Driving Change in Higher Education.

Policy Update

News You Can Use: 03/28/16

Student Voices Heard Loud and Clear in St. Paul and Washington D.C.

MSCSA has been busy in March advocating for the interests of community & technical colleges across the state of Minnesota. On March 14-15, MSCSA leaders met with elected officials in Washington D.C. to lobby on federal issues affecting students in Minnesota. In addition, students met with several non-profit groups to learn more about higher education policy and how MSCSA can advance higher education for community and technical college students.

On March 23rd, MSCSA had its annual Advocacy Day at the Minnesota State Capitol. Despite the ongoing capitol construction, students met with legislators from across the state to deliver a unified message about affordability, open educational resources, and equity in higher education. The following outlines MSCSA’s state legislative agenda for 2016 aimed at benefitting students state-wide.

MnSCU Bonding Proposal

MSCSA supports the MnSCU bonding proposal, which requests $254.5 million in projects. $110 million of this proposal is for HEAPR projects. HEAPR – Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement – projects help keep our students warm, safe, and dry. Investing in existing infrastructure is a cost effective way to ensure that students have adequate resources to succeed in MnSCU institutions. Repair work to infrastructure may not be the most exciting issue, but functional facilities are key to student success. It’s true what they say: HEAPR is cheaper!

MnSCU Supplemental Request

MSCSA is grateful to the legislature for funding a tuition freeze and decrease for community and technical college students. To build on this good work and to ensure quality across the MnSCU system, MSCSA is advocating for MnSCU’s supplemental budget request. The $21 million requested by MnSCU will help protect the investment that the legislature made last year.

Open Educational Resources

MSCSA is sponsoring legislation that will build on MnSCU’s investment into open educational resources. Open educational resources (OERs) are electronic textbooks that can be fully customizable by faculty and are often free to use. MSCSA believes that OERs are key to reducing textbook costs for students. Because more than 20% of a community or technical college student’s costs come from textbooks, movement towards OERs would translate to huge savings for students. MSCSA’s bill will continue to fund OER pilot programs on campuses across the state and supplement the Open Education Resource Learning Network. To learn more about MSCSA’s work on textbook affordability, click here.

To view our state legislative materials, click here.

News You Can Use: 02/15/16

Let’s Get Ready to Caucus!

Are you to excited to caucus? MSCSA sure is! Whether you’re “feeling the Bern” or you’re more of a “Trump-eter” – make your voice heard on March 1 as Minnesotans all over the state caucus to help choose the candidates that will represent the Democratic and Republican parties in the 2016 presidential election.

What’s a Caucus?

A caucus is a meeting where members of the community come together and nominate the person they want to represent their political party as a candidate for President of the United States. This year, Minnesotans will be caucusing on “Super Tuesday” along with 11 other states that will also be holding primaries or caucuses on the same day. So far, there hasn’t been a clear winner for either the Republican or Democratic nominee – meaning that it is more important than ever for you to participate and have your voice heard!

Why Should I Caucus?

So much of higher education policy is decided at the federal level. Student loans, textbook costs, veteran’s issues, equity & justice – so many of these issues are dealt with at a federal level. It is important that the voice of students is heard during the caucuses so that candidates and whoever wins the nomination is responsive to student concerns. Whether you’re a Republican, a Democrat, or something else entirely, MSCSA wants all students to have their voices heard so that all students can do better. To learn more about the prominent Presidential candidates, visit Ballotpedia.

How Do I Caucus?

To find your caucus location in Minnesota, visit the Secretary of State’s MnVotes website. To be eligible to caucus, you must be eligible to vote and live in the precinct in which you caucus. By law, your employer must allow you time off work to caucus, so long as you give ten days notice. To learn more, visit here. In addition, public universities and colleges may not hold meetings on caucus night so that all Minnesota students are able to have their voices heard. For information from the Minnesota Republican Party on caucusing, click here. Information on caucusing from the Minnesota Democratic-Farm-Labor (DFL) party is available here.

Happy caucusing!

News You Can Use: 01/29/16

New Minnesota Educational Debt Refinancing Program

Good news from the Minnesota Office of Higher Education! Do you or your family members struggle to make payments on your loans from college? Worried about being able to make payments after you graduate from a MnSCU community or technical college? The new Minnesota SELF Refi program might be able to help! SELF Refi is a state-sponsored loan refinancing program available to Minnesotans that have completed a postsecondary course of study and meet relevant credit criteria. 

What’s Refinancing?

Refinancing allows you to take the loans you currently have and potentially obtain a lower interest rate – saving you money on interest rates in the long term. SELF Refi offers 5, 10, and 15-year repayment windows and both fixed and variable interest rates. Fixed interest rates will stay the same throughout your entire repayment window but are a bit higher; variable interest rates are lower but fluctuate in response to market conditions – meaning you could be required to pay a higher interest rate in the future. Depending on the loans you have, SELF Refi may be able to offer you a lower interest rate than what you’re currently paying. Check out this handy repayment calculator to see if refinancing through this program makes sense for you.

Don’t Let Debt Keep You Down

We hear from students every day about how scared they are about the prospect of paying back their student loans. The average associate degree graduate in Minnesota leaves school with more than $20,000 debt – equaling a $200 per month payment for 10 years. For many people already struggling to make ends meet, $200 per month is too much to ask. Debt is scary, but know that you have options. The federal government and other loan programs often offer income-based repayment options. If you or your family are having trouble making payments or are already in default, check out this helpful information from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. There are programs that can help you if you get into default – seeking help early can avoid many headaches down the road.

