As the president of Saint Mary’s University, one of the three institutions of higher education that call Winona home, I am compelled to speak for our students and families and commend Gov. Mark Dayton for making quality, affordable college education a priority in his most recent budget proposal.
Particularly meaningful among the priorities he has laid out is a 25 percent increase in funding for the Minnesota State Grant program. The state grant is a need-based state award which offers low- and middle-class students at Minnesota colleges or universities an annually renewable grant for tuition, books or living expenses while attending college. The program benefits students attending both public and private institutions of higher education.
Currently, one in four — or about 95,000 — students statewide receive the Minnesota State Grant. For them it is an important part of financing their education. At Saint Mary’s in 2012-13, 344 students received Minnesota State Grants for a total of $1.17 million in assistance.
The proposed increase to the state grant would help even more low- and middle-class families pay for college. According to the state Minnesota Office of Higher Education, current grant recipients would see their grants increase by an average of $300 per year. And 5,000 additional students would become eligible to receive grants. Many of these newly eligible recipients come from middle-class families that earn $50,000 or more per year and are ineligible for the federal Pell Grant.
For many families, the Minnesota State Grant is what makes affording a college education possible. I welcome Larry Pogemiller, director of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, to Winona to hear firsthand from our students the difference this program makes.
Minnesota has one of the nation’s most educated and highly skilled workforces.
It is one reason we are able to attract and retain world-class business organizations to the state. The governor’s proposed investment in aid to students enrolled in higher education will build on these strengths. I thank the governor and Pogemiller for their leadership.