Sen. Rarick column: Higher education budget prioritizes quality education – Pine Journal

On Monday, June 21, the Senate passed the state’s biennial higher education budget with overwhelming bipartisan support. The legislation provides crucial investments for the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. The bill works to keep college affordable for students and gives them the support they need to be prepared for today’s workforce.

The Senate is committed to ensuring that students who are seeking a world-class and affordable education can find it right here in Minnesota. We want to prepare our students for the state’s future workforce demands and provide them with the tools to succeed so that they can become the leaders of tomorrow.

The budget focuses on increasing college affordability by providing stable funding for public institutions and making significant investments in direct student aid. The legislation caps tuition increases at a maximum of 3.5% per year. Furthermore, the agreement provides an additional $5.4 million in direct support for small campuses in Greater Minnesota to help them meet their students’ needs.

The budget increases grant awards for low- and middle-income families by $26 million by increasing the living expense allowance and decreasing the amount middle-class families are asked to pay. The budget includes the creation of the “Fostering Independence Grant” program to ensure students who were in foster care as teenagers can go to college at no cost. Finally, the bill increases funding to various scholarship programs by $11 million and requires four additional colleges to implement zero-cost textbook degrees.

The budget bill also invests in improving Minnesota’s workforce by increasing funding for the workforce development scholarship program and by allowing colleges to target funds to address local workforce shortages.

The Senate-House agreed-upon budget also targets students struggling with their mental health, minor emergencies, and housing and food insecurity. The legislation invests $2.5 million in new mental health and basic needs programs. It expands the Hunger-Free Campus designation to all public, private and tribal colleges in Minnesota and creates a competitive grant to increase access to food for low-income college students struggling with food insecurity. Additionally, it increases emergency grant aid to help students get through small emergencies without dropping out of college.

Sen. Jason Rarick represents District 11 in the Minnesota Senate.