State grant program faces funding shortage this year

Dearth amounts to $9 million to $16 million

Kari Petrie

University global studies sophomore Talia Sundby doesn’t have to worry about receiving financial aid for the remainder of this school year.

Her aid has been approved. But next year, she may find herself in the same situation as nearly 12,000 other Minnesota college students affected by a state financial aid shortage.

“It makes me really frustrated,” she said. “I will have to keep racking up debt with loans because I can’t work and get the grades that I want.”

The Minnesota Higher Education Services Office – which helps Minnesotans gain access to higher education through grants, loans and work-study programs – projects a $9 million to $16 million shortage for its state grants funded through June 2003. Those who apply after Jan. 10 will not be awarded grants, and none will be awarded for summer 2003.

University financial aid officials said the loss of funding will affect approximately 1,000 students for the upcoming summer session.

Phil Lewenstein, a spokesman for the higher education services office, said record enrollments for higher education institutions are causing an increase in the number of students applying for and receiving state grants. He also cited the troubling economy and rising tuition rates for the increase in applicants.

“The demand for our need-based state grants is outstripping our available money,” Lewenstein said.

Last spring, the State Legislature asked the higher education services office to cut its work study program and a large portion of the child-care program in order to fund the state grant program, Lewenstein said. Those reductions affected another 12,000 students.

“It’s going to be very difficult because (students) will lose their funding certainly for the summer,” said Kris Wright, the University’s acting director of financial aid.

“We have real uncertainty on how, even in the fall, we’re going to go forward with the funding for the Minnesota state grant and the Minnesota state work study and child-care,” Wright said. “It’s obviously going to be very difficult.”

Wright said in the past the Legislature has made up for insufficient funds for state grants. However, this year the University’s request was denied, Wright said.

The financial aid department sent out an e-mail to undergraduate students who will not be receiving grants late last week.

Katy Carter, a senior sociology major, was one of those students.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she said. “I’m going to have to take out more parent loans and rely more on my parents, who already have seven other kids to take care of.”

As for next fall, officials don’t know what to expect.

“We will be advocating for (a larger budget). We really think it’s one of the most important investments the state makes,” Lewenstein said.

“We are not going to know about fall until after the Legislature has completed their business, hopefully at the end of May,” Wright said. “This is just a really difficult situation for everyone and I wish we had answers, but we don’t.”

Both Lewenstein and Wright suggest students contact the financial aid office for more information and look to other resources, such as loans or private scholarships, for aid.

“Students should contact their legislators. This is the time when it’s really important to be involved and the Legislature needs to hear from students about how financial aid has helped them,” Wright said.

Sundby, like many other students, can only wait and see what happens in May.

“I’ll have to continue taking out loans and I might have to pass up law school or graduate school because I won’t be able to pay off loans, support myself and go to school,” Sundby said.

Kari Petrie welcomes comments at [email protected]