FEBRUARY 2016 Legislative Update

May 2016

When it comes to keeping college affordable, three pieces of news have recently come out of Washington, D.C.

  • One is what has and hasn’t happened to the Perkins Loan program. This is a need-based student loan program offered by the U.S. Department of Education that helps students by carrying a fixed low interest rate. Congress had let the program expire in the fall, but it was revived for two more years by legislation passed in December. Although far from perfect, this extension will allow Congress to revisit the program again. Many hope that the program will be permanently extended and eligibility standards restored. Perkins helps students avoid taking out private student loans that charge higher rates.

  • Another significant piece of news from the federal government has been an increase in funding for federal Pell Grants. The recent federal budget bill increased the maximum Pell Grant by $140 to $5,845. This is a positive development, one that helps keep college affordable and within reach for more students from lower-income families. In addition, the budget bill put new funds into proven TRIO and GEAR UP college access programs.

  • And the third development that emerged in December in the budget deal between Congress and the White House is that the American Opportunity Tax Credit will be permanent. This is the most generous tuition benefit available to students and families, allowing a $2,500 credit against tuition expenses annually for individuals earning less than $80,000 and $160,000 for married/joint filers. Previously set to expire in 2017, it will now be a permanent benefit.
February 2016

MAPCS logoMore than 100 student leaders from private colleges are getting together this weekend for a conference to discuss student activism, improving student government and advocating for private college education. Held at University of St. Thomas, the event has been organized by Minnesota Association of Private College Students — more on the organizers is posted here. Guests will include Hamline University President Fayneese Miller, Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith and Larry Pogemiller, Commissioner of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.

College students are speaking up about state policy in other ways.

  • By writing to their legislators: Campus events to help students get involved this way started at some member colleges in the fall; more are planned for this winter and spring. The focus is on what the State Grant program means for college students.

  • By coming to the Capitol: Delegations of students from most private colleges will be coming to Saint Paul during the legislative session, to have meetings with their legislators.
Thank you note writing at Bethany Lutheran College
Thank you note writing at Bethany Lutheran College
February 2016

When you speak up for college access and removing financial barriers that can get in the way, you may hear from some skeptics. There’s doubt sometimes about the value of a college degree — and worry about costs. Here are a few points to keep in mind.

When you hear questions about the value of a college degree
Earning a college degree has many benefits, but one of the clearest is financial. College degree holders earn more on average than those without a degree. Consider the latest Minnesota data for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 3.6% of these Minnesotans lived below the poverty level in 2014, compared to 11.4% of those with less than a bachelor’s degree.

When you hear questions about the value of a liberal arts degree
A liberal arts education is more relevant than ever today. It provides both broad knowledge as well as in-depth study of a specific area, preparing students to apply knowledge and skills in real-world settings. Employers understand the value of a liberal arts education. Along with specific skills, new hires need “to be well-rounded, curious, good problem solvers and able to handle a variety of situations,” notes the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce’s Bill Blazar. “This goes to the heart of a liberal arts education.”

For more, see what Concordia College President Bill Craft and College of Saint Benedict President Mary Hinton have to say on the value of the liberal arts.

When you hear questions about the cost of college
Much of what is in the media relies on extreme anecdotes and outliers. The truth is that college remains within reach for families of all income levels — including private colleges. Consider that at our 17 institutions 94 percent of first-time full-time students receive scholarships and grants they do not have to pay back. These grants address the financial need as well as recognize academic preparation. As a result, the average family pays less than half of the listed tuition price.

When you hear that private college students are all wealthy
Our students come from all income levels — for example, a quarter of Minnesota students at our 17 institutions have family incomes below $40,000. Also, family incomes for students at our private colleges are similar to students at public universities. At private colleges the median family income for FAFSA-filing Minnesota students is lower, in fact, than the median for students at the U of M.

February 2016

Hannah MorganStudent: Hannah Morgan '16 , St. Catherine University

"The State Grant has made it possible for me to attend St. Kate’s, since I come from a low-income family. This grant has opened doors for me at St. Kate’s. It has made it possible for me to be active on and off campus . . . .”

Major: Women & International Development

Minors: Nonprofit Management, Women & the Arts, Teaching English as a Foreign Language

Extra-curriculars: Orientation Leadership Team; Fellowship of Christian Athletes; CRU Bible Study, St. Catherine International Student Association; Student Leadership Club); Internship with Courageous heARTS

Read more student stories.