In 2021, it became more difficult than ever to be a college student, with tuition rising, mental health challenges deepening, and the gap in access to food and housing growing wider and wider. All this occurred in the midst of a global pandemic, but it must be understood that the challenges students face existed before the pandemic. Without bold change, these crises will continue when the pandemic is over.

LeadMN student leaders are pursuing a bold new vision for higher education to address the myriad crises students face: a vision of college being affordable for everyone, and of every student their mental wellness upheld, a roof over their head, and food for their home. The work for that vision has been met with great success in this challenging year. 

The Minnesota legislature passed the College Mental Health Awareness Act thanks to LeadMN student leaders’ advocacy work. The legislation establishes funding and clear provisions for mental health support materials and training to be embedded on every campus. Mental health has become a second pandemic in the student community, and the infrastructure of the College Mental Health Awareness Act is an essential first step in ending it.

After years of advocacy around food insecurity, the legislature expanded the Hunger Free Campus Act to all higher education institutions in Minnesota and provided campus grants to support colleges and universities as they work to meet the requirements. The expansion of this LeadMN initiative shows how this program has been key in the fight against food insecurity on campus. LeadMN’s advocacy also secured the passage of the Basic Needs Barrier Reduction Act, providing additional funding and communications to support students in need of basic needs resources.

Finally, we worked at the federal level with national partners to advocate for direct emergency grant aid to college students and then advised the Minnesota State system office on the best ways to distribute that aid to students. Our advocacy was critical to ensuring that student voices were heard in this process, and by extension that COVID relief funds met the needs of students. The pandemic has made it more difficult than ever to be a student, but LeadMN was able to make sure that student leaders were heard on campus, within the system office and at the capitol.

We are living in difficult times, and difficult times call for bold leadership and bold change. LeadMN and student leaders from across Minnesota have been champions for both.


Axel Kylander, LeadMN President & Mike Dean, LeadMN Executive Director