March 2016 newsletter
Read how a Saint Mary’s student is paying for college, and click through a gallery of photos taken at this year’s Scholars Showcase. Then read about the hurdles higher ed funding will have to overcome during the legislative session.
As a first-generation college student who transferred to Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, Chazz Robinson has always depended on himself to get ahead. “I had my struggles in high school. I didn’t want to do the work and I struggled. But then I realized that I have to do things on my own and turned things around. I made honor roll my senior year,” Robinson said. “A mentor suggested Saint Mary’s to me. I had never heard of it but when I visited I fell in love. I transferred there and love every aspect of the school and campus.”
Robinson, a Milwaukee native, is a senior majoring in psychology. Interested in organization development, he enjoys motivating people and sharing the different aspects of his life. He works in maintenance on campus and as a transfer ally — working with new transfer students. He is involved in the St. Peter Leadership Club, a member of the Psychology Club, Psi Chi national psychology honor society and Delta Epsilon national scholastic honor society. “So much of my life has not been easy. My dad died when I was 14 and my mom and I have struggled,” he reflected. “I am really enjoying my experience at Saint Mary’s. I am making memories and having fun.”
Robinson has navigated the financial aid process on his own — including completing his own FAFSA. “Saint Mary’s is kind of expensive. And that is my biggest challenge. The financial aid office works so hard to help me find ways to pay for college,” Robinson said. “I have some merit-based scholarships, work study — which is a fixed amount and some grants. I search for more scholarships over the summer and I have summer jobs as well. Every year, I seem to get lucky and qualify for some aid. What is hard though is that as my mom’s situation has improved, my Pell grant amount goes down. I want her life to get better but mine gets harder.”
Robinson’s financial aid package at Saint Mary’s includes need-based grants, work study, scholarships, Pell grant, federally subsidized loans and Parent Plus loans. He has personally borrowed $9,000 a year for two years at Saint Mary’s, with one more semester to go and to pay for before he will graduate. His mother has borrowed some as well. “Saint Mary’s works with me and they try so hard to help me, especially my admission officer Ken Pellegrini. He is always looking out for me. I realize that it is not that simple. I have to be realistic and responsible and know that I am balancing the cost as best as I can.”
“I always wanted to get a private education. People here have made such an impact on my life,” Robinson said. “Paying for college can be so stressful. But I want to push myself because my family and community are watching me. I never want to stop gaining and I feel like I can help others by working hard and pushing myself.”
by Cecilia Petschel
Other paying for college profiles:
- Tiana Danforth, St. Catherine University
- Haley Coller, Gustavus Adolphus College
- Delissa Hernandez, Augsburg College
The 13th annual Minnesota Private College Scholars Showcase took place on March 10 at the newly opened Minnesota Senate Building. Students from 15 colleges and universities participated in the event. The Scholars Showcase celebrates students’ scholarship and the efforts of their faculty advisors. The students had opportunities to talk about their research with several legislators and other visitors. (Click here if you can't see the photo gallery.)
Funding for college students and higher education is one of many topics under consideration in St. Paul, with the Minnesota Legislature convening earlier this month. But given that this is not a typical budgeting year, any ideas for new funds will have high hurdles to overcome.
With the recent forecast projecting a $900 million state budget surplus, there is some potential room for new spending. But when Gov. Mark Dayton released his proposals this month, he left out any new funds for college students through the State Grant program. The State Grant awards help about one in four college students in the state, whether they attend public or private colleges, or whether they are pursuing a two- or four-year degree.
“At a time when college affordability and eliminating disparities are top concerns for so many families, this is a missed opportunity,” said Paul Cerkvenik, president, Minnesota Private College Council. “We’re grateful for Governor Dayton’s past support for need-based aid, but more needs to be done for lower- and middle-income students. We hope the Legislature will push for more State Grant funding.”
Supporters for increasing need-based grants have stepped forward in the Legislature with two different legislative proposals. Sen. Kevin Dahle and Rep. Melissa Hortman are the chief authors of companion bills SF 2484 and HF 2925. And Sen. Greg Clausen has introduced SF 3219; Rep. Bud Nornes is the chief author of a companion bill that will be introduced in the House next week. “These bills are an important step toward targeting aid and providing opportunities to students,” Sen. Clausen said.
It is certainly too early to predict what will happen this legislative session. The Senate and House haven’t acted and together with the administration, they will all need to come to some agreement on how to handle higher ed spending overall when the session ends in May. If there is supplemental spending on higher education, then the Council is asking for an increased investment in direct aid to students through State Grant program. The Council’s request would increase grants by lowering the share of college costs that students and their families are expected to pay. View State Grant fact sheet.
The Council will continue to work with policymakers on the State Grant issue. And more than 140 students from member institutions are expected to come to the Capitol in April and May to tell legislators and the administration how important it is that they improve State Grant funding.
The House Higher Education committee members held a hearing March 16 where the legislators learned more about the unique ways private nonprofit colleges contribute to the state, including graduating 30 percent of all bachelor’s degree recipients in the state. Cerkvenik presented testimony about the role and collective impact of Minnesota’s private colleges and three presidents joined in providing testimony about their individual institutions: Paul Pribbenow, Augsburg College; Bill Craft, Concordia College; and Larry Goodwin, The College of St. Scholastica. They also highlighted the importance of State Grant awards for their students. At the end of the hearing, the chair of the committee, Rep. Bud Nornes, told the presidents that “what you’re doing is amazing and very important to the state.”