MSCSA knows how hard loans make the lives of students in Minnesota. That’s why we’re fighting for debt-free community college. To learn more about our campaign, visit the Renew Our Promise website.

News You Can Use: 01/12/16

MnSCU Two-Year Occupational Grant Pilot Program Open for Applications!

Exciting news, MSCSA! Minnesotans can now apply for the MnSCU Two-Year Occupational Grant Pilot Program. The program, passed by the legislature last year, will fund approximately 1,200 scholarships for MnSCU two-year college students enrolled in high-demand employment areas. Eligible students will receive funding for any costs not covered by other federal and state aid programs – allowing students to graduate from college debt free! In addition, recipients of the grant will receive mentoring to help them complete their program and make concrete steps towards graduating from college.

In order to qualify for the grant, students must:

  • Have graduated from high school or adult basic education or passed the GED as a Minnesota resident during the 2015-16 school year
  • Completed a 12 or 24-month Americorps program that started immediately after high school graduation during the 2015-16 school year

In addition, students must be Minnesota residents and have an adjusted gross income of less than $90,000. Full application requirements are available from the Minnesota Office of Higher Education. There is no separate application to apply to this grant – students need only submit their FAFSA forms and their eligibility will be determined from that information.

Although current college students are ineligible for this aid, the grant program is an excellent opportunity for MSCSA members to reach out to their friends, families, and communities to spread the word about the value of community college and the chance to graduate from college debt-free.  Debt-free community college is a priority for MSCSA. Minnesota has the third highest college costs in the country with the average Associate Degree student graduating with nearly $20,000 in debt. This debt load means that students will be paying more than $200 a month for at least ten years. With a median starting salary of approximately $38,000 before taxes, associate degree graduates are burdened with more than $2,400 a year in loan repayment expectations.

This grant program provides the opportunity for students to avoid the debt burden that has been placed on MnSCU community college students for far too long. By encouraging your friends and family to apply to college and this grant program, Minnesotans can demonstrate to legislators the value and demand for debt-free community college. For more information on the program and for tools on how you can recruit students in your community, click here for MSCSA’s Minnesota Debt-Free Pilot Program Toolkit for Community Advocacy.


News You Can Use: 12/18/15

MnSCU Releases Campus Diversity Planning Toolkit

A joint priority for MSCSA and MnSCU’s Charting the Future initiative is the creation of campus diversity plans for all MnSCU institutions. To support this process, MnSCU has created and released the "Inclusive Excellence" Diversity & Equity Planning Toolkit. This blog post is intended to help students understand the process, structure, and timeline of diversity planning that will be happening on their campuses for the remainder of the 2015-16 academic year.Diversity Plan

History of MnSCU Campus Diversity Planning

Throughout the history of the MnSCU system, various campuses have taken the initiative to create campus diversity plans to create an educational environment that is welcoming and inclusive. As part of the Charting the Future process, the Diversity Implementation Team recommended that all campuses create diversity plans. This recommendation was then included in the Leadership Council’s Charting the Future work plan, signaling MnSCU Campus Presidents’ willingness and commitment to creating diversity plans to help move MnSCU in a more diverse and equitable direction.

Inclusive Excellence Diversity & Equity Planning Toolkit

To support the creation of campus diversity plans, MnSCU created a Diversity Planning Workgroup that produced an Inclusive Excellence Diversity & Equity Planning Toolkit. Disappointingly, students were not involved in the creation of the Toolkit. However, the Toolkit provides helpful guidelines for campus communities on how to create and implement an effective diversity plan.

Campus Diversity Planning Phases

Campus diversity plans will be created and sustained through a six phase process: 1) Convening the planning team, 2) Conducting an institutional needs assessment and research, 3) Analyzing Data, 4) Drafting the plan, 5) Implementing a communication plan, and 6) Sustaining the diversity planning process.  Details of each phase can be found in the Toolkit, available on MnSCU’s website.

Campus Diversity Planning Team

Campus diversity plans will be created and implemented by Diversity Planning Teams on each campus. Diversity Planning Teams will be composed of administrators, subject matter experts, community stakeholders, staff, faculty, and most importantly – students. Student involvement in Campus Diversity Planning Teams is crucial to the success of campus diversity planning, as students are key to communicating their own and their peers’ lived experiences of diversity on campus.

Campus Diversity Planning Timeline

MnSCU suggests that campuses follow the timeline below to ensure that they submit a diversity plan by June of 2016 as required by the Leadership Council work plan:

    • November-December 2015: Campuses form Diversity Planning Team
    • January 2016: Diversity Planning Team is confirmed
    • February 2016: Training an orientation of Diversity Planning Team
    • March-April 2016: Institutional needs assessment and analysis
    • April-May 2016: Diversity plan is drafted
    • June 2016: Diversity plan is finalized

Action Items for MSCSA Members

It is critical that students be involved in campus diversity planning. If students are not yet appointed the committee or you are unsure of the status of your Campus Diversity Planning Team, reach out to your campus President and diversity officer(s). Help students be prepared for Diversity Planning Team meetings by reviewing the "Inclusive Excellence" Diversity & Equity Planning Toolkit and engaging actively in the planning process. Be sure to communicate the progress of your Campus Diversity Planning Team to MSCSA so that we can ensure that things are going as smoothly as possible on your campus.

Have questions or concerns about campus diversity planning? Want to share the progress of your Campus Diversity Planning Team? Contact Director of Policy Becca Branum at bbranum@mscsa.org



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