Last year, nearly $2 million in Minnesota State Grants helped 583 St. Olaf students finance their educations. This year, because of state budget deficits and the current economy, the grants have been significantly reduced and the states work study funds have been completely eliminated.
"It's going to affect many Minnesota students (and their families) in a very material way, and by extension will impact their friends, roommates and classmates," said Nancy Ashmore, senior communications specialist for St. Olaf. "I know it's something I'm keeping very top of mind as I listen to candidates promising me they won't raise my taxes, but not saying where they're going to find the money to balance the budget."
In a typical year, work study funds come from the state and federal government, as well as from St. Olaf. This year, however, the $12.4 million work-study budget from the state was instead used to finance the State Grant Program, which experienced record-high numbers of students needing its services. Thus, the shortfall in the Minnesota State Grant Program was approximately $17 million for the 2003 fiscal year.
Many factors influenced the decision to switch funds, including the current state of the economy and the rising price of tuition at schools in the state.
Fortunately, the financial aid office was able to meet every students work-study award this year through the utilization of "reserve funds." According to the fact sheet dispersed at the session, the college is not sure if it will be able to do this again in the future.
The Minnesota State Grant Program, originally established in 1967, gives need-based financial aid to Minnesota natives who attend any Minnesota college or university. It currently operates under the idea of "shared responsibility," through which students, families, and the state and federal governments are "responsible" for helping all Minnesotans go to college.
According to the Minnesota Private College Councils website, state and federal funding for need-based financial aid has not recently been able to match the rising costs of college tuitions for both public and private institutions. Currently, the Minnesota Private College Councils goal is to make the private college community aware of many of such issues so that they might politically support Minnesotas need-based financial aid programs.
The session encouraged students to contact their Minnesota state representatives and senators in order to increase awareness of the current problem facing the states student work program.