Day at the Capitol participants lobby for student aid

By Emily Howland

Students from Macalester and other Minnesota private colleges lobbied at the state capitol last Thursday, March 29 to convince legislators to increase state grant money for higher education. The annual event, “Day at the Capitol,” brought more than double the participation from Macalester students than last year, with 25 total student lobbyists.Sponsored by the Minnesota Private Colleges Council, Day at the Capitol aims to help low- and middle-income college students of Minnesota afford their education through state grants. The proposal of the council is that legislators “recommit to need-based aid for college students by expanding eligibility and increasing awards,” according to its website.

During the event, which lasted from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m., students met with Representative Erin Murphy (DFL- St. Paul) and Senator Dick Cohen (DFL- St. Paul).

“It is really important to make higher education more accessible,” Callie Thuma ’10 said. “A lot of my friends at Macalester need this money. They probably wouldn’t be able to go to Macalester without financial aid.”

The State Grant Program offered 9.9 percent of its $1.35 billion budget to students in higher education in 2006. Students at Minnesota’s private colleges received two percent of the grants. The rest of the budget went to the University of Minnesota and other state colleges and universities.

At Macalester, 129 students receive more than $442,000 in state grants. Statewide, more than 71,000 students receive grants.

“It’s a model program because it provides access to students from low- and middle-income families and because it provides choice of where to attend,” organizer Doug Stone, Director of College Relations, said.

The State Grant Progam has benefits beyond affordability, according to event organizer Jake Seltzer ’07.

“I think it is important because it allows members of society who are denied opportunities based on their socioeconomic background access to higher education,” he said. Seltzer also said he thinks the program is important because it helps create a more educated populace and offers scholarship money, rather than student loans, which must be repaid after graduation.

Residents of Minnesota are not the only benefactors of the State Grant Program. Thuma said that she indirectly benefits from the program because the college has more financial aid money to offer non-residents when residents receive money from the state.

“Although we don’t live here [the State Grant Program] still enriches us and gives back to the community,” Seltzer said to Cohen upon meeting him just outside of a legislative meeting room.

Cohen said that the State Grant Program is representative of problems in the state budget.

“We’ve been willing to accept mediocrity in too many areas and higher education is one of them,” Cohen said.

Though he said he is unsure whether the bill will pass, Cohen said he hopes to pass a bill for $100 million in grants and loans for higher education in addition to a base amount the state offers.

Legislators vote on the bill on May 21.