Big Ten leaders convene on campus

At its Winter Conference, the Association of Big Ten Students focused on college affordability.

Senior Rylee Ahnen, left, talks with other ABTS members at Annie’s Parlour Saturday evening.

Senior Rylee Ahnen, left, talks with other ABTS members at Annie’s Parlour Saturday evening.

Kaitlyn Walek

When Minnesota Student Association President Mike Schmit addressed a crowd of Big Ten student leaders Friday night, he included some friendly rivalry.

“Congratulations to Ohio State on losing to the Gophers,” he said, referencing Thursday’s men’s basketball game.

The crowd laughed, but the students quickly put jokes and rivalries aside for the Association of Big Ten Students’ Winter Conference at the University of Minnesota this weekend.

At the conference, student government leaders began planning for how the association will lobby for student issues like college affordability when association members travel to the Capitol this spring for Big Ten on the Hill — the group’s annual lobbying trip.

With the recent additions of Rutgers and University of Maryland to the Big Ten Conference, this weekend’s event was the largest Association of Big Ten Students gathering yet.

All 14 schools in the Big Ten sent delegates to the conference, and more than 70 student government leaders packed the Weisman Art Museum for the event’s kickoff Friday.

Much of the conference’s discussion focused on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which governs how the federal government manages higher education around the country. The act is up for reauthorization this year.

Andy MacCraken, executive director of the National Campus Leadership Council, spoke at the conference and said it’s important for students to express their concerns with college affordability as Congress reauthorizes the bill this year.

The Higher Education Act governs policy on many high-use financial aid programs, including Pell Grants, Perkins loans and work-study programs.

Many students and speakers at the conference stressed the importance of college affordability. But because the association’s plans for addressing that issue are still in their early stages, few specifics were known as of this weekend.

Schmit said it will be important for Big Ten leaders to break down the Higher Education Act section by section and identify specific areas of the measure that are most important to Minnesota and the rest of the Big Ten before delegates travel to Washington.

Some delegates discussed ways their schools are tackling college affordability issues.

Penn State University senior and student government chairman Anthony Panichelli said his school dedicates a week to improving students’ financial literacy and is having success with its student financial education center.

MSA members presented the Association of Big Ten Students with a resolution supporting the Affordable College Textbook Act, a federal bill co-authored by Sen. Al Franken, DFL-Minn., which would boost open educational resources.

The association passed the resolution in a narrow vote Sunday, and advocates said the bill could make college more affordable by slashing textbook costs.