Opportunities in the tax bill
Help with paying for college could be addressed in another arena for legislative action — a tax bill. There is considerable attention being paid this session to passing a tax bill, with House Republicans insisting on tax relief. Proposals to help with higher education costs are in the mix.
One possible change would be to alter the tax laws to help families save in a 529 College Savings Plan. Minnesota is one of only a handful of states that have no incentive in the state tax code to encourage college savings. The Council has long supported such a change, given how it would help families save for college. There are also proposals on the table to give graduates who are paying student loans access to tax credits.
“If there is a tax bill, we hope a priority will be placed on higher education proposals,” Cerkvenik said. “Updating Minnesota’s tax code to better support saving for college would be a significant development.”
Other higher ed issues
When it comes to higher education spending, the Dayton administration did propose a couple specific areas for increases. These include:
- Funding to recruit and retain teachers, with a focus on diversifying the teaching workforce; and
- Grants to be used to narrow gaps in post-secondary attainment tied to race, supporting best practices that facilitate student retention and completion.
An issue getting a lot of attention this session is funding for high school counselors and other high school support staff. The governor did not include funds to address this topic in his proposals but Sen. Susan Kent has introduced legislation on the topic. (The scope of the needs for more high school counselors has been thoroughly covered recently by MPR.)
by John Manning
The four-year graduate rate for students of color at the Council’s 17 member institutions is significantly higher than either the University of Minnesota or MnSCU. It’s also the best in the Midwest, compared to public systems and other states’ private colleges.
Source: IPEDS graduation rate data cohort starting in 2008
*The Minnesota Private College Council’s 17 member institutions
Carleton physicists play role in groundbreaking discovery
Physics is having a rock star moment, and a Carleton College professor and students are part of the exciting discovery.
Saint Ben’s named a top Fulbright Grantee producer for second year in a row
Four College of Saint Benedict graduates earned grants and are serving as English teaching assistants in Malaysia, Bulgaria and Greece.
Computer science alum from St. Scholastica makes headlines
The College of St. Scholastica grad Aaron Halfaker is helping develop artificial intelligence technology to improve Wikipedia, and his work is attracting attention.
St. Olaf College hosts grand opening for new digital scholarship center
The Digital Scholarship Center at St. Olaf (DiSCO) is a new space dedicated to the creative application of technology in learning, teaching and research.
Bethany Lutheran's broadcast program marks milestone
Bethany Lutheran College and Minnesota State University, Mankato recently celebrated 15 successful years of a unique broadcast partnership that yields positive results for both institutions.
Saint John’s alumnus lands dream job with Minnesota Twins
Saint John’s University grad Brace Hemmelgarn is the first full-time photographer employed by the Minnesota Twins.
Irish poet Tom French to receive 20th O’Shaughnessy Award for Poetry
Tom French of County Meath, Ireland, will receive the 20th annual Lawrence O’Shaughnessy Award for Poetry of the University of St. Thomas Center for Irish Studies.
Exploring the intersection and overlap of art and science
A pair of Gustavus Adolphus College artists traded their smocks for safety goggles to draw inspiration from spending a month in a chemistry lab.
Inspiring the next generation of Auggies
Actor LeVar Burton — known for roles in Reading Rainbow and Star Trek: The Next Generation — motivated the prospective students attending Augsburg College’s annual Scholarship Weekend.
Macalester alumna guest on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert"
Macalester College grad Danai Gurira appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, speaking about The Walking Dead and her two on- and off-Broadway plays.
Saint Mary’s University announces new majors, minors
In keeping with its mission of preparing students to lead and serve, Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota has announced several new undergraduate majors and minors.
New Hamline University program builds professional skills within sciences
The Hamline Initiative for Professional and Academic Liaisons (HIPAL) program helps science majors develop skills that position them for graduate school or professional programs.
St. Kate’s receives $18 million gift from GHR Foundation
St. Catherine University President Andrea Lee, IHM, announced an $18 million gift from Minneapolis-based GHR Foundation to advance growth and innovation in healthcare education.
Concordia College president elected LWR board chair, named to AACU board
Concordia College, Moorhead, President William Craft was elected chair of the Lutheran World Relief board and named to the Association of American Colleges and Universities board.
Counselors' Breakfast scheduled for May 10 in St. Paul
This free informational session for high school counselors and others who work with students on college planning. Admissions representatives from our member institutions share updates on what is going on at their institutions and answer questions. Registration is open until May 4.
What does it mean to have a good job in Minnesota? Here's what the data say
MinnPost, Feb. 16, 2016
Preserving the original 'free college' plan
Inside Higher Ed, Feb. 22, 2016
When social and emotional learning is key to college success
The Atlantic Magazine, Mar. 2, 2016
Money for student counseling takes a back seat
Minnesota Public Radio, Mar. 7, 2016
A typology of “free tuition”
Inside Higher Ed, Mar. 13, 2016
While liberal arts decline in U.S., China and other economic rivals add them
The Hechinger Report, Mar. 18, 2016