Less aid means less education

The Minnesota State Grant Program’s operating deficit cuts college access and affordability.

by Terry Morrow

The simple, disturbing fact: tens of thousands of Minnesota college students are at risk of losing significant state financial aid. For many, the cut could jeopardize their return to school in the fall. As a college professor and state legislator, I believe it is my duty to share this information with you. The Minnesota State Grant Program, which currently provides aid to over 80,000 Minnesota college students, faces a $42 million deficit. Minnesota students from low- and middle-income families attending two- or four-year public or private colleges or universities are eligible for grants. State Grant awards average almost $1,700 per year. About 90 percent of students receiving aid come from families with incomes under $60,000. What caused the $42 million deficit? In 2009, Minnesota saw a 20 percent increase in students who applied and qualified for a State Grant. This was in large part due to the economy as family incomes decreased, unemployment increased, and more students enrolled in school. The Minnesota Office of Higher Education used its entire $145 million State Grant budget and borrowed from next yearâÄôs budget to meet the current need. Minnesota, like virtually every state, is struggling with a large deficit; state revenue has dropped as income, sales and other tax receipts fell. This year, Minnesota must fix a $1.2 billion shortfall because revenue expected in 2009 simply never came in. This deficit makes it extremely difficult to resolve the State Grant deficit. Without additional money, current law requires that student awards be cut to meet the budget for the 2010-2011 academic year. This means cuts ranging from $250-$1,900 per award for tens of thousands of students. It also means that over 9,300 students could lose their State Grant awards altogether. For all concerned, a grant cut is the equivalent of a tuition increase. According to Minnesota State University Student Association Chairwoman Jennifer Weil, many students will be unable to return to school in the fall of 2010 because they can no longer afford the tuition. Federal help may partially assist some students. The federal government plans to increase the maximum payment under the Pell Grant program by $200 per student this year and next year. However, the OHE says the Pell increase will not make up for the potential State Grant cut. Ultimately, a cut in the Minnesota State Grant Program means less aid for one in three Minnesota college students who rely on government help, a complete loss of state aid for thousands of Minnesota students and fewer students likely being able to return to college in the fall. In a state known for having a strong, educated workforce, this could be devastating. With over 80,000 students who depend on government aid, we need to make restoring MinnesotaâÄôs State Grant Program a priority. Terry Morrow represents District 23A in the Minnesota House of Representatives.