Senator Clausen negotiates bipartisan higher education legislation amid COVID-19

St. Paul, Minn.— Senator Greg Clausen (DFL-Apple Valley) was the lead DFL Senator in putting together legislation to provide the Commissioner of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education (OHE) temporary powers to respond to pressing needs of Minnesota’s higher education students, faculty, staff, and institutions during the COVID-19 outbreak. The legislation passed on March 26 as part of a package of bills put together to provide additional help to Minnesotans.

The powers granted to OHE will protect the financial stability and academic standing of students, grantees, and borrowers. It allows OHE to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak, preserve access to state programs and services, and modify or waive rules.

Align State and Federal Work Study

Under this legislation, and in alignment with recent federal program rules, OHE may suspend work study programs and allow payments of State Work Study funds to students during this emergency.

“Our work study programs provide part-time campus jobs to help undergraduates, graduate, and technical students pay the cost of their higher education,” Sen. Clausen said. “Suspending these programs but allowing students to be paid keeps our students safe and assists financially so they may continue their college studies.”

SELF Loans

The SELF Loan is a long-term, low-interest educational loan for Minnesota students who need assistance paying for education beyond high school. The program is not funded by the state or federal government and requires a co-signer on their loan. This bill may allow OHE the option to implement a temporary suspension of SELF Loan rules to provide flexibility to administer the program to meet the needs of students, borrowers, and cosigners.

“This possibility is important because we need to protect our students, borrowers, and cosigners to prevent loan defaults while assuring borrowers they would not lose money and cosigners that they would not be held liable for the debt,” Sen. Clausen said.

Minnesota Student Grants and Aid

Minnesota state grant programs also have the potential to be protected under this legislation. State grants assist students from low- and moderate-income families pay for educational expenses at eligible Minnesota colleges and universities. Programs include: Minnesota State Grants, Teacher Candidate Grants, Grants for Students with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, Childcare Grants, MN Reconnect, Safety Officers Grant, and Indian Scholarships. “Our state grant programs must to be able to meet the needs of our low- and middle-income students,” Sen. Clausen noted. “In 2018, over 80,000 students were awarded grants for a total of $193 million to attend Minnesota higher education institutions. The average grant amount was $2,400.”

In Fiscal year 2019, 30 percent of grants were awarded to students with family incomes of less than $20,000. Thirty-eight percent had family incomes between 20,000-$50,000 and 32 percent over $50,000.

“I’m pleased with the final bipartisan higher education bill that allows the Commissioner of Higher Education to address the pressing needs of our students, faculty, staff, and higher education institutions during this unprecedented time of uncertainty,” Sen. Clausen said. “During this time, we need to continue to invest in our students, our grant and loan programs, and our colleges and universities. I believe we accomplished these goals with this legislation.”

For more information about COVID-19, please go to the Department of Health website. A hotline is available at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903. For more information specifically pertaining to the Office of Higher education, please go to their website.

“As always, please reach out to me with your comments and suggestions on this issue or any other concerns I may be able to help you with. I can be reached by phone at 651-296-4120—please leave a voicemail and I will follow up shortly—or by email at sen.greg.clausen@senate.mn.” 

Senator Greg Clausen
Greg Clausen lives in Apple Valley and represents District 57 in the southern Twin Cities metropolitan area.

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