MAY 2015 Legislative Update

May 2015

While much remains unresolved this legislative session, lawmakers did pass a higher education bill that Gov. Mark Dayton signed on May 23. Along with providing funding to the state’s two public university systems, the bill expanded the State Grant program — the critical source of need-based grants for college students that Advocates for Minnesota Student Aid (AMSA) champion.

Thanks to the advocacy of hundreds of college students and other supporters, policymakers decided to improve the State Grant program,” said Paul Cerkvenik, president, Minnesota Private College Council. “By investing in the State Grant program, legislators and Gov. Dayton are helping low- and middle-income families pay for college. And AMSA members helped make it happen.”

The outreach from college students at private nonprofit colleges playing particularly critical role.  When more than 300 college students visited the Capitol during session, they had a chance to explain in-person just how important the program is to keeping higher education affordable. Letters and emails made a difference too: During the session many AMSA supporters responded to requests to send emails to policymakers, including to Gov. Mark Dayton, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith and local legislators.

The omnibus higher education bill that included improvements to the State Grant program passed before the scheduled May 19 end of session — and the governor subsequently signed it.

(But anyone watching the news knows that things didn't end so smoothly for all needed bills this legislative session. There has been stark disagreement about K-12 legislation, with the governor vetoing the K–12 bill that the Legislature passed. A special session will be needed to resolve these differences and complete other unfinished legislative budget work.)

May 2015

One key improvement was funding. Within the overall higher education bill, the $177 million per-year State Grant program received $7 million of new funds for the next two years. Critically important was lawmakers’ decision to reinvest the program’s current $74 million surplus in the State Grant program, something that was in doubt earlier the session. (You may recall that an earlier update to AMSA members had flagged this worry and action alerts had asked for help with making the point that the program surplus should be preserved for State Grant awards.)

Policy improvements were made as well — along the lines of what AMSA members heard about and helped advocate for earlier in the session. The bill expands the reach and the impact of the State Grant program by improving how awards are calculated. The awards will now cover more of a student’s tuition and fees at both the University of Minnesota and private nonprofit colleges, by raising the cap on the amount of tuition that is recognized in the award formula. In addition, all college students receiving the awards will be helped by a change that increases how much is awarded in recognition of their living expenses.

View a statement from the Council about the State Grant investments.

May 2015

For the more than 85,000 low- and middle-income college students expected to receive State Grant awards next academic year, their awards will be larger than they would have been without the new improvements made this session. That matters for those students — a lot. Consider what Concordia University graduate Ren Souvannasoth says:

“Paying for college definitely wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t have financial aid. The State Grant is key. Without it, I would have been in a much more difficult position, in terms of managing my tuition.”

And we know from research that need-based financial aid — like that provided through the Minnesota State Grant program — makes a meaningful difference. It helps students complete college on time, reduces student borrowing, allows for improved learning outcomes and helps close disparities in educational opportunity and outcomes.

With State Grant awards, the help is going to college students statewide, at both two- and four-year institutions, at ones that are public and private. In fact, the majority of the students who receive the awards attend the state’s public institutions.