By Kevin Halpin
What’s helping 19 percent of students at Saint Mary’s make it through the year? No, it’s not Mugby Junction or any other coffee shop in Winona. Something else is making a difference for many students: a grant from the state of Minnesota.
In Minnesota, it is called the State Grant program, which is a powerful tool that helps keep college affordable. This year the average annual grant is $3,076 for 388 SMU students, and it aids students based on their financial needs.
The impact of the program stretches far beyond SMU. Among the state’s private nonprofit colleges, more than 12,000 students receive the grant. Students at public institutions such as Southeast Technical and Winona State University actually receive the bulk of the program’s grants. Altogether, more than 88,000 college students in Minnesota receive these grants, which is about one in four students.
Since this investment impacts us right here at SMU, now is the time for us to reach out to policymakers. We need to make sure they understand just how important these grants are if we want to protect them from possible cuts.
This year students receiving State Grants are benefiting from good decisions that were made during the last legislative session—decisions that we students encouraged. Despite budget shortfalls, legislators and Gov. Mark Dayton agreed to give the program $21 million in additional funding. That means the awards could be larger this year than they were last year.
But we can’t be complacent. Looking ahead, forecasts show that state budget deficits will return larger than ever. Because of this, it is likely that the State Grant program will see cuts in its funding. The program is too important for students at SMU and other Minnesota schools for us to let that happen.
Also, Minnesota’s investment in the program has not been keeping pace with financial need. The value of the average award has been decreasing, even though the need among college students for this kind of support has been increasing.
Consider helping us reach out to legislators to educate them about the impact of this program. Working with students from Minnesota’s Private Colleges, we’ll be going up to the Capitol in St. Paul to make our case in small group meetings with legislators on March 22. If you want to hear more about this, stop by the Student Activities Office or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sign up at www.mnprivatecolleges.org/policy/get-involved.
SMU is a unique place, and for many of us, the State Grant awards allow us to be here and to minimize borrowing and future debt. So let’s speak up and ensure that all students have the opportunity for higher education.