Local view: Speak up for the State Grant to students, for Minnesota’s futureMinnesota Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposed budget is being debated at the state Legislature, in city and town halls, and in the media across the state.
By: Larry Goodwin, for the News Tribune
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposed budget is being debated at the state Legislature, in city and town halls, and in the media across the state.
One of his proposals would strengthen a proven strategic investment in work force development and pay major dividends for our state’s future. I’m talking about Gov. Dayton’s call for an $80 million additional investment in the Minnesota State Grant program, a 25 percent increase over current funding.
The State Grant program provides portable, need-based financial aid to more than 90,000 Minnesota college students of modest financial means. This aid can be used at any public or private college or university in Minnesota, helping the recipient afford to attend the college that makes the most sense for her or his situation.
The good the State Grant program accomplishes year after year, without fanfare, is fundamental to helping secure our state’s prosperity in coming decades. Research shows that boosting financial aid increases college enrollment among low-income students, enlarges the number of students who stay in college and earn degrees, and raises the percentage of students who graduate on time. Meanwhile, it reduces the time students work while in college and how much money they have to borrow to go to college.
This is relevant because, increasingly, this is who we are. Minnesota’s children are increasingly from low-income families, with median family incomes dropping 15 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars between 2002 and 2011. Historically, and through no fault of their own, children from lower-
income families have lower odds of completing a college degree. Nationally, there’s a 45 percent degree-completion rate for students from lower-income families, compared to an 80 percent degree-completion rate for students from families with incomes $100,000 and higher.
Every high school graduate deserves access to post-secondary options, whether at a technical institute, community college or four-year institution. Census data show that in our knowledge economy employers need every young person working to the best of her or his abilities.
State Grant recipients are students at colleges and universities all over the state: at public and private, two-year, four-year and technical schools. They’re enrolled both part-time and full-time. The most common denominator among recipients is they come from families who struggle to make ends meet. Ninety percent of recipients’ families make less than $60,000 a year.
At the College of St. Scholastica, 934 students were State Grant recipients in the last academic year. That’s 29 percent of all St. Scholastica students. The average State Grant award at St. Scholastica was $3,244. I have talked to our students about how much this help means to them. For many, it literally is the difference between being able to attend college or not — or the difference between having to work only two part-time jobs to supplement income, as opposed to three.
Just down College Street at the University of Minnesota Duluth, there were 2,953 State Grant recipients last year. Up on the Iron Range, at Hibbing Community College, there were 654 recipients. The story is the same on campuses all over the rest of the state: The program’s reach is phenomenal, especially considering it has accounted for just 11 percent of what the state spends on higher education.
And the State Grant is becoming more important all the time because Minnesota’s aspiring college students face significant challenges that earlier generations didn’t. Our state’s commitment to higher education has diminished. We invested 12 percent to 16 percent of the state’s budget in higher education in the 1970s and ‘80s; last year that figure had dropped to 7 percent.
New investment in the State Grant program will help more students succeed and build Minnesota’s economic success. If you agree a stronger State Grant program is good public policy, please let your legislators know you support Gov. Dayton’s proposal.
Larry Goodwin has been president of the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth since 1998.