Bill would require community service for state grant aid

Emily Johns

Students receiving more than $2,000 per semester in state grant money would soon have to do community service hours to keep their grant if a bill discussed Thursday in the House Higher Education Finance Committee passes.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, would require students to do at least five hours of service each semester for their schools.

Work could include cleaning buildings, shelving library books and selling tickets for events on campus.

Students with disabilities would be exempt, Seifert said.

“If students are getting massive amounts of money through grants, we are not asking for personal responsibility for free money,” he said.

Committee Chairman Doug Stang, R-Cold Spring, said he agreed with Seifert that the committee has never believed students should simply be given state handouts.

“We’ve always been pretty clear that higher education is not an entitlement,” Stang said.

Some committee members, however, said requiring students to work for their institutions would cut jobs and overburden staff with increased paperwork.

“It would inundate the school with students needing work,” Seifert said.

He added that the low requirement of hours and the high $2,000 threshold would help universities avoid replacing workers and provide a test run before overwhelming the system with larger programs.

“Let’s pick a high threshold, let’s pick a low requirement, and let’s see if it works,” Seifert said.

The bill would require students to do their service for the schools they are attending, Seifert said, rather than allowing them to choose any organization to volunteer for.

“I don’t want students choosing to do their service for Greenpeace, burning flags for five hours a semester and using that for their hours,” Seifert said.

Rep. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said later that Seifert’s comment was inappropriate.

Rep. Ray Cox, R-Northfield, said he supported the bill’s idea. But he said the state was not necessarily just giving the money to students; he said the money would come back to the state in the future.

“I view our contribution to the students as real investments – not just a subsidy. When students stay in Minnesota and become tax-paying citizens, it pays off,” Cox said.

Seifert said 783 University students currently receive more than $2,000 per semester in state grants, which would equal almost 4,000 service hours each semester.

Legislators also discussed re-examining the work-study program. The program was cut this year to divert funding to a shortage in the state grant program.

Seifert said his bill would make sure students receiving grant money would, like the work-study students, do some work for the money.

“I think this committee needs to think a little about taking students that work and throwing them on the street while protecting students that don’t do anything for their money,” he said.

If the bill passes out of committee early next week, it will be included in a higher education omnibus bill.

Emily Johns covers politics and welcomes comments at [email protected]