Ventura joins regents in discussing financial aid for graduate students

Jessica Kimpell

In an effort to decrease cost as a barrier to higher education, the Board of Regents discussed Thursday how to better support the University’s graduate students.
At the regents’ Faculty, Staff and Student Affairs Committee meeting, University President Mark Yudof and Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura joined in deliberation about costs of pursuing graduate and professional degrees.
“The University plays a role as a magnet in attracting qualified students to the area,” said Christine Maziar, vice president of research and dean of the Graduate School. But “sometimes graduate students can feel like a forgotten population.”
In Ventura’s first appearance at a regents committee meeting, he spoke in favor of the University’s effort to encourage graduate education.
“I see all education as an investment in the future of the state of Minnesota,” Ventura said.
After Ventura concluded his remarks, Yudof said the University provides essential state infrastructure.
“Typically you associate infrastructure with roads and bridges, but human infrastructure is as important,” he said. Fostering “graduate students’ brainpower means success for the state of Minnesota,” he added.
But the cost and debts graduate students incur can be an obstacle, said regents student representative Ma’Lou Sabino, a dental school student. Sabino said one of her first graduate classes was about debt management.
“Generally, there are similar systems of support for undergraduate and graduate students,” Maziar said. “However, graduate students do not enjoy the same level of parental support as undergrads.”
Typical sources of financial support for graduate and professional students include personal or parental support, loans, fellowships and assistantships.
The type of University support varies by discipline, but most financial assistance is from teaching, research or administrative fellowships. Funding for this support stems from the department or research contracts.
Because of the University’s Twin Cities location, working outside school is also possible.
“However, this is a double-edged sword,” Maziar said. “The more students work outside the University, the more difficult it becomes for them to graduate in a timely way.”
Maziar said the issue at hand is how the University can help students pay for education.
“We need to consider what costs the University as an institution should bear in supporting students and what costs students should bear in taking advantage of programs,” Maziar said.
Ventura said the University’s quest for more government funding was “a lot like a Christmas wish list. You make a long list and put in all you want, but you don’t always get everything you ask for.”
But regents seemed prepared to place graduate student support high on their list.
“For many decades, it was believed that economic development was built by going out of state and attracting businesses to move themselves in. It was referred to as chasing the smokestack,” Regent Michael O’Keefe said.
But in today’s economy, O’Keefe said the University now provides a talent pool for the state to draw upon.
“The future of the state is dependent on the ability of the University to attract graduate students. They are the key to building the long-term economic viability of the state,” O’Keefe said.
The discussion will continue at the Board of Regents meeting next April.

Jessica Kimpell welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3238.