House and Senate lay their cards down on higher ed funding
Plans for higher ed spending are multiplying, with Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposal for the next budget now joined by alternative budgets from the Minnesota House and Senate, which were released last week. And on the priority issue of need-based financial aid, it is clear that the House’s bill does little — providing just one-eighth of the new money for the State Grant program that the governor and the Senate would provide.
New investments in college students through need-based financial aid are a focus for both the Dayton administration and the Senate, both of which provide as much new money for the State Grant program ($80 million) as they provide for each of the public systems, the U of M and MnSCU.
It will now be up to the two chambers and the administration to come to some agreement on what budget to put together that can be passed by both the House and Senate and signed by the governor. That won’t become clear until May, during the closing weeks of the legislative session.
How the proposed budgets compare
Throughout the legislative session hundreds of students from private nonprofit colleges have been visiting legislators and writing them letters to point out that the State Grant program merits more investment because it is the best way to help keep college affordable for low- and middle-income students. And that’s true for college students across the state, whether they attend public or private colleges, whether they are enrolled part-time or full-time. (View more about the State Grant program and its benefits.)
The proposals from both the governor and the Senate make much needed improvements to the State Grant program, most significantly by increasing the amount of tuition taken into account in calculating grants. For a number of years, the State Grant has had a tuition cap that is below the level of the U of M’s tuition, which means grants for students at the U of M and private nonprofits do not take into account the full level of tuition at public institutions. Read more about this top priority tuition cap issue (PDF).
Both the proposals from the governor and the Senate also improve grants by better recognizing students’ actual living costs. They do so by raising the estimate of those costs in the grant formula to the poverty level. These changes increase grants for many students and expand the number of students who will receive grants.
Part-time and adult students
The Senate’s plan for the State Grant program also addresses part-time students and adult students:
- On the positive side, adult learners, those 25 and older, would receive important help through an improvement in how their State Grant awards would be calculated. It addresses a problem with the federally set method for determining financial need that hurts adult learners pursuing an education. This change would benefit independent students who attend any college in the state, and would help adult students whether they attend part-time or full-time. This is a good approach to addressing the legitimate needs of adult part-time students.
- One area of remaining concern is a proposed change that would only help part-time students at MnSCU institutions. This is an unnecessary and expensive change, one that creates unfairness in the program between how part-time and full-time students are treated. It also puts part-time students at other colleges at a disadvantage. See more on how the program already works for part-time students.
Anyone interested in speaking up for college students and financial aid yet this legislative session should visit and consider joining Advocates for Minnesota Student Aid.