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ISSUE 115 VOL 15 PUBLISHED 3/15/2002

Students rally for financial aid

By Julie Gunderson
News Editor

Friday, March 15, 2002

A $2 billion shortfall in the Minnesota state budget has sent state legislators scurrying to try to eliminate the deficit. Rethinking the budget also means reexamining the Minnesota state grant program, affecting students receiving state-based financial aid at private colleges.

In 2000-2001, 540 St. Olaf students receive a total of $1,96 million in Minnesota state grant aid. This year, 505 student were awarded approximately $1.8 million from the state’s grant program.

In order to ensure the continuation of this money, private college students from around the state, including St. Olaf, participated in "The Day at the Capital."

At the capital, students were able to watch the legislative process unfold and talk with representatives about the importance of the Minnesota grant program.

While the students ultimately failed in their efforts at getting the funds for the grant program increased, they were successful in other ways.

"It was a great way for students to get their voices heard, and to try and dispel the perception that private college students are wealthy," Director of Government and Community Affairs for the Minnesota Private College Council Michael Wilhelmi said. "We wanted to make it clear that much like public students, our students come from middle and low income families too."

The numbers reflect this point. The median family income of state grant beneficiaries attending private colleges is between $40,000 and $50,000, which is below the state’s median family income of $56,000.

With these numbers supporting their cause, the student lobbyists were able to get their point across.

"I urge students to take an active role in these lobbying efforts" Wilhelmi said. "They can participate in next years ‘Day at the Capital,’ and get involved in the letter writing campaign. Students and their families need to let their representatives know how important this program and money is to them."

St. Olaf of Financial Aid Kathy Ruby also urged students to get involved with lobbying efforts, even though it will be seven or eight months before the issue rises again in the legislature.

"Students who are interested in showing their support for the grant program should contact me or others in the financial aid department," Ruby said. "That way when it comes time to organize things like ‘The Day at the Capital’ we know which students to contact and who would be interested."

The Minnesota state grant program, which awards need-based grants to residents of the state attending private and public institutions, was spared from cuts. However, the program did not receive the increase that Governor Jesse Ventura and members of the state senate proposed.

"Surprising to what most people thought a few years ago, the governor has turned out to be a friend of private colleges," Ruby said.

"He believes in the same concepts of pulling yourself up and being able to make your own educational decisions, Ruby said."

The governor recommended a 2.5 percent increase in the state’s grant program, and proposed a plan in which $12 million would have been added to Minnesota’s grant program over the next three years.

"Governor Ventura is one of our best allies," Wilhelmi, said. "He gave the best proposal and did us a great favor in supporting our cause."

The Minnesota state senate recommended a two percent increase.

The house eventually triumphed with its proposal not to increase the funding for the state grant program.

Ruby said that the biannual budget was reexamined after budget deficits occurred, but the built-in increase of an average $119 per student that qualifies for the state grant financial aid remained from the previous budget.

"A few months ago, we became concerned when we heard some talk that the budget shortfalls might cause cuts in the Minnesota grant program," Ruby said.

At the heart of the debate on how to use state funds is whether the state should spend money on institutions or give it to individuals.

"We feel that putting money in the hands of students and allowing them to make their own educational decisions is more efficient and produces better results," Wilhelmi said.

The formula that the state uses for deciding how much financial aid recipients should get in Minnesota state grants is comprised of many different calculations.

The state first sets a private school cap (tuition and fees) which is $8,983 for 2002-2003, plus a standard living and miscellaneous expense allowance, which is set at $5,405.

Out of the total of the private school cap and standard living expense, the state subtracts the 46 percent that students are required to come up with on their own.

The Pell and Minnesota Grants, which are what is left over, cannot exceed $7,770.

From this amount the state subtracts the parent contribution, which is calculated using the FAFSA information and a federal and state formula, and subtracting the Pell Grant eligibility that a person receives.

The amount left over is what the state grant program awards an individual for a given year.

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