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ISSUE 116 VOL 4 PUBLISHED 10/4/2002

State cuts work study

By Annie Rzepecki
Contributing Writer

Friday, October 4, 2002

Minnesota college students have recently been cheated out of $12.4 million in state work-study grants. Why? Because the state legislature can’t manage its money.

Overall educational spending in Minnesota is slipping as well. Once at 15 percent above the national average, Minnesota is now only 6.6 percent higher than the state average for education spending.

And how were last decade’s surpluses spent? On tax cuts and rebates. Education got zilch.

That’s pretty grim when one considers the recent studies that show that people who earn a bachelor’s degree make about $1 million more in a lifetime than those with a high school diploma.

Of course, the significant cut in work-study does not spell disaster for every college student, but it hurts nevertheless. Who is to say that this couldn’t be an indication of what is to come? We could be staring down the barrel of future financial aid cuts and further increases in tuition.

Although St. Olaf prides itself on having one of the lowest tuition increases in the Midwest, our students still suffer an average tuition increase of 5.9 percent per year. That’s big bucks.

I depend on my work-study award to help pay for my tuition. $1,600 per year may not seem like much to a big shot legislator, but every little bit helps. My family appreciates my contribution and I gain a sense of responsibility for my education, not to mention valuable job experience.

The situation is even more severe for others. In a low-income family, $1,600 might mean the difference between a private university or a community college.

In the 2001 fiscal year, 12,079 Minnesotans received some kind of a work-study grant, with most jobs coming from private four-year colleges. St. Olaf used 100 percent of its state grants last year. But that wasn’t hard, considering that the College requested $300,000 from the state but only got $208,595. This was not enough to cover work-study for all eligible St. Olaf students, so the College had to cough up an extra $10,000 to make ends meet.

It worked out this year, but how long can this last? With the struggling economy and upcoming elections, work-study programs could take a back seat to more pressing issues.

I find it interesting that political candidates are so concerned with education at the elementary and high school level, but post-secondary education gets little attention. Do they think that every undergraduate decides to stop with their high school diploma? Apparently they haven’t realized that a college degree is pretty much a necessity in today’s business world.

I’m not saying that funding should be cut for primary education. It just doesn’t make sense to me that post-secondary funding should suffer. Not that I don’t enjoy paying for Jesse’s son to have keggers at the Governor’s mansion. I would just like to see educational funding evened out a bit.

Just because St. Olaf is a private college does not mean that its students are made of money. In fact, about ten percent of St. Olaf students come from families that have a yearly income of less than $35,000. When tuition, room and board take up about $27,000 of that, one had better hope that work-study comes through.

Of the $12.4 million, St. Olaf lost about $350,000 in grants, but has not had to make changes in its programs as of yet. Hang on to your jobs, kids – who knows what the legislature has in store for us next year.

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