MAY 2014 Legislative Update

May 2014

In the final days of the legislative session, the drive to permanently improve State Grant awards for one in four college students in the state ground to a halt. Despite support from the Senate and Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration, the House’s reluctance to support the Governor’s proposal blocked ongoing increases in these need-based grants.

“The voices of hundreds of college students and their supporters did make a difference; legislators were paying attention to the issue, because of what they were hearing from constituents,” said Paul Cerkvenik, president, Minnesota Private College Council. “I am deeply disappointed in the outcome. But I am so grateful for the strong support and leadership on this issue from the Governor and the Senate, including in particular Senate Higher Education Committee Chair Terri Bonoff.  The Governor and the Senate responded to the voices of students asking for increases in financial aid.”

In February Gov. Dayton included the State Grant improvements in his budget request to the Legislature. These improvements would have permanently increased State Grant awards by up to $510 for many students. In March the Senate Higher Education Committee included the State Grant improvements in the committee’s budget proposal.  Sen. Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka), who chairs the committee, was a committed champion for improving State Grants throughout the legislative process.  The House budget bill did not include improvements in the State Grant program.

There was hope for positive action this session until its closing days. When final supplemental budget bill was negotiated by the House, Senate, and administration, the State Grant improvements were left out in the end due to House opposition. (It’s important to note that many House members were supportive of these changes, but in the end their views didn’t prevail.)

As a result there will be no permanent increases in State Grant awards for next year. There will be a smaller, temporary increase of $200 to $300 for students, put in place administratively by the Office of Higher Education (OHE). Current law allows OHE to make this kind of temporary increase by adjusting the allowance for student living expenses that is used to determine State Grant awards.

May 2014

The changes advocated by Gov. Dayton, the Senate and the Minnesota Private College Council required no new money, just reinvestment of the current funding. We called for two key changes.

  1. Increase fairness for students at four-year institutions. There’s a cap on the level of tuition and fees that is used in calculating students’ State Grant awards. The cap falls $620 below the tuition and fees at the U of M. That means that grants do not reflect full tuition and fees at all public institutions. Raising this cap would allow for a modest increase of $310 for most recipients at private nonprofit colleges as well as at the U of M.
  2. Improve how State Grant awards address living expenses, helping all students. By adjusting how living expenses are taken into account, the state is expected to make a one-year change that will boost most awards by $200 to $300 for the 2014-15 school year. Legislators should make that change permanent.
May 2014

Students at the CapitolIt can’t be overstated: Whether it was parents of college students writing e-mails or students stopping by legislative offices, advocates for student aid were heard loud and clear this session. The final outcome wasn’t what we wanted. But that wasn’t because of a lack of contact from you and other advocates with your legislators. Policymakers were hearing about this issue from people they listen to — voters in their districts. While strong grassroots support doesn’t always win the day, it will be a critical prerequisite when we return next year to continue pushing for improving these grants for low- and middle-income college students.

What you can do now

If you want to improve our chance for success in 2015, consider asking someone you know to sign up for Advocates for Minnesota Student Aid. More people contacting their legislators on this issue is key to helping us reach a better outcome next session.

May 2014

More than 400 students visited the State Capitol this session for their private colleges’ Day at the Capitol, and most of them found the advocacy efforts worthwhile. In fact, 94% of the students who completed an evaluation survey said they would recommend the events to others. More than 30% of students said they had watched the new training videos that were created this year to help students get ready ahead of time