State sticks it to students

The state budget plan sees grants slashed along with transition help.

The Minnesota Legislature voted yesterday on the first of three phases of spending cuts to balance the stateâÄôs budget. With a $1 billion deficit, higher education will not be spared. On top of a $36 million cut to the UniversityâÄôs budget, political leaders are considering chopping grants to low-income students, pre-college transition assistance and funds for work study. Gov. Tim Pawlenty supports all three of these, including the elimination of summer academic transition programs and ending Minnesota State Grant aid after eight semesters. Those still eligible for grants would find their aid reduced by an average of $253 per year. MinnesotaâÄôs House and Senate plans differ from each other and from PawlentyâÄôs. The Senate, while preserving the transition and ninth-semester grant programs, would slash the average grant by $308 and cut work-study opportunities. The House takes the opposite approach, reducing grants by an average of $176 per year. Reduced grants on top of rising tuition will make college even less affordable. The UniversityâÄôs anemic retention and graduation rates point out the need to help at-risk and nontraditional studentsâÄô transition into college-level courses. Cutting off aid after eight semesters will make graduation even less likely for the 63 percent of students who donâÄôt finish within four years. These proposals are short-sighted and, with respect to tuition and dismal student job prospects, mean-spirited. Reducing of the UniversityâÄôs budget is understandable in the current economic climate, especially after a decade of administrative bloat, but these cuts hit students and their families directly. Lawmakers must relent and must focus on finding cuts elsewhere in the state budget.