APRIL 2016 Legislative Update

April 2016

More than 150 students visited the Capitol on April 6 and 12 to make the case for the State Grant program, with more visits planned for later in the month. These students came from Hamline University, Concordia College, College of Saint Benedict, Saint John’s University, Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, Augsburg College, Bethany Lutheran College, Macalester College, Concordia University and St. Catherine University. The students meet in small groups with their hometown legislators; the students speak up about the impact of need-based financial aid and the benefits of increasing funding for the program.

Rep. Moran meeting with Concordia University, St. Paul
Rep. Rena Moran meeting with Concordia University, St. Paul students during Day at the Capitol
April 2016

For key points about just what the State Grant program is as well as the Council’s 2016 legislative request, review the State Grant fact sheet.

For a quick take on three of the state’s education challenges and how the State Grant program can make the difference, review the Affordability and the Minnesota State Grant Program handout.

April 2016

Sagal HadafowStudent: Sagal Hadafow ’19
St. Catherine University

The State Grant has helped me focus on my academic success without worrying about paying for school. The grant has allowed me to be as involved as I can be on campus.

Hometown: Brooklyn Center

Major: Life Science (Biology)

Minors: Teaching English as a Second Language, Computer Science

Extra-curriculars: Member of Senate, Muslim Student Association, First Generation League of Scholars; works as student assistant in Financial Aid Office

April 2016

Help with paying for college could be addressed in another arena for legislative action — a tax bill. There is considerable attention being paid this session to passing a tax bill, with House Republicans insisting on tax relief. Proposals to help with higher education costs are in the mix.

One possible change would be to alter the tax laws to help families save in a 529 College Savings Plan. Minnesota is one of only a handful of states that have no incentive in the state tax code to encourage college savings. The Minnesota Private College Council has long supported such a change, given how it would help families save for college. There are also proposals on the table to give graduates who are paying student loans access to tax credits.

“If there is a tax bill, we hope a priority will be placed on higher education proposals,” said Paul Cerkvenik, Council president. “Updating Minnesota’s tax code to better support saving for college would be a significant development.”

April 2016

When it comes to higher education spending, the Dayton administration did propose a couple specific areas for increases. These include:

  • Funding to recruit and retain teachers, with a focus on diversifying the teaching workforce; and
  • Grants to be used to narrow gaps in post-secondary attainment tied to race, supporting best practices that facilitate student retention and completion.

An issue getting a lot of attention this session is funding for high school counselors and other high school support staff. Sen. Susan Kent has introduced legislation on the topic. (The scope of the needs for more high school counselors has been thoroughly covered recently by Minnesota Public Radio.)

April 2016

Supporters for increasing need-based State Grant awards for college students have stepped forward in the Legislature with bills that are moving ahead in both the House and Senate. Sen. Greg Clausen introduced SF 3219 and Rep. Bud Nornes, chair of the House Higher Education Committee, introduced HF 3733. The two bills would increase funding by about $25 million. The benefits would include making about 7,000 more students eligible and decreasing the share of expenses that students and families are expected to contribute.

Both bills were heard in committee in early April; students from Bethel University, Augsburg College and Gustavus Adolphus College came to those committee meetings and spoke up for State Grant investment. The bills do have several other authors, including Sen. Terri Bonnoff, who chairs the Senate Higher Education Committee. “These bills are an important step toward targeting aid and providing opportunities to students,” Sen. Clausen said.

The future of these legislative proposals is uncertain, however. Actual funding for improved State Grant awards will depend on legislators providing supplemental spending on higher education and spending it on State Grant improvements.

With the recent forecast projecting a $900 million state budget surplus, there is some potential room for new spending. Actual changes to State Grant funding would require agreement among leaders of the House, Senate and Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration — potentially at the close of the current legislative session.