Higher education backers are excited that the governor’s budget proposal could substantially increase state grant funding for lower-income students.
Gov. Mark Dayton’s biennial budget proposal provides $80 million for the Minnesota State Grant Program — a need-based financial assistance program used by a quarter of undergraduates at the University of Minnesota.
The proposed increase in student aid is the largest in more than 25 years, said Larry Pogemiller, director of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.
“We’ve slipped behind in higher education, and now we are in a catch-up mode,” said Rep. Lyndon Carlson Sr., DFL-Crystal. “The governor is trying to get us there as rapidly as he can with his proposal.”
Minnesota has the third-highest postgraduate student debt rate in the country, according to the Institute for College Access and Success.
Less than two decades ago, students paid one-third of higher education costs, but because of the state’s recent cuts in funding, the roles have been flipped, Carlson said.
“That’s why we see students graduating with greater debt than probably any students in history,” Carlson said. “They’re paying 60 percent or more of the cost.”
Due to inflation in recent years, universities and colleges have been forced to increase their tuition costs and fees because the state hasn’t provided the appropriate funding, he said.
Doctoral candidate seeking a degree in higher education Cody Mikl chairs the Student Representatives to the University’s Board of Regents. He said with rising tuition costs, it’s becoming harder for lower- and middle-class students to afford the University.
“It’s putting students in lower or moderate income levels in a tougher position because the prices go up faster than families can afford,” Pogemiller said.
Of the proposed $80 million increase, the University would receive approximately $28 million more in funding for grants.
Right now, almost 11,000 undergraduates get financial assistance from the grant program, said Kristine Wright, director of the Office of Student Finance.
She said the proposal would increase the spending per award but not the amount of awards.
Regent Linda Cohen, chair of the University’s Board of Regents, said students should be thrilled with the governor’s
She said the proposed spending increase for the grant program, in combination with the pending state funds for the University’s anticipated tuition freeze, would help level the school’s demographics.
The University is already a selective institution academically, Pogemiller said, but it shouldn’t put students in a position where they don’t have an equal opportunity financially.
Aside from the money for the Minnesota State Grant program, the governor wants $80 million more for tuition relief for the University and $80 million for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system — totaling a $240 million spending increase for higher education in the state.
Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls and the Republican lead for the House Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee, said he supports Dayton’s higher education spending.
But Nornes said he, other legislators and the governor will have a clearer picture of the likelihood of Dayton’s proposal and the state’s budget after Minnesota Management and Budget announces the next budget forecast later this month.