MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — Students from all 14 of Alabama’s public universities rallied at the Capitol Thursday, calling for more funding of higher education.

Hundreds marched through the streets to the statehouse with a message for legislators.

“Lawmakers, we’ve got to find a way to increase revenue for the education trust fund in order to give higher education a proportionate share of that budget and to allow us to succeed,” University of Alabama in Huntsville Student Government Vice President Bradley Hudson said.

Students say more money for universities means a strong economic outlook for the state.

“We want to make sure that if we’re feeding the university our money and our funds as an economic organization, they’re also doing that for higher education,” Jacksonville State University Student Government Vice President Daniel Washington said.

State leaders and lawmakers who spoke after the parade had a message for students, too: Stay in Alabama after graduation.

“One of the things that’s a challenge for us is that we train many of you, and then you take flight to go help folks in other places. They need help, but not as much as we do,” Sen. Greg Reed (R- Jasper) said.

House Speaker Mac McCutcheon said funding for universities in the state is strong thanks to the legislature’s passage of the Rolling Reserve Act in 2011.

“Because of that, we’ve got almost a half a billion dollars put back into funds within our education department that you benefit from,” McCutcheon (R- Monrovia) said.

But some students say more is needed.

“Since 2019, the state has lagged behind 38.5 percent when adjusted for inflation in higher education spending,” Hudson said.

According to the Higher Education Partnership, which organized the event, Alabama ranks 11th out of the 16 southeastern states in higher education funding.

In addition to staying in Alabama, the chair of the House’s Education Policy Committee also encouraged students to consider a career in teaching as schools across the country face staffing shortages.