Regents to review financial aid policy

by Kelly Wittman

When John Adams went to the constitutional convention, his wife Abigail beseeched him to “remember the ladies” and include women as full-fledged citizens in the new country’s Constitution.
Regents received a similar caveat Thursday to “remember the students” when they hold discussions of the University’s financial aid policy this summer.
Jul Lea Schwantz, a recent University graduate and a student representative to the Board of Regents, asked that students be part of the process that will examine the University’s financial aid program.
The University is taking a close look at financial aid this summer as it prepares to make its biennial budget request next fall. Regents wish to examine issues such as high tuition, high aid, quality of education and accessibility to the University.
“The one overriding factor is that (to) any student in the state of Minnesota who has the qualifications for acceptance, we should be able to say, ‘Yes. Come. We will find a way through aid, waivers, whatever. You have a place at the University regardless of your economic or social condition,'” said Regent Stanley Sahlstrom.
Regent Hyon T. Kim said she is worried about the widening gap between haves and have-nots with regard to accessing higher education. The middle class is shrinking, she said, and a policy of high tuition is already in place. If the board doesn’t consider a policy of high aid, the University will have a big problem as middle class students are squeezed out of higher education, Kim said.
Student representative Willow Najjar compared the widening gap in access to higher education for middle class students to boiling a frog.
“If you put a frog in a pot of boiling water he will immediately jump out and find somewhere safe,” she said, “but if you put the frog in tap water and turn up the heat slowly, you’ll kill the frog.” Increases in tuition have happened gradually during the last 10 years as the heat has been turned up on students, she added.
Najjar said there seemed to be a belief among regents that quality education and access are mutually exclusive. The concepts can be present in unison, she said.
Part of the University’s evaluation of aid policy should take place in the context of the special characteristics the University has as a land-grant institution, Najjar said.
One of the characteristics that makes a land-grant institution unique, Regent H. Bryan Neel said, is that it is founded to solve problems. The University is here to solve not just technological and medical questions but also questions of public policy, he said.
Najjar said as an international relations major she has seen a growing problem with the widening income gap. If the University can’t address these problems on a small scale, how can we expect to address them as a society? she said.
Regents will begin to review aid policy at their July meeting.