The final higher education bill included a $38.8 million investment in the State Grant program, which provides need-based grants to 39 percent of Minnesota college students. Of that funding, $30.1 million is ongoing funding and $8.7 is one-time funding. Benefits will include:
- small increases to the size of grants through an increase to the living miscellaneous expenses allowance used to calculate awards starting next year, and
- increases in State Grant eligibility from the equivalent of four full-time years of enrollment to six full-time years, starting in the 2024-25 academic year.
While meaningful, this year’s funding increase in the State Grant program is only about one-third of the $120 million investment that the Minnesota Private College Council and other student advocates asked legislators for, which would have significantly reduced the amount of college costs students are expected to pay. The final State Grant funding is also significantly lower than Gov. Tim Walz’s request, which was that $95.5 million be invested in the State Grant program.
Additionally, the final higher education bill also created the North Star Promise Program, which unfortunately excludes students at private nonprofit colleges. The program provides new financial aid grants that will make public institutions tuition-free for Minnesota residents from households with incomes up to $80,000, starting in the 2024-25 academic year. Costing $99 million over two years, this is a last-dollar program, which means that students will be awarded additional grant aid up to the cost of tuition after federal Pell Grants and State Grants are accounted for. (It is already the case that the Pell and State Grants, along with institutional aid, generally cover the cost of tuition for Minnesota dependent students from families with incomes up to $50,000 attending public institutions full-time.)
Creating a new program that excludes students at private nonprofit colleges is a lost opportunity. Many students from low- and middle-income families choose to attend private nonprofit colleges because of the distinctive educational opportunities offered and high-quality outcomes delivered, and they will not be helped by the North Star Promise. In contrast, the Minnesota State Grant and the Pell Grant programs provide need-based grants to students attending both public and private nonprofit institutions And with the State Grant program, the grants to students at Minnesota private colleges match what students at the U of M receive. Further expanding the State Grant program would be a better public policy approach, because it would provide increased financial aid to all students with demonstrated financial need and would allow students to choose the educational institutions that will serve them best.
While a significant investment in the State Grant program wasn’t made this session, we did see some improvements that were positive. In the coming years it will be important for college students and their supporters to continue to make the case with policymakers that significant investments in this foundational program are needed more than ever.
Hunger Free Campus extension
In other news from the end of the legislative session, student advocacy made the difference in a change that now extends eligibility for the state’s Hunger Free Campus supports to nonprofit institutions.
After four years of advocacy from the Minnesota Association of Private College Students (MAPCS) and other dedicated student advocates, the final higher education bill included an important amendment to the existing Hunger Free Campus Grant Program. Advocates pushed for a language change that now allows private nonprofit colleges to be eligible to apply for small grants that help colleges meet or maintain Hunger Free campus designations, which ultimately enhances or creates campus resources that can help address student hunger. The final bill includes $2.5 million in funding to support Hunger Free Campus grants. In January, MAPCS leadership testified before higher education committees to help advance this impactful amendment.