By Kevin Halpin
Thousands of college students from Minnesota lost a key part of their financial aid packages this year. Higher than expected demand meant that the need-based aid the state of Minnesota provides through the State Grant program had to be rationed. Rationing meant that many lost grants — and the remainder of grants shrunk.
Saint Mary’s isn’t the only university where students felt the impact. State Grant awards help one out of four Minnesota college students, whether they go to public or private institutions, whether they are earning a two-year or a four-year degree.
We need to prevent that kind of rationing next year. The budget that the Minnesota Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton finalize this spring should fully fund the State Grant program; that way we can avoid a repeat of this year’s rationing and cuts. It would require $14 million more for next year, up from $145 million.
Yes, Minnesota faces a massive budget deficit, one that some combination of cuts to many programs and new revenues will have to address. Yet our request for additional State Grant funding still makes sense. Despite all the economic turmoil, Minnesota needs to keep making longer-term investments, ones that will sustain the region for the long haul. And investing in future college graduates — graduates who will be able to help drive this economy forward — is just the kind of investment we need to make.
The importance of having a college degree is only going to grow. And as the share of our state’s high schoolers who come from lower-income families increases, the State Grant program helps keep open the doors to opportunity. But the State Grant pays returns that go far beyond the families of the recipients; sustaining the state’s supply of college graduates is good for the whole state.
On March 31, Saint Mary’s will be participating the annual “Day at the Capitol”. This event provides students an invaluable opportunity to meet face-to-face with legislators to share stories about the importance of keeping college affordable.
If you’re interested in this issue, visit mnprivatecolleges.org/policy. That’s the website of the Minnesota Private College Council, which includes Saint Mary’s. You can find out more there about the State Grant program, what is going on in St. Paul and how you can get involved, including by coming to the Capitol to meet with your legislators. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about attending this year’s Day at the Capitol event.