Senate testimony highlights private colleges and State Grant impacts
Thanking legislators for the State Grant program and encouraging them to invest more in it were themes in the testimony given Feb. 14 when the Minnesota Senate’s higher education committee met and heard from private nonprofit colleges.
Ben Yawakie, a student at Augsburg College, spoke about the sense that many people have that college is unaffordable. Financial aid is key, he said, to helping people sense the opportunities that exist and to realize they can pursue their goals for higher education.
The State Grant award Yawakie receives has made it possible this year for him to live on campus, which gives him more flexibility to “stay in the library until it closes” and get more involved in the community. He spoke about being on campus earlier in the day with his mother, introducing her to his professors and seeing how proud she is in how well he’s doing academically. So for the state’s funding for the grant program, he told the legislators “I just wanted to say thank you.”
The senators also heard the perspective of a recent graduate: Jessica Brooks graduated from Carleton College in 2009. Now working as a manager at Target Corp., she spoke about the importance of a variety of supports for students, not only financial but also in terms of information and encouragement. She received critical support through the College Possible program, with her advisor helping her apply for financial aid and get through the process. When she first graduated, Brooks chose to help other high school kids facing similar challenges when she returned to College Possible as a staff member through the Americorps program.
Three college presidents also testified: Paul Pribbenow, Augsburg College; Sister Andrea Lee, St. Catherine University; and David Anderson, St. Olaf College. Each shared particular strengths of their institutions as well as their own takes on the importance of the State Grant program to the state. Anderson, for example, spoke about the less than 3% of state higher education funding that helps students at the Council’s member institutions through the State Grant. The program has a strong return, with these institutions graduating such a large share of the state’s baccalaureate degree earners. And in terms of the workforce, looking at St. Olaf alone, Anderson ticked off the numbers of graduates working in Minnesota as physicians (555), nurses (660), and attorneys and judges (626).
Sen. Terri Bonoff, who chairs the committee, spoke at one point of the pride policymakers have in the State Grant program and the knowledge that private nonprofit colleges “are providing results.”
In his overview for the committee, Paul Cerkvenik, president, Minnesota Private College Council, said that private colleges are sometimes misunderstood — including in terms of how well their students reflect the state. “One out of four students come from families below $50,000 income – about the same as at the U of M Twin Cities campus as well as all the other public institutions combined,” he said. Other facts he cited about private colleges included:
- 27% of undergraduates receive federal Pell Grant awards, which are given to students from lower-income families.
- 24% of private first-year undergraduates are transfer students, many coming from two-year colleges.
- 19% of first-year students are “first-generation” – meaning neither of their parents has completed a two- or four-year college degree.
- 18% of first-year undergraduates were students of color in 2011, when the figure was 17% at the U of M and 14% at MnSCU four-year colleges.
- 14% of private undergraduates are “nontraditional” students who are older than 24.
Cerkvenik also noted that the private colleges’ graduation rate is the highest in Minnesota and the Midwest, and it is among the highest in the nation.