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Governor’s budget invests in a broken high-tuition, high-aid higher ed system

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Julia Yates
The right to an education is rooted in the very fabric of Minnesota’s identity. Throughout our state’s history, investments in education built a great quality of life for Minnesotans and a strong middle class that drove the state’s economy. That quality of life is in jeopardy if we don’t find ways to encourage more Minnesotans to pursue an education after high school.

The state’s future is at risk because we have forgotten the value of education that was laid out by our state’s founders. The Minnesota State Constitution (Article 8, Section 1) states that it’s the responsibility of the Legislature to fund a public education system because, “the stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people ….”

This fundamental right to a quality education needs to be updated for our modern world from what the founders outlined in the state Constitution. It is no longer enough to just obtain a high school degree. The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce estimates that three in four jobs in Minnesota will require education beyond high school. Yet only one in two Minnesotans have met this requirement and the state is short 440,057 postsecondary degrees to meet the workforce demands, according to the Education Commission of the States.

The No. 1 barrier to students obtaining a degree is the high cost of college. A recent report by LeadMN found that not one community college in the state can be considered affordable. Gone are the days when students can work over the summer and make enough to go to college.

At a time when we need to combat these challenges, Gov. Tim Walz is investing more money into a broken system called High Tuition – High Aid. The governor’s budget is going to lead to significant tuition increases for students attending Minnesota public colleges and universities, while the financial aid increases will not keep pace with tuition hikes.

This model has been around for 20 years and is the main reason that higher education has priced many low- and middle-income families out of higher education and perpetuated one of the worst opportunity gaps in the country. This entire system is built around the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which is one of the largest barriers for low-income students entering college because of the complexity of the application and a verification process that stops one in four students who complete the application from getting the aid that they desperately need.

Worst of all, the state grant program is contributing to Minnesota’s educational inequities because it gives less financial aid to low-income students and students of color. The average state grant to a community college student is $956, while a private college student receives $4,533 in aid. Minnesota community colleges teach twice the number of low-income students and 15,000 more students of color.

The governor should focus on dismantling this system, not doubling down on it. The confusing aid process leaves too many students with too much debt or scares them away from ever pursuing a degree. If the state grant program was working so well, why are so many students of color still deterred from pursing a degree after high school?

While debt for an education is normally a good investment, we are creating a system where only the well-to-do can afford to obtain a post-high-school degree and the rest of us need to borrow large amounts of money to pay for school.

This has happened at the same time when a degree after high school is a basic requirement for our modern economy. In the last century, as Minnesota moved from an agrarian economy to an industrial economy, we ensured everyone the right to a free secondary education. Now, as our economy has again transitioned to a post-industrial economy that requires more education to compete, it is time for Minnesota to provide a free education from pre-school to grade 14.

By investing in Minnesotans, the Legislature can fulfill its duty to the people of Minnesota as envisioned by the state’s founders. Education has critical value in ensuring the stability of our democracy and way of life.

Julia Yates is a student at Anoka-Ramsey Community College in Cambridge.

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Dan Landherr on 03/13/2019 - 02:28 pm.

    The transition from K-12 education to post-secondary education is interesting. The cost of delivering the education goes up but not as much as you might think. The state can provide a high school education at a rough cost of $11,500 per student per year. Century College charges $6600 a year for tuition/fees/books but doesn’t provide transportation, meals or other benefits children get in K-12 schools. This tuition number is close to the $7280 in the basic education funding for high school students in Minnesota. Of course this does not take into account federal and state aid Century College receives. I don’t know exactly but can estimate that state funding is about 50% based on other sources. That would mean the true per-pupil cost is around $13-14,000 for community college which seems reasonable if the cost for high school is $11,500. We can also validate that with the cost difference between in-state ($13,790) and out-state ($22,210) tuition at the University of Minnesota which is a difference of $8420.

    Assume all students will need some training after high school to pursue a career. If the state provides $10,000 per pupil for college students the out of pocket cost would be around $4000 yearly for community college. That would be quite affordable especially when combined with Pell Grants and other aid. Tuition costs at the U of M would be around $11,000 yearly. We can argue that the U of M could rein in some of their costs compared to community college but there will be higher costs at a research institution.

    Since we graduate around 65,000 students yearly that means $650M to fund one year of college for each of those students or a total of $2.4B if everyone pursues a 4 year degree. Currently 50% of our graduates pursue higher education in-state and only 30% of the total graduates pursue a 4-year degree. That brings the cost down to $650M for the first two years and an additional $400M for those pursuing a 4 year degree. The current budget is $336M annually. It appears we would need to triple our budget to $1B to meet $10,000 per pupil funding.

