A day at the Capitol advocating for student aid
More than 50 students from Bethany Lutheran College and Gustavus Adolphus College came to the Capitol on March 27 to speak up for the Minnesota State Grant program, which is a source of need-based aid. The students were asking for a $30 million dollar increase in the program’s funding, which would increase the size of students’ grant awards and increase the number of Minnesota students receiving the awards. Students woke up early that day to get on buses and vans and make the trip up from Mankato and St. Peter.
9:00 am: Gustavus students arrived
As the students from Gustavus entered the circular L’Etoile du Nord Vault Room in the basement of the Capitol, they were greeted with information packets and briefings from Minnesota Private College Council staff. Only a few of the students had been to the Capitol before and even fewer had met with their representatives. The students' uneasiness dissipated after a brief refresher on the importance of the State Grant and a review of the day’s schedule.
9:38 am: Rep. Jack Considine spoke
Rep. Jack Considine represents district 19B, which includes Mankato. He was introduced and spoke at length about the importance of an educated workforce not only to his district but to the whole state. “I have a firm belief that we should be investing in people and more specifically college students,” Rep. Considine said, his voice echoing in the arched vault room.
9:45 a.m.: Bethany students arrived at the Capitol
After Bethany Lutheran College students joined the group, Rep. Considine went on to talk about how he and other legislators make decisions and how the students might communicate to get their points across. He said the primary factor in his decision making is how it impacts the people in his district.
10:10 a.m.: Rep. Clark Johnson spoke
Rep. Clark Johnson, who represents district 19A, which also includes Mankato, described his work in academic affairs and how important it is to him for students to be given the chance to succeed academically and be supported financially. “When we invest in students, we’re investing in the future of Minnesota,” Rep. Johnson said. “Your request for increasing the program is appropriate and specifically expanding to more students makes sense.”
Students then started to break off and go to smaller meetings that had been set up for them with legislators who represent their home districts. They also used their free time to write out personal notes to drop off with the chairs of the higher education committees — as well as to grab lunch at one of the cafeterias.
10:30 a.m.: Magen Meyer and Samuel Christenson met with Sen. Jeremy Miller
Entering Sen. Jeremy Miller’s office, there is a red canoe hanging from the ceiling next to a large window overlooking the State Capitol. After short introductions, Magen Meyer made her point: “I wouldn’t be able to go to Bethany if it wasn’t for the Minnesota State Grant. And I feel like a lot of students at Bethany are like me. I really like that Bethany is small, and it’s helped me to succeed.”
Christenson then showed Sen. Miller a project he’d been working on. Christenson handed Sen. Miller his phone, which was playing a 2D flip book animation of an action hero. “Bethany has a good graphic design major,” Christenson said. “And I wouldn’t be able to go there without the State Grant.”
1:15 p.m.: Gabby Rosati and Kate Knutson met with Rep. Laurie Halverson
Rep. Laurie Halverson’s office is in the corner of the second floor of the Minnesota State Office building. As student Gabby Rosati and Gustavus political science professor Kate Knutson waited outside her office, a Gustavus alum saw their buttons and stopped by to talk about college and their time at the Capitol.
Rep. Halvorson said she is a big supporter of the State Grant; she talked about the importance of access to four-year degrees with Rosati, who’s from Eagan, and Knutson. Rep. Halvorson herself shared that she had started at a larger school and finished her degree at St. Catherine University. She mentioned that a recent focus on two-year degrees should not be at the expense of access to four-year degrees.
2:13 p.m.: Sen. Nick Frentz spoke
As the day began to wrap up, students came back together to hear from Sen. Nick Frentz, a first-year senator with a commanding presence. Sen. Frentz answered questions from the students on everything from his college experience to changes to the state’s general fund.
Sen. Frentz discussed the importance of choice in higher education. “Private colleges in Minnesota have very good retention rates — it’s just what we want.” Sen. Frentz said, “It’s inefficient to have a student go to a school and decide it’s not what they want.”
3:00 p.m.: Gustavus host alumni event
While students from Bethany Lutheran headed back to Mankato, Gustavus students stayed at the Capitol for another chance to meet with alumni. A speed-dating style meet-and-greet was held on the third floor. For students imagining their lives after college, it offered a chance to hear from graduates about how they moved into careers in policy and government.
3:19 p.m.: Testimony in the House higher education committee hearing
The House’s higher education committee members met in the wood-paneled hearing room in the State Office Building. Rep. Nick Zerwas sat before the group to introduce a bill he had authored that would increase funding for the State Grant program. He highlighted how the bill would allow more than 5,000 additional students be helped by the program.
The impact of the State Grant program at Gustavus Adolphus College was the focus for two subsequent presenters — Gustavus president Rebecca Bergman and junior Jack Schugel, who would be running back to the alumni event when his testimony was done. Bergman noted that the State Grant helps almost 50 percent of the students at the college who are from Minnesota. Schugel, who had learned he would be called on testify just the night before, seemed perfectly at ease. “On behalf of students who get the State Grant and those currently unable to qualify,” he said, “I want to let you know we need your help.”