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Policy Update

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


News You Can Use: 12/10/15

State Initiatives Demonstrate Momentum for Debt-Free Community College

Renew Our Promise2015 will be remembered as the year that began the Debt-Free Community College movement. In the past year, 14 states have introduced legislation to support debt-free community college. Although only three have passed to date, this surge in legislative activity signals an increasing recognition of the value of community and technical colleges. The following post outlines legislative action across the nation on debt-free community college and highlights how Minnesota's community and technical college students can advocate for debt-free community college on their campuses.

Oregon & Tennessee Promises

Oregon and Tennessee are leading the debt-free community college charge in the United States. Both programs, Oregon Promise and Tennessee Promise respectively, provide last dollar grants to those that qualify for the program. Last dollar grants make up the cost difference between tuition price and any aid received from the federal government. Unique to the Tennessee Promise program is an intensive mentoring component. Each recipient of the Tennessee Promise scholarship is assigned a mentor to assist students with the college selection and education process. In 2015, more than 9,000 people in Tennessee volunteered to be part of the program. Mentoring is key to community and technical college completion and data demonstrates that faculty mentorship increases student persistence and nearly doubles persistence among minority students.


Debt-free community college has also received support right here at home. Minnesota Senate Bill 5 created the College Occupational Scholarship Pilot Program. This pilot program, starting in 2016 and lasting through the 2017-18 school year, provides last dollar aid to students in high demand program areas. As part of the program, students will receive mentoring to develop student success plans. In order to be eligible, students must graduate from a Minnesota high school or receive their G.E.D. immediately prior to enrolling. Details for how the funds will be distributed are under development by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education. Approximately 1,200 students are expected to benefit from this pilot program.


Although only three states have passed debt-free community college legislation this year, many state legislatures have considered such bills. The National Conference of State Legislatures, the leading resource on state legislative action, details the nuances of these bills. Although these legislative initiatives differ in their approach to debt-free community college, all underscore the enormous value that community and technical colleges provide to their communities and recognize the importance of affordability to persistence and college completion.

What You Can Do

MSCSA is dedicated to making community and technical colleges accessible and affordable for all Minnesotans. If you are passionate about ensuring access and success for all Minnesotans, check out our Debt-Free Community College toolkit. Inside you’ll find all that you need to organize on your campus to help build a movement in Minnesota to increase investment in our community and technical colleges.

Find out more at http://mscsa.nationbuilder.com.

News You Can Use: 11/23/15

MnSCU Happenings

One of the many ways in which MSCSA advocates for student interests is through meetings at MnSCU headquarters in downtown St. Paul. In the past month, MSCSA has helped MnSCU move forward on several issues that impact students – Charting the Future, satisfactory academic progress policy, and financial incentives policy.

Charting the Future Coordinating Committee

On November 12, the Charting the Future Coordinating Committee held its second meeting. MSCSA’s representatives to the Committee (President Parker, Treasurer Barnier, Corinne Salone, Scott Cowan, Natalie Berens, and Director of Policy Becca Branum) attended the meeting along with representatives from MSUSA and MnSCU bargaining units. The Coordinating Committee is charged with collecting information on the Charting the Future process and coordinating Charting the Future activities among campuses. Although the committee is still in its beginning stages, MSCSA representatives effectively advocated for students’ interest in a transparent and responsive Charting the Future process.

Policy Council

Charting the Future activities are also happening outside of the Coordinating Committee. At the Policy Council meeting on November 19, committee members evaluated MnSCU Policy 2.9 addressing Academic Standing and Financial Aid Satisfactory Progress. MnSCU Policy 2.9 was identified by the Student Success Charting the Future Team as a potential barrier to student success. Federal student aid regulations require that students maintain certain grade point average and credit completion percentages in order to remain eligible for aid. Campuses use these federal requirements for all students, even those not receiving federal financial aid, to determine when students should be placed on academic suspension, potentially harming students struggling in school or facing obstacles outside the classroom. In the Policy Council meeting, MSCSA representatives President Parker and Director of Policy Becca Branum advocated for changes that would allow campuses to evaluate student situations individually, allowing for flexibility in response to student struggles. The committee agreed to discuss guidelines to the Policy 2.9 that would encourage campuses to be flexible where appropriate and to identify at-risk students prior to handing out academic suspensions.

Board of Trustees

Financial Incentives Policy On November 18-19, the Board of Trustees held its monthly meeting and discussed a variety of issues. A particularly hot topic of conversation was in relation to the work of the Charting the Future System Incentives and Rewards (SIR) implementation team. The SIR team recommended that the system redesign the way in which state funding is allocated to increase student success and collaboration. In response to this recommendation, a group of academic and finance leaders from across the MnSCU system developed a list of draft design principles to guide the allocation redesign process. The design principles are available here for review. The Board of Trustees has not yet adopted these principles; however, the Board of Trustees Finance and Facilities committee reviewed the principles and recommended that the entire Board adopt them. The Board is likely to consider whether to adopt these redesign principles at its next meeting in January.

If you have any questions, please contact Director of Policy Becca Branum at bbranum@mscsa.org.


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