College students could see larger State Grants next fall
Larger need-based grants for Minnesota college students may be awarded next fall, depending on how legislators and Gov. Mark Dayton agree to finalize the state’s omnibus budget bill. Both Gov. Dayton and the Senate have supported increasing State Grant awards for about 100,000 college students. But the Minnesota House has not acted on that proposal, which means the fate of any increase will remain uncertain for a few more weeks.
State Grant awards could be increased without requiring any new investment of state funds, just the reinvestment of the existing program balance. Gov. Dayton and the Senate have supported changes that would increase awards by up to $510, by allocating funds to adjust how living expenses are addressed as well as raising the cap that is placed on the maximum tuition that is used in calculating awards, to match current tuition and fees at the U of M.
“College students are asking legislators and the administration to help increase these important grants,” said Paul Cerkvenik, president of the Minnesota Private College Council. “The good news is that this can be done without any new appropriation.”
Anyone concerned about this issue can help advocate for State Grant awards. Visit the Advocates for Minnesota Student Aid website for background information and help with sending a note to legislators. Legislators will be back in St. Paul on April 22 and will be resolving this and other remaining issues in the next few weeks — it is important that they hear about the State Grant now.
Efforts to highlight the State Grant issue have included visits to the Capitol by a few hundred college students during the session, as well as the many thank you notes to legislators that college students continue to write to legislators.
Earlier this year, the Office of Higher Education announced that it would temporarily increase living expense allowances by $200 for next year only, using its administrative authority. Without legislative action, this allowance would revert back to its current level the following year and no increase would be made to the tuition cap.
Other policy updates
Beyond considering the State Grant reinvestment, legislators have been weighing several other higher ed topics this session:
- The bonding bill would fund nearly $1 billion in public works projects, including projects at public higher ed institutions. While this bill hasn’t been finalized, the House version includes more than $300 million for projects at public higher education institutions.
- There are proposals to provide additional funds for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) to cover the $17 million in additional employee contract costs.
- New reporting requirements about study abroad safety have been championed in the Senate.
- Legislation was passed and signed into law to address Minnesota tax law and conform to federal law; this means three higher education tax benefits at the federal level are expanded to the state level, including the deductibility of interest on student debt, expanding the state contribution limit on education savings accounts and raising the cap on tax exclusion of employer-paid tuition assistance.
- Efforts to allow the state’s SELF loan program to be used to refinance student loan debt were passed in the Senate.