Proposed budget would cut $12M from state financial aid


Tighten your belt and pull out your wallet — financial aid is under the axe at the State Capitol.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s 2010-11 budget recommendations included a $12.75 million cut to state financial aid options, though the cut is far less than Pawlenty called for from other state agencies.

MN Daily Editor’s Note: This is the first in a three-part series about Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s proposed changes to the state’s higher education budget.

The cuts would fall onto the Minnesota Office of Higher Education’s financial aid offerings, which cover everything from work study programs to the Minnesota Indian Scholarship.

The largest portion of state financial aid, the $291 million State Grant Program, remained untouched in the proposal.

Pawlenty had asked state agencies to cut 15 percent of their budgets, OHE spokeswoman Barb Schlaefer said. So despite the cuts, it could have been worse.

“It’s not going to affect students as much as it may appear to on its summary form,” she said.

Many of the proposed cuts would affect a small portion of students, Schlaefer said.

For example, 2,900 people currently take advantage of $2,000 Child Care Assistant Grants. After the proposed $618,000 cut to the program, only 150 grants would be dropped, Schlaefer said.

Under the proposed 5 percent cut to state work study funds, only 500 of the current 11,000 students utilizing the program would be cut from it, Schlaefer said.

“In the overall context, financial aid was, in general, protected from the larger cuts to the agency,” she said.

The most substantial cut would fall on the Achieve Scholarship program, which would absorb a 55 percent cut in its budget.

The scholarship, new in 2008 for students with financial need and tough high school course loads, didn’t garner as many applicants as the state had expected, Schlaefer said — only 2,400 applied, while the state expected 5,000 to do so.

Kris Wright, director of the University of Minnesota’s Office of Student Finance , said 260 University students received aid from the Achieve scholarship program this past fall.

As for the state grant program, with a maximum award of more than $8,600, more than 5,800 University students got funds in the fall with more than 5,300 benefitting from them this spring.
Cuts could be an “obstacle”

Sarah White , who graduated from the University last fall, was a recipient of the Minnesota Indian Scholarship each of her four years at the University.

Six hundred people receive the scholarship each year; another 600 are left out, Schlaefer said.

Under Pawlenty’s cuts, 30 fewer students would get the aid, a move White said would add an “obstacle” to prospective students.

“Our community is already so small,” she said. “If they take money away from it, it will feel more like a difficulty in trying to pay for school.”

Wright said 22 University students utilize the scholarship, at a total cost of more than $73,300.

Economics senior Jordon Bronston said he and the other student representatives to the Board of Regents have been talking with the regents and University President Bob Bruininks to work on ways to support financial aid for students.

The student representatives will present a report in May, which will outline their priorities.

By May, the legislative session will be approaching its conclusion, setting up a final battle over the governor’s proposed cuts.

“The night is young,” Schlaefer said. “That was the governor’s proposal and the Legislature will choose to do what they will with it.”

-Devin Henry is a senior staff reporter.