Higher Education

The pandemic has hit post-secondary institutions, students and families hard, forcing most schools into online learning, which caused revenue loss for both the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State system.

The governor provided a $70.3 million increase for FY22-23 and provides $77 million for MinnState and $46.5 for the U of M. Other increases included a $6.3 million increase in the state grant program, $35 million in Workforce Stabilization grants and $1 million for the Direct Admissions Minnesota process for high school seniors. Other items funded include the Summer Academic Enrichment program at $1 million, Intervention for College Attendance program at $1.30 million and Teachers of Color grants at $5.4 million.

Senate Republicans fall far short with small target

The Senate Republicans fall woefully short on their higher education investments at a time within students and families need it the most. The $45 million budget investment is $60.6 million short of what is needed to cover inflationary costs for the coming two-year period.

Few Bills Heard in Higher Education Committee

Although the legislature has been in session for almost three months, the Higher Education Committee heard only 23 bills related to requests from college and university groups. None of the bills were passed on to the floor, so budget investments will be provided after the session resumes on April 6.

High Profile bills heard:

Teachers of Color Provisions have bipartisan support

The higher education provisions of the Teachers of Color Indigenous Act (TOCAI) have bipartisan support and would provide an additional $3.5 million for three main areas:  Aspiring MN Teachers of Color Scholarship Program; Student Teacher Candidate Grants and the Teacher Shortage Loan Forgiveness Program. This appropriation would couple with the E-12 provisions to help Minnesota enhance teacher workforce diversity. Currently Minnesota’s teacher workforce is over 90% white, but students of color makeup 38% of the student population.

Hunger Free Campus grants would help students in need

Legislation to expand Hunger-Free Campus designations at Minnesota public colleges and universities would fund grants to help campus groups provide food options for students in need. Minnesota State and University of Minnesota campuses could receive the designations and grants. The funding is needed because today’s college student population has changed over the past few decades. They are older—45% are over 21 and 30% are parents. Of that 30%, 55% reported having experienced food insecurity. The Hope Center for College Community and Justice surveyed almost 10,000 students from 25 two-year and three four-year colleges in Minnesota and found that 37% of students had been food insecure the prior 30 days, 48% had been housing insecure the previous year, and 18% reported being homeless the previous year. The grants would be used for food pantries and other food emergency programs.

 Bills address student basic needs and emergency assistance

Two additional bills would also require colleges and universities to develop programs to help students address basic needs and receive emergency assistance.

One bill requires the Minnesota State Board of Trustees to develop an online basic needs resource hub and a financial aid resource trigger at all the universities and community and technical colleges. The second bill sets up an emergency assistance grant program for post-secondary institutions that have a demonstrable homeless student population. The grants require a funding match.

Bill changes student responsibility parameters on paying for college

Legislation that would lower the percentage amount students are required to contribute to their college costs is under discussion by the Higher Education Committee. The state grant program is based on shared responsibility model, in which the student, the student’s family, and the government contribute to the cost of attendance amending the grant stipend formula. Under current law, the student is expected to pay 50% of the cost of attendance. This bill reduces the student responsibility from 50 to 47%. The percentage changes would provide an additional $500-$770 grants per student, depending on income. The grants increases would change by 18% at community colleges, 14% at Minnesota State colleges and universities and 10% at the University of Minnesota.

Student Loan Borrowers Bill of Rights

The bill creates a licensing standard and stricter regulations for student loan servicers to address predatory practices that target student borrowers. The bill stipulates that to be a student loan servicer, a person must apply for a license to the Dept. of Commerce. The bill lists various prohibited activities for a licensed student loan servicer such as misrepresentation or deceptive marketing practices, providing inaccurate information, or misapplying a loan payment. There is also a process for the Department of Commerce to revoke, deny, or suspend a license. Fiscal impact of the bill is roughly $55,000 (FY22-23) with the potential for $31,000 collected in fees.

According to the Student Borrower Protection Center, there are 775,300 student loan borrowers currently in Minnesota, with $29.1 billion in outstanding debt. There are currently 85,283 Minnesota borrowers in delinquency holding $2.7 billion in outstanding delinquent debt. The average student debt amount for Minnesota borrowers is $37,492. There has been a 46% increase in Minnesota seniors owing student debt between 2012-2017.

Z-degree Program would expand

Six additional Minnesota State colleges would be required to offer z-degree programs on their campuses and provide free textbooks to the students under the program. In 2019, legislation passed to require three colleges to provide a Z-degree program with $500,000 appropriated. This bill would include a $500,000 funding base.

Spinal cord/traumatic brain injury grant program transfer

Transfers the spinal cord and traumatic brain injury grant program to HHS with appropriation to be deposited to the special revenue fund. The governor suggested this funding be transferred from higher education to a more suitable agency. The appropriation is $4 million over current funding for a total of $10 million for the biennium.

Foster kids to get help

The bill creates a grant and waiver program for public and non-profit private institutions to provide tuition/room and board assistance to children who meet the bills’ criteria for foster care.

A few national statistics about foster children:

  • Just 10% enroll in a degree or vocational certificate program.
    • Of those 10%, only 26% will graduate.  

Foster kids have terrible postsecondary outcomes with many lacking the kind of family support and institutional knowledge kids need to make it through college, especially if they age out (at 21) as wards of the state with no family.