As a way of covering for massive budget deficit this year, the state government cut funds for the Minnesota state grant program. The changes total about a $12.4 million reduction in state and federal grants, reducing aid by about 4.5 percent.
Thomas Rusert '06, Student Government Association (SGA) president, represents St. Olaf in the Minnesota Association of Private College Students (MAPCS), a coalition that represents 17 private colleges in Minnesota.
The group's main initiative this year has been lobbying the state legislators to support the state grant program.
This work is important for many St. Olaf students. According to Rusert, over 500 St. Olaf students receive aid from the Minnesota state grants.
"For some students, the existence of these grants make it possible for them to come here," he said.
About half of students receiving federal Pell grants and Minnesota State grants will see their funding cut. While the effect on students overall will be small - - students with state grants will see a cut of about $175 on a $3,000 grant - - thousands of students statewide will be affected.
As St. Olaf's representative in MAPCS, Rusert was involved with the lobbying the group did on April 6.
"Our main purpose for lobbying on April 6 was to ask for a $7 million portion of the $80 million surplus that was projected in the '06 budget," he said.
Working with professional lobbyists at the capitol, MAPCS was hopeful of receiving some of this surplus. However, as Rusert said, "it looks like [the surplus] will be eliminated because of other extra funding needs."
Rusert was pleased with the response from St. Olaf students.
"We recruited more students this year to meet with the legislators, and we hope for more next year," he said. Eleven St. Olaf students were active at the Capitol, meeting with their representatives and lobbying for protection of the grant system.
Rusert expressed hope that interest will continue.
"Next year's Day at the Capitol is a prime opportunity to tell their legislators that students depend on the Minnesota state grant system," he said.