Fifty years ago, a small group of community college students gathered with the radical idea that students could transform higher learning if they used their voice.
Community and technical college students— often first-generation college students, immigrants, students of color, and low-income— lacked representation in higher education. Tuition rates soared while students struggled to meet their basic needs.
Our founders were driven by a fundamental truth - the same truth that drives LeadMN decades late: students deserve better.
What if students had the opportunity to pursue higher learning without having to choose between buying textbooks and paying rent? What if there was a safety net for students living on the edge so that car trouble didn’t mean dropping out? What if students had a seat at the table— at their institutions, in St. Paul, and in Washington— and were empowered to use their voice?
Fighting for change wouldn't be easy; it seldom is. Given the intractable challenges they were up against, many students doubted they could make a difference.
And yet, driven by a belief that the status quo was unacceptable, students began to step up and lead. They inspired their peers that change was possible if they came out in force. They spoke with student after student and on campus after campus. What started as a conversation among a small group of friends transformed into a movement of 100,000 students taking Minnesota by storm.
Since our founding, LeadMN has provided a platform for community and technical college students to use their voice. We have empowered thousands of leaders with the skills they need to be successful in work, advocacy, and life. And, we have mobilized hundreds-of-thousands of students to fight for policy change at the local, state, and national level. The results have been staggering.
In just the last few years, LeadMN:
- Passed the Hunger Free Campus Act, recognizing colleges that are working to address food insecurity;
- Secured $1.5 million in mental health awareness funding for Minnesota state colleges and universities;
- Prevented $4 million in tuition hikes, maintaining a tuition freeze for six straight years;
- Over the past five years we have distributed over $300,000 in scholarships for students attending a Minnesota State college or university;
- In the last two years, we have launched an emergency grant program to help students that are struggling with basic needs. Over that time we have distributed $40,000 in emergency aid to students;
- Registered 7,737 students to vote;
- Passed legislation that created free textbook programs across the state, saving students $3 million each year;
- Passed federal legislation securing $28 million in emergency aid for Minnesota community college students.
As we look ahead to the next chapter, we are laser-focused on four issue areas that we believe are central to student success:
College affordability: demanding that higher education is accessible to all.
Equity: closing the opportunity gap.
Basic needs support: fighting to ensure no student goes hungry or homeless.
Civic engagement: ensuring every student is empowered to use their voice so that we elect policy-makers that put students first.
At LeadMN, we believe every student has the potential to be a leader that will help solve tomorrow’s challenges— big and small, professional and personal, global and local. Given the right tools, these students have the power to transform Minnesota, higher learning, and the world. The LeadMN movement is here to ensure that they do.