Students win with increased state funds for need-based grants
Minnesota’s 2019 higher education legislation passed by the House and Senate and was sent to Gov. Tim Walz just under the wire this month, as the session was coming to its official close. While there were many competing proposals and limited new funding, policymakers did include a significant increase in funding for the State Grant program, which provides need-based aid to more than 80,000 college students. Gov. Walz has signed the legislation; the new law increases average grants by $188 next year. In addition, by 2021 about 3,000 more students will receive the awards.
“College students won this session, with policymakers making a meaningful increase in the support the state provides to keep college affordable. It’s important to keep strengthening the State Grant program, which provides such significant support for low- and middle-income families,” said Paul Cerkvenik, president, Minnesota Private College Council.
“And all of Minnesota wins when we strengthen need-based aid,” Cerkvenik said. “The State Grant program helps address a variety of needs, including helping close attainment gaps, holding down student debt and building our future workforce.”
The vast majority of the money the state spends on higher education goes to the two public systems, the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State, and that was true in this legislation as well. In contrast, the State Grant program helps students regardless of whether they attend public institutions or private nonprofit colleges — that means it helps students choose the institution that best supports their needs.
Funding for the State Grant program was increased by $18.2 million, a 4.6 percent increase over the program’s base funding. There had been proposals from the Senate and the Walz administration for a larger increase, which would have done more to help keep college affordable. But in the final negotiations, with competing demands and limited dollars, this is the increase that could be agreed on among House, Senate and administration negotiators. It is still a significant investment and when combined with an existing surplus in the program budget that was retained in the program, there will be $39 million to increase State Grant spending over the next two years. Within the program, awards will be adjusted somewhat to lower how much is expected from families and to increase what is assumed about student living costs.
Many college students and their supporters who are part of Advocates for Minnesota Student Aid (AMSA) made their views known about the State Grant program at the Capitol this session. This was vital, given how important it is for legislators to hear from individuals who are impacted by policy — in particular those who are constituents who will be voting in an upcoming election. More than:
- 2,000 e-mails were written to policymakers at critical points during the session by AMSA members;
- 250 students from private nonprofit colleges made time to come to the Capitol to meet in person with their legislators; and
- 500 handwritten notes were sent by students to legislators, thanking them for the State Grant program.
Student leaders who participate in the Minnesota Association of Private College Students were also very vocal, writing to government officials and visiting with legislators. And a group of impressive students took on the responsibility of testifying at the Senate and House higher education committees on behalf of all college students; this group included:
- Brandon Williams (Augsburg University)
- Aaisha Abdullahi and Abdi Badri (Hamline University)
- Read Sartell (St. Olaf College)
- Anthony Herr (Concordia University)
- Michael Sullivan and Viridiana Martinez (University of St. Thomas)
- Kadey Seeger (St. Catherine University)
- Monali Bhakta (Gustavus Adolphus College)
- Tu Lor Paw (Bethel University)
- Wendy Iteghete (College of Saint Benedict)
College presidents were active too, many coming with their students to the Capitol and also providing testimony. All this outreach mattered: we wouldn’t be seeing thousands more students receiving grants and grants growing larger without this active support.