Financial aid investments defended
In this week’s revised budget, Governor Mark Dayton reaffirmed his goal of putting equal investments of $80 million into the U of M and MnSCU and financial aid for college students — the State Grant program.
Meanwhile, presidents from several private colleges used a Star Tribune opinion column to speak up for the benefits the State Grant program has for low- and middle-income college students statewide, whether they attend public or private colleges, enroll full-time or part-time. While praising the governor’s broader education agenda, they in particular applauded his State Grant proposal for its payoff for the health of the economy. They also noted that “by funding financial aid that goes directly to students, the state promotes healthy competition among institutions — competition that holds down price and drives up quality.”
More than 100 students from several private nonprofit colleges joined in advocating for the program in the last weeks, during visits with their legislators at the Capitol. About 200 are expected this week.
Increasing fairness with the governor’s proposal
Governor Dayton’s budget would make the State Grant program fairer in two ways, by:
- Better recognizing students’ actual living costs by raising the grant formula to reach the poverty level, and
- Basing the grants on actual tuition at public two- and four-year institutions.
The benefits would be widespread; about 5,000 students would be newly eligible for grants and students would see their grants increase an average of $300. View the case for need-based aid (PDF).
On the tuition front, since 2006 a tuition cap has frozen grants at many four-year institutions. This cap means that awards don’t recognize actual tuition for many students. The result is lower grants for low- and middle-income students at the U of M and private nonprofit colleges. This problem is expected to start hurting students at several MnSCU two-year colleges as well, when their tuitions also start exceeding the program’s cap for two-year institutions.
“To treat students fairly, the cap needs to be raised to match the highest tuitions at the state’s public two- and four-year institutions,” said Paul Cerkvenik, president, Minnesota Private College Council. “This should be the top priority for new investment in the State Grant program — it matters to students at two- and four-year colleges, to students at public and private institutions.” Read the handout on a tuition cap (PDF).
Confusion created about part-time students
MnSCU advocates are pushing a proposal that would instead refocus spending on part-time students. That’s despite the fact that part-time students already receive fair grants that are based on their costs and family incomes, just like the grants that full-time students receive.
It’s worth noting that there’s already strong support going to part-time students at MnSCU institutions: In many cases they receive combined Pell and State Grant awards that cover more than 100 percent of their tuition costs. View a “Myths and facts” handout (PDF) or a table (PDF) showing combined Pell and State Grant awards by sector and credit load.
“For policymakers concerned about the needs of working adults who are going back to school, the MnSCU part-time proposal is not a good solution,” Cerkvenik said. “Increasing grants to all part-time students does not focus on working adults, but rather creates incentives for more students to attend part-time, which will increase educational costs and lower graduation rates. And it would undermine the fairness of the program, moving away from basing grants on family income and ability to pay.”
Over the next month we can expect to hear more from the higher education committees in the House and Senate about their read on new State Grant investments.
Anyone interested in speaking up for need-based financial aid for college students should consider signing up as a supporter for Advocates for Minnesota Student Aid.