Officials predict another year of reduced higher ed grants

by Stephanie Kudrle

Students hoping to receive more in state grants this year might be disappointed.

In a meeting with the Higher Education Budget Division on Thursday, representatives from the state Higher Education Services Office said changes made in financial aid last year will continue to affect students this year.

Legislators were concerned the changes negatively affected lower-income students and those attending public colleges and universities.

Jerry Setter, HESO manager of financial aid data, gave a spending projection for 2004 and explained how past changes affected state grants.

Every student who received a state grant for fall 2003 in Minnesota was affected by financial aid changes made by the Legislature that year, Setter said.

Although the Legislature increased funding for Minnesota state grants in 2003, the budget for calculating grants was reduced, several programs were changed and eligibility was redefined, he said.

He said the changes have affected students in many ways.

Setter said 58,000 students received a reduced grant in fall 2003 because of reductions in allocations for living expenses.

The Living and Miscellaneous Expense Allowance takes into consideration extra costs, like books and school supplies, and is calculated in the cost of attendance, according to a HESO report.

In 2003, the allowance was decreased by $200, which meant a reduction of $50 to $100 for students, Setter said.

He said almost 23,000 recipients received smaller awards because the state switched from using actual tuition fees of each student to using each institution’s student fee average.

In addition, 5,700 students identified as fifth-years were deemed ineligible for state grants, he said.

Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, was concerned the changes make it more difficult for lower-income students to attend school.

Setter said based on spending last year, $142 million is available in funds for 2004. The state projects a spending of $120 million for 2004, a $5 million decrease from 2002.

Last year’s changes will continue this year, Setter said, so students will again face reductions.

Sen. Lawrence Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, said Minnesota is falling behind in helping students afford college.