College students and their families will benefit greatly from decisions made in the just-completed 2013 legislative session. The Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton agreed to increase higher education spending by $250 million in the next two-year budget, including increased investments in need-based financial aid through the State Grant program and in direct appropriations to public institutions.
Widespread support for improving need-based financial aid through the Minnesota State Grant program resulted in a $51 million increase in the program’s funding, a 16% increase. Additional resources made available within the program due to an increase in Pell Grants and revised demand projections will mean funding increases totaling $78 million.
“College students around the state attending all types of institutions will benefit from the state’s commitment to improving financial aid,” said Paul Cerkvenik, president, Minnesota Private College Council. “When it comes to the value of the State Grant program and its impact on families and future prosperity, I’m glad to say that policymakers made great progress for lower- and middle-income students.”
Counting State Grant benefits
The State Grant program, which provides need-based financial aid to one in four college students, was strengthened this session with the $51 million in new spending. The Office of Higher Education (OHE) reported that that represented the largest percentage increase in the program’s budget in almost a decade.
One important change made in the State Grant program is the increase in the four-year tuition cap that had frozen grants for students at the University of Minnesota and private colleges. With the tuition cap being raised by about $2,500, the average grant for students at private nonprofit colleges will increase by almost $700 a year. Read more about why this was a top priority (PDF). Grants will also increase due to an increase in the living and miscellaneous expense allowance that is part of the formula for calculating State Grants.
In addition, about 9,000 more students will now be eligible for these grants, bringing the total recipients to about 102,000, OHE reported.
Power of outreach
Hundreds of students, alumni and presidents from private colleges spoke out on the issue of improving financial aid this session, through individual meetings, notes, emails and opinion columns that helped educate and persuade legislators and the governor about the importance of financial aid.
If you're not already a member of Advocates for Student Aid, join today and help speak up for financial aid and college students.
State Grants extended to undocumented students
In another important development, Minnesota is changing how it supports undocumented students who are pursuing higher education. Legislation was passed and signed into law that allows undocumented immigrant students who meet certain qualifications to pay resident tuition at public postsecondary institutions around the state and to receive State Grant awards.
This change that was championed by a broad group, with the legislation sponsored by Sen. Sandy Pappas and Sen. Carlos Mariani, both DFLers from St. Paul. It was supported by the Minnesota Private College Council, among others. See two recent blog posts on the issue.
Improvements for independents
Independent students, who do not receive parental support, will benefit from this year’s changes. Typically 25 and older, these working adult learners are often going back to school to prepare for a new career. This year’s legislation will improve the State Grant awards for independent students without children; the federal needs analysis that helps determine the size of grants had expected a higher contribution from these students than is reasonable. The Council had also supported change in this area.