State’s need-based grants decrease

Minnesota cut need-based grants by 11 percent in 2003-04.

Cati Vanden Breul

Minnesota was one of only 18 states to reduce funding for need-based grants in 2003-04, according to a survey released late last month.

The survey, completed by the National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs, found that only five states – Hawaii, Indiana, Missouri, South Carolina and Tennessee – had larger cuts in need-based grant funding.

Minnesota cut need-based grants by 11 percent in 2003-04, but still provided students with approximately $121.5 million in aid. The state ranked 11th in the country.

In 2003, the State Legislature made several changes to the state grant program to reduce spending, said Cheryl Maplethorpe, director of the Division of Student Financial Aid for the Minnesota Higher Education Services Office.

“In 2002-03, there was a huge demand on the state grant, where they had to put a lot of additional money in,” Maplethorpe said.

According to the report, Minnesota increased funding for need-based grants by $23.2 million from 1998-99 to 2002-03.

“The Legislature decided they would change some things, so there was not as much demand on the state grant program,” Maplethorpe said.

Some of the changes included decreasing the living and miscellaneous expenses allowance by $200 per student, adding a deadline to apply for a state grant, reducing the length of state-grant eligiblity from five years to four, and changing a calculation in the need-analysis formula, she said.

Reducing state grant funding is atypical in Minnesota, Maplethorpe said.

“Generally, there are increases in the (state grant) program,” she said. “This would be the first time there was a conscious dip in grant funding.”

But Donna Peterson, associate vice president for the Office of University Relations, said it is important to realize how the Legislature achieved the savings.

“A lot of it is about eligibility and redistribution. You don’t see that kind of thing when you just look at a percent change,” Peterson said.

Students affected by the changes are still eligible for loans and scholarships.

“I’m hoping it didn’t decrease access, but it certainly decreased spending,” Maplethorpe said.

University third-year student Fei Fei Xue said that while budget cuts are inevitable, it’s unfortunate that the government has to take money away from students who need it.

“We have to face budget cuts; one of the things they are going to take a chunk out of is higher education,” Xue said. “It would be nice if they could find another way to come up with the money.”

Overall, states provided $7.3 billion in financial aid in 2003-04, a 6 percent increase from the previous year. Need-based grants made up $4.5 billion, with student loans, tuition waivers and work-study programs accounting for the rest.

It’s too early to determine the amount Minnesota will spend on financial aid in 2004-05 because classes are still in session, Maplethorpe said, but the amount is expected to increase.