On May 17th the Minnesota legislature adjourned its regular session without having passed the higher education budget bill or any other budget bills. While legislative leaders and Governor Walz had come to an overall budget agreement a few days before the end of the regular session, details for all of the budget bills remained to be worked out.

This week the higher education committee chairs in the Senate and House released the final higher education omnibus bill, which will likely be voted upon by both the Senate and House on June 14th, during a special legislative session.

LeadMN has been working with legislators over the last several months to pass funding and reforms to address student mental health, basic needs, expanding the Hunger Free Campus, Affordable textbooks, and tuition caps. These policy changes and funding support would not have happened with students bringing their voice to the capitol. In fact, LeadMN students testified on every one of the bills below.

Here are some the highlights of the long awaited 2021 Higher Education Omnibus Finance and Policy Bill:

Mental Health Awareness Policy and Funding
$1.5 million (FY22). This session LeadMN worked to introduce the Minnesota College Mental Health Awareness Act, which was included in the higher education omnibus bill. This policy will require each Minnstate college and university to implement a mental health awareness program by the 2022-23 academic year that includes:

  • A webpage the has links to self-assessment resources and connects students to campus and community resources on mental health.
  • Mental health first aid, evidence-based suicide prevention training, or similar mental health training for faculty, staff, and students who may have increased contact with students facing mental health crisis.
  • An orientation session that provides info about maintaining good mental health, mental health conditions common among college students, and mental health resources and services available to students;
  • A messaging strategy to send students at least one per term, and during periods of high stress, information on mental health resources available to students.
  • Distribution of the suicide prevention helpline and textline in a way that increases visibility to students
  • The Minnesota State Board of Trustees must also create a mental health community of practice.

Basic Needs Support Policy and Funding
$1 million (FY22) This session LeadMN worked to introduce the Basic Needs Barrier Reduction legislation which was also included in the higher education omnibus bill. This bill will require every Minnstate college and university to:

  • Create and maintain a webpage clearly identifying basic needs resources available at the college or university and clearly identify a point of contact students may direct questions to on campus.
  • Implement initiatives or campaigns that raise awareness among students about SNAP eligibility. Minnstate must also create a centralized basic needs resource webpage that raises awareness of campus, local, state, and national resources that address basic needs for students and develop a process to automatically provide students information on programs like SNAP based on their FAFSA or other financial aid documents when they enroll.

Hunger Free Campus Act Expansion and Funding
$205,000 (FY22) $102,000 (FY23) This session LeadMN worked with students from the University of Minnesota to expand the Hunger Free Campus Act to all public universities, private non-profit universities, and tribal colleges in Minnesota, and to create a process that will provide grants to colleges pursuing the Hunger Free Campus designation and those that need funding to help sustain it.

Z-Degree Funding
$250,000 (FY22) $250,000 (FY23). Four additional colleges or universities must offer the opportunity to earn a Z-Degree by academic year 2023-2024.

Supplemental Aid for Rural Colleges
$5.7 million (FY22) $5.7 million (FY23). Provides each college located outside of the metro area an additional $158,000 per campus.

Workforce Development Scholarships
$4.5 million (FY22) $4.5 million (FY23). Changes to the program will now allow each college to add one area of study to be eligible for the workforce development scholarships, based on regional employment shortages. Colleges can change the area of study eligible every two years.

Minnstate Funding and Tuition Caps
$22.5 million (FY22) $22.5 million (FY23) Minnstate will receive an increase of $45 million this biennium to funds campus operations and maintenance. Legislators have also included tuition caps that will limit tuition increases to a maximum of 3.5% in FY22 and 3.5% in FY23. These are the highest tuition caps in over a decade.

Emergency Assistance for Postsecondary Students
$269,000 (FY22) $269,000 (FY23) This funding for the Minnesota Office of Higher Education will help provide grants to colleges to implement and provide emergency assistance grants for students.

Transcript Access
Policy included in the bill would prevent colleges and universities from withholding a transcript from a current or former student because they have a debt with the college if: The debt is less than $250, the student has entered a payment plan with the school, a prospective employer is requesting the student’s transcript, or if the school has sent the debt to the Department of Revenue or a collection agency.