Policymakers have yet to agree on financial aid

And then there were three: The House, Senate and the Dayton administration each now have their own proposals for higher ed spending, including investing in financial aid for college students through the State Grant program. (Focused on low- and middle-income families, this is the program that helps one out of four students afford college, whether they attend part-time or full-time, whether they enroll at public or private colleges.) There are plenty of details on how the plans for higher ed spending stack up but here are some highlights:

  • Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration and the Senate both emphasize investing new funds in the State Grant program. Both would increase program funding by $80 million — that’s an impressive 25 percent.
  • A priority for new spending on the program is raising the cap that currently limits grants by failing to recognize the full cost of tuition at the University of Minnesota. (Raising this cap would help students at the U of M and students at nonprofit colleges, whose grants are limited to the level that U of M students receive. And it’s important for students at two-year colleges too, where the cap will soon be a problem.) The administration does the best job on this front.
  • The House has not proposed putting significant new money into the State Grant program.

Ben HondaOne of the confusing issues this session is the discussion of whether something needs to be done within the State Grant program to provide more assistance to part-time students in particular. Unfortunately, a change to the grants for part-time students is being advanced as a way to help only MnSCU colleges, even though it creates unfairness in how the awards are granted. (If you like, read about how the program already works well for part-time students.) A better proposal is to focus on increasing grants for adult, independent students whose grants are often smaller than dependent students.

It will now be up to the two chambers and the administration to come to some agreement on what budget to put together that can be passed by both the House and Senate and signed by the governor. That won’t become clear until May, during the closing weeks of the legislative session. We’ll send out an action alert to let you know how you can speak up about these issues before then.