The pandemic has created a renewed effort to address college affordability over the past year. And with two years of enrollment declines, students are sending a message that they can’t continue to pay more and more each year for college.
Free College Advocacy
President Biden brought a renewed effort to make community college free for students as part of the Build Back Better effort. LeadMN ran an advocacy campaign this fall to have students send over 5,000 letters to members of congress in support of this proposal. While the proposal was ultimately removed, LeadMN has shifted our effort to focus on local and state based initiatives.
After three years of advocacy efforts by LeadMN, Governor Walz announced his free college plan called the Minnesota Future Together Grants, which allocated $35 million to students enrolling in high demand fields. In addition, communities have also been making investments in free college programs this year, like Pine Technical College. in partnership with the county and local donors launched for graduates from the local high schools. The Star Tribune reported (Minnesota college, community come together to help local students attend tuition-free, November 3, 2021) that Pine Tech has seen a 63% increase in enrollment since the free college program for graduates of local high school students was implemented.
Ensuring Pandemic Relief Money Supports Student Needs
Last year, LeadMN advocated for federal support to help students out during the pandemic. More than $300 million was allocated to Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. LeadMN made a series of recommendations to the Chancellor and College Presidents that funds be distributed to students on a needs based model and some kept available for student applications.
LeadMN also recommended that colleges:
- Forgive financial hold balances for students who dropped out since the pandemic
- Improve access to mental health resources
- Refund students for the tuition increase during the spring 2021 semester
- Purchase technology for students (laptops, hotspots)
In the end, colleges distributed at least $4 million to pay off student debts during the pandemic. Many colleges also did help students purchase laptops so that they could participate in classes. Thanks to LeadMN’s advocacy work, we made sure that student voices were heard to ensure that this money went to benefit students.
“PRIOR TO THE PANDEMIC MANY STUDENTS HAD RELIED ON THEIR COLLEGE CAMPUSES AS THE PLACE WHERE THEY COULD CONSISTENTLY ACCESS INTERNET, BUT FOR MOST STUDENTS, THAT IS NO LONGER AN OPTION. THE PANDEMIC HAS CREATED EVEN MORE SIGNIFICANT BARRIERS FOR COMMUNITY AND TECHNICAL COLLEGE STUDENTS, ESPECIALLY FOR LOW-INCOME AND RURAL STUDENTS, TO ACCESS AFFORDABLE AND RELIABLE INTERNET. THE SUPPORT PROVIDED IN THE EMERGENCY BROADBAND BENEFIT PROGRAM IS A CRITICAL FIRST STEP IN HELPING TO ADDRESS BARRIERS, BUT WE NEED TO ENSURE THAT ACCESS TO [EBB] FUNDS IS MADE AS EASY AS POSSIBLE FOR STUDENTS..."