MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — Students from Alabama’s 14 public colleges and universities gathered in Montgomery Thursday, advocating for more funding of higher education.

The 25th annual Higher Education Day began with a parade of students led by the Alabama State University Marching Band.

Hundreds made their way to the statehouse, bringing school pride and a message for lawmakers: an investment in them is an investment in the future of the state.

“Ultimately we’re all students at a public university in the state of Alabama,” said University of Alabama in Huntsville Junior Garrett Willingham. “We’re out here wanting to make a difference, hopefully advocate for more funding for public universities in the state.”

Senior at Alabama A&M University Jaila Green-Mascotti also shared why she was there.

“HBCUs need money,” Green-Mascotti said. “That’s what we’re here for. We’re extremely underfunded, so anything we can do to get funds for our university to help the students succeed is what we will do.”

The annual event is arranged by Alabama’s Higher Education Partnership. Executive director Gordon Stone said they are happy with the education budget this year but want to remind lawmakers public funds should go to public schools.

This comes as the state considers a loan for Birmingham-Southern College, a private institution.

“We also want to make sure that we also don’t do something that is a little scary, and that is put public funds outside of the public sector,” Stone said. “So we’re reminding people this year that public funds should go for public universities.”

Gov. Kay Ivey spoke to students, giving a shoutout to her alma mater, Auburn University.

“War Eagle,” Ivey said to cheers in the crowd.

Ivey encouraged students to stay in the state after graduation and find work in Alabama.

“We are laser focused on continuing to bring good high paying jobs to the state, and we are eager for you, our future leaders to step up and join that workforce,” Ivey said.

According to the Higher Education Partnership, higher education brings in about $20 billion to the state every year.