MSA crafts platform for 2014

MSA will prioritize the U’s bonding bill and open-source textbooks this year.

Kyle Stowe

The Minnesota Student Association outlined its policy platform for this school year at its first forum of the semester
Tuesday evening.

MSA will focus on advocating for University of Minnesota bonding projects, open-source textbooks and changes to the Higher
Education Act during its reauthorization this year.

The undergraduate student government succeeded in lobbying for the new medical amnesty law in the 2013 legislative session, and MSA leaders said they’re confident they can influence policy change again.

Matt Forstie, Minnesota Student Legislative Coalition chairman, said it’s important to show state legislators a student voice when they discuss bonding projects in this spring’s session.

Local governments and state agencies, including the University, request state funding during the legislative session for construction and remodeling projects, generally in
even-numbered years.

“We want to make continuous improvements in facilities that are directly involved with student learning and research,” Forstie said.

A large bonding bill failed last session, leaving about $110 million in University projects unfunded.

The University’s preliminary 2014 bonding request, released July 15, asks for nearly $233 million from the state. The money would go toward construction and renovation projects across all University campuses, including renovations to the Tate Laboratory of Physics, a new Plant and Animal Science Building and updates to other labs.

This preliminary request could change in coming months as University officials and student lobbyists meet with legislators to make their case for bonding projects.

“We visit with state legislators all the time,” Forstie said. “We want to tell them what we think about [bonding projects] as students.”

MSA will also push for open-source textbooks at the University level this year. The state Legislature didn’t pass a previous plan, instead calling for an “open educational resource council” last
session.

Though MSA won’t push the measure at the state level this year, Forstie said continued discussion of free, online textbooks on campus will hopefully encourage faculty to look at the possibility of adopting open-source textbooks.

“If [faculty] select an open book for one of their classes, that could save students a lot of money,” Forstie said.

Some faculty members in the College of Education and Human Development created an open textbook catalog two years ago, Forstie said, and MSA wants to expand it throughout the University.

With the Higher Education Act set to expire after this year, Forstie said MSA members will also push at the federal level for a more transparent College Scorecard, an informational database for United States colleges.

Forstie said MSA wants students and parents to be able to compare cost and other statistics more easily when evaluating schools.

To advocate for these changes, Forstie said MSA leaders will work with government officials locally and in Washington, D.C.

“We want to have an apples-to-apples base to compare universities on,” he said, “so when students and families are making a college decision, they’re picking a cost-effective and high-quality choice.”