State grants might rise

A qualifying student could see an increase of about $1,100 per year in fall 2007.

Courtney Blanchard

An increase in the state grant program could mean some students could receive $1,100 more per year for college.

State Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL- Clearbrook, proposes to increase the state grant program by approximately $100 million to decrease how much a student applying for higher education aid is expected to pay, from 46 percent to 40 percent.

When applying for financial aid, students are expected to pay a percentage of college costs while the rest is available in loans, scholarships and grants, depending on the financial background of the student and his or her family.

Replacing that portion with state grants will cost about $17 million per percentage point, Skoe said.

While the program is expensive, Skoe believes it’s efficient and gets the money where it needs to go: to students from lower-income families.

“When we have scarce resources, we should be targeting them,” he said.

In the past, Skoe said, students were expected to pay a lower portion of college costs. The state has not kept up its obligation to fund the grant program as college costs increased, he said.

“This will reduce the amount that the student has to come up with in order to come to school,” Skoe said.

This year, Minnesota lawmakers have proposed several ways to alleviate high college costs, including freezing tuition altogether.

Lawmakers often disagree on how to fund such programs and whether to aim for every student, or only top-performing or low-income students. Skoe’s proposal would affect students from lower-income brackets that already qualify for state grants.

A student qualifying for full-grant assistance would receive about $1,100 more per year in fall 2007, according to the Minnesota Office of Higher Education. The impact won’t be widespread among the student population, however.

Last fall, 5,653 students received state grants at the

University, according to One Stop Student Services. That’s less than 20 percent of the University’s 28,645 undergraduates.

Peter Zetterberg, senior analyst for the University’s Office of Institutional Research, said the bill is expensive and benefits few students.

“I think it’s important for the state to fund both institutions and have fairly generous state grant programs,” he said.

He added that tuition will keep increasing for everybody else if the Legislature pours more resources in grant programs rather than the University.

Continuing education student Allison Schwab said that though it’s important to have grant programs for low-income students, lower tuition draws stronger candidates to campus.

“As long as they keep tuition in the range of other public universities, I think they’re doing okay,” she said.

Some students depend on grants to afford college.

Sociology and psychology senior Barbi Strnad comes from a family of seven children, with at least two in college simultaneously for the last four years.

Strnad said a combination of Pell Grants, state grants and scholarships let her go to college with little financial strain on her family.

“Grants have made it really affordable for me,” she said. “Because I have minimal debt as an undergrad, I can feel freer to choose whichever law school I want.”