable accomplishments were creating FCSSGA Friday messages, increasing social media engagement by 400%, going on a listening tour of 1,300 miles to meet with SGAs to determine how the organization can better serve them, creating a legislative guidebook for students, establishing new committees to evaluate FCSSGA in certain areas, starting a campus safety initiative, and working with the Council of Presidents and Association of Florida Colleges on legislative issues. I have been getting the question about what my next move is. All I can say is stay tuned.
Q: How can community leaders interested in improving student success connect with a FCSSGA leader?
A: The FCSSGA state executive board is committed to student success. We are always open to speaking with community leaders and stakeholders whose mission aligns with ours. Increasing opportunities for students to succeed is not something one person, group or organization can do alone; It must be a collaborate effort. Community leaders can reach the state president at email@example.com.
Q: What is next for FCSSGA?
A: We just completed our annual election season where Adam Maxwell was elected as FCSSGA’s new state president. I have faith that this new team of dynamic leaders will take the necessary steps to ensure the future of the Florida College System remains bright. I believe safety and security will be an increasingly popular topic of discussion going into this next year. We have successfully fought off the gun bills in the past, but now I believe there should be a stronger focus on keeping our students safe by ensuring that all students are aware of the emergency action plans at their respective colleges. Next academic year, FCSSGA will re-evaluate the legislative platform planks and determine what areas they want to focus on the most in terms of lobbying and advocacy.