Proposed budget would cut $12M from state financial aid

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a three-part series about Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s proposed changes to the state’s higher education budget.

Tighten your belt and pull out your wallet âÄî financial aid is under the axe at the State Capitol. Gov. Tim PawlentyâÄôs 2010-11 budget recommendations included a $12.75 million cut to state financial aid options, though the cut is far less than Pawlenty called for from other state agencies. The cuts would fall onto the Minnesota Office of Higher EducationâÄôs financial aid offerings, which cover everything from work study programs to the Minnesota Indian Scholarship. The largest portion of state financial aid, the $291 million State Grant Program, remained untouched in the proposal. Pawlenty had asked state agencies to cut 15 percent of their budgets, OHE spokeswoman Barb Schlaefer said. So despite the cuts, it could have been worse. âÄúItâÄôs not going to affect students as much as it may appear to on its summary form,âÄù she said. Many of the proposed cuts would affect a small portion of students, Schlaefer said. For example, 2,900 people currently take advantage of $2,000 Child Care Assistant Grants. After the proposed $618,000 cut to the program, only 150 grants would be dropped, Schlaefer said. Under the proposed 5 percent cut to state work study funds, only 500 of the current 11,000 students utilizing the program would be cut from it, Schlaefer said. âÄúIn the overall context, financial aid was, in general, protected from the larger cuts to the agency,âÄù she said. The most substantial cut would fall on the Achieve Scholarship program, which would absorb a 55 percent cut in its budget. The scholarship, new in 2008 for students with financial need and tough high school course loads, didnâÄôt garner as many applicants as the state had expected, Schlaefer said âÄî only 2,400 applied, while the state expected 5,000 to do so. Kris Wright, director of the University of MinnesotaâÄôs Office of Student Finance , said 260 University students received aid from the Achieve scholarship program this past fall. As for the state grant program, with a maximum award of more than $8,600, more than 5,800 University students got funds in the fall with more than 5,300 benefitting from them this spring.

Cuts could be an âÄúobstacleâÄù

Sarah White , who graduated from the University last fall, was a recipient of the Minnesota Indian Scholarship each of her four years at the University. Six hundred people receive the scholarship each year; another 600 are left out, Schlaefer said. Under PawlentyâÄôs cuts, 30 fewer students would get the aid, a move White said would add an âÄúobstacleâÄù to prospective students. âÄúOur community is already so small,âÄù she said. âÄúIf they take money away from it, it will feel more like a difficulty in trying to pay for school.âÄù Wright said 22 University students utilize the scholarship, at a total cost of more than $73,300. Economics senior Jordon Bronston said he and the other student representatives to the Board of Regents have been talking with the regents and University President Bob Bruininks to work on ways to support financial aid for students. The student representatives will present a report in May, which will outline their priorities. By May, the legislative session will be approaching its conclusion, setting up a final battle over the governorâÄôs proposed cuts. âÄúThe night is young,âÄù Schlaefer said. âÄúThat was the governorâÄôs proposal and the Legislature will choose to do what they will with it.âÄù -Devin Henry is a senior staff reporter.