Chair Tomassoni, members of the committee, for the record my name is Priscilla Mayowa and I am the president of LeadMN.
I would like to first thank you for including the mental health awareness program and funding, basic needs support, and funding for the hunger free campus in your omnibus bill. These issues were a top priority for our students and we are grateful for your support and willingness to work with and listen to our students to find solutions to the challenges we face.
In March 2020 students had our world turned upside down. For far too many current students and students that never made it in the door this past year, we lost something that will be unbelievably difficult to recover.
We lost opportunity. We lost the opportunities to afford a college degree after our employment and incomes were decimated.
We lost the opportunity to receive the same classroom education that those before us received, though that was not for lack of determination and work on our college's faculty and staff's part to provide it.
We lost the opportunity to access co-curricular experiences on campus that help us put our learned skills into action and build lifelong connections.
Put simply, we lost the opportunity to build a better future for ourselves or had it so thrown into chaos that it will be difficult to get back on track.
Students like Megan who got covid while she was pregnant and caring for her 16 month old son. Megan told us that for her giving up is not an option at this point, however times are really tough when she has to live off of financial aid. She wants to give her children the life they deserve by studying to have a career, but the pandemic is throwing curveballs and wrenches in the way, and making an already difficult situation impossible.
This has been the most difficult year in higher education in decades, and if we want students to come back and regain those opportunities, then things must be different going forward. We must be even more hyper focused on students and ensuring their success because students are not just an enrollment or budget number, we are the future of our communities and our state.
With provisions to push college affordability back in the right direction, provide critical workforce scholarships, expand z-degrees, provide mental health awareness and support, and expand support for basic needs like hunger and housing, this bill helps move towards putting students first and providing the support that we need to be successful. We look forward to continuing to work with you in the coming weeks to keep students the focus.