    Assume we can provide $10,000 yearly to each college student to pursue up to four years of post-secondary education. Should we provide that to the schools directly like we do now or should we provide it to the students as a grant with the caveat that they have to attend a public higher education facility in the state of Minnesota? Should we weight this funding more heavily to the first two years of college? Would we provide a different grant for public colleges in other states with reciprocity agreements? What responsibility does the federal government have? Which model controls costs best?

    Apologies if my numbers are off and are not fully cited, data for this was not centrally located or summarized.

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/13/2019 - 03:39 pm.

    A great idea that, if it sees the light of day at all legislatively, will be stillborn.

    Minnesota already underfunds K–12 public schools, and underfunds Junior / Community Colleges just as badly, if not more. This allows affluent areas with the economic wherewithal to have facilities, materials and staff levels that less affluent areas can’t hope to match. The “Minnesota Miracly,” about which I read quite a bit when I first arrived nearly a decade ago, is long over.

    In its place we have rural, exurban, suburban and urban areas fighting each other over a dwindling resource that – lacking a burst of full-funding zeal on the part of the legislature – comes pretty close to the stereotypical “zero sum” game. The fix is obviously to allocate more funding to public education, and especially if we intend to expand public education to K-14. That fix has two major obstacles to overcome at the very beginning.

    First, the current version of the Republican Party (with a few notable exceptions) has adopted Grover Norquist’s “drown the government in a bathtub” aversion to not just tax increases, but to taxes in general, and done so with a vengeance. They’re not likely to buy into a revamped education system that will cost more (they always cost more) when they don’t fully support the cost of what we already have.

    Second, speaking as an old retired teacher living on a fixed income, my sympathies are pretty much always with public schools when the question is about funding. However, greater taxes will eventually run up against my own very real financial limitations. I’m quite certain that’s the case for many other retirees, as well.

    Third, the balancing act that Tim Walz and every other governor has to try to manage just keeps getting more difficult and complicated. While I write this sentence, another tire-bruising pothole has sprung up on I-35 or I-94 or Highway 169 or Highway 100 or… Roads are crumbling, we have too many structurally-deficient bridges, and in an admittedly tough winter for road and street crews, efforts to make Minneapolis streets (and especially alleys) have not been what I’d call entirely successful. There are always more demands on the public purse than the public can afford – or that the public **wants** to afford.

    K-14 public schools make very good sense from the standpoint of an evolving economy, a changing job market, and a society that keeps moving forward technologically, whether all of us are ready for those changes or not. But it’s a good idea that will cost a lot, and even those who like to think of themselves as “progressive” in this context may find themselves cringing at their tax bills. I look forward to someone more creative than I am to devise a way to implement this very good idea without sparking a full-blown taxpayer revolt.

  3. Submitted by John Evans on 03/13/2019 - 05:35 pm.

    The writer raises several important issues, but I would focus on the Minnesota State Grant. She’s not exaggerating; the state grant pays 4 or 5 times as much or our tax money for a student to go to a private college instead of a public college.

    I don’t think this is well known or understood by most people, partly because the financial aid calculation is somewhat opaque. Nor is it understood that the grant is a direct subsidy to the school, not to the student. It’s like the per-pupil subsidy the state pays to each school district. Except it pays the private schools as well, and at a rate several times higher than the public schools.

    Though I understand the reasoning behind the State Grant calculation, I cannot, for the life of me justify this disparity. Julia Yates correctly says that it contributes to Minnesota’s educational inequities, but I think she’s understating her case here. The State Grant is a really nasty, inexcusable driver of inequity in higher education in this state.

    Unlike so many of the problems that create educational inequities, this is one that we can fix with a single, revenue neutral change to a state law. I would prefer not to extend the State Grant to private colleges at all, but if we do, it should not be in a dollar amount greater than we pay the public colleges.

    • Submitted by Dan Landherr on 03/14/2019 - 09:56 am.

      Very good point. I agree wholeheartedly that the public should not be subsidizing private colleges at a rate greater than public colleges. I would also prefer that we don’t subsidize private colleges at all.

  4. Submitted by Rod Loper on 03/14/2019 - 07:04 am.

    Well put. This needs to be stated again and again. The underfunding of post secondary education has gone on for decades.

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