State helps college students with State Grant funds
While much remains unresolved this legislative session, lawmakers did pass a higher education bill that Gov. Mark Dayton signed on May 23. Along with providing funding to the state’s two public university systems, the bill expanded the State Grant program — a critical source of need-based grants for one out of four Minnesota college students.
“Policymakers have increased direct tuition assistance for students who face the greatest financial barriers to college success, whether students attend public or private institutions,” said Paul Cerkvenik, president, Minnesota Private College Council. “By investing in the State Grant program, legislators and Gov. Dayton are helping low- and middle-income families pay for college.”
The omnibus higher education bill was one of several that the Legislature passed before the scheduled May 19 end of session and the governor subsequently signed. However, there has been stark disagreement about K-12 legislation, with the governor vetoing the K–12 bill that the Legislature passed. A special session will be needed to resolve these differences and complete other unfinished legislative budget work.
Within the overall higher education bill, the $177 million per-year State Grant program received $7 million of new funds for the next two years. Critically important was lawmakers’ decision to reinvest the program’s current $74 million surplus in the State Grant program, something that was in doubt earlier the session.
Policy improvements were made as well. The bill expands the reach and the impact of the State Grant program by improving how awards are calculated. The awards will now cover more of a student’s tuition and fees at both the University of Minnesota and private nonprofit colleges, by raising the cap on the amount of tuition that is recognized in the award formula. In addition, all college students receiving the awards will be helped by a change that increases how much is awarded in recognition of their living expenses.
“Improving State Grant awards is important because we know from research that need-based financial aid — like that provided through the Minnesota State Grant program — helps students complete college on time, reduces student borrowing, allows for improved learning outcomes and helps close disparities in educational opportunity and outcomes,” Cerkvenik said.
The Council regularly champions the importance of the State Grant program, with students and staff from private nonprofit colleges regularly coming to the Capitol and reaching out to legislators about its importance. It is worth noting, however, that the majority of the more than 85,000 undergraduates who will receive the awards in the next school year attend the state’s public institutions.