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Policy Update

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.

News You Can Use: 11/10/15

MSCSA Thanks Governor Dayton for his Commitment to Equity and Inclusion for The State of Minnesota

MSCSA has recently sent a letter to the Office of the Governor to thank Mark Dayton for his initiative to diversify the “fabric of state government” and his commitment to equity and inclusion for the State of Minnesota. As a shared priority, the Minnesota State College Student Association is hoping that we can identify areas to work collaboratively on this initiative. Below you can find a copy of the letter that was sent.

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



Governor Mark Dayton
Office of the Governor & Lieutenant Governor
116 Veterans Service Building
20 West 12th Street
Saint Paul, MN 55155

November 9, 2015

Dear Governor Dayton,

The Minnesota State College Student Association (MSCSA) was pleased to hear your comments following your visit with students at Columbia Heights High School on Friday, October 30, 2015. The changing demographics of Minnesota demand that the state make meaningful strides to make our government and communities more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. Your initiative to diversify the “fabric of state government” is welcomed by MSCSA and its students.

As an organization, we have also made equity and inclusion a priority for the 2015-16 school year. Given your recent statements and our own organization’s focus on equity and inclusion, we see an opportunity for collaboration with you and your office moving forward. As you are undoubtedly aware, Minnesota two-year colleges educate the lion’s share of students of color in the state – more than 30% of students enrolled at Minnesota community and technical colleges are students of color. The diversity of our student body represents the future of Minnesota – by 2020, more than 40% of the metro population will be composed of persons of color.

As you move forward on your plans to diversify the “fabric of state government,” MSCSA would like to partner with your office and other community organizations to recruit both student and community leaders of color to the MnSCU Board of Trustees. This year, you will have the opportunity to utilize your appointment power to diversify the Board and ensure better representation for MnSCU students of color. MSCSA would welcome the opportunity to discuss these appointments with your office to identify and recruit leaders and students from communities of color to fill these appointments.

Again, thank you for your commitment to equity and inclusion for the State of Minnesota. The Minnesota State College Student Association looks forward to collaborating with you and your office in the future.


Kevin Parker

Kevin Parker
Minnesota State College Student Association

News You Can Use: 11/5/15

Challenges Facing Undocumented Students in Higher Education

The experience of undocumented students in higher education was a hot topic of conversation at the Minnesota Student Leadership Summit that was held in October. A clear message from the Summit was that students wanted to learn more about undocumented students and how MSCSA represents their interests. This blog post aims to provide a brief introduction to issues surrounding the educational experience of undocumented students and help MSCSA members to better understand the experiences of their undocumented peers.

What does it mean to be an “undocumented student?”

Although definitions of “undocumented” vary, the National Immigration Law Center describes undocumented students as a “foreign national[s] who (1) entered the United States without inspection or with fraudulent documents; or (2) entered legally as a nonimmigrant but then violated the terms of his or her status and remained in the United States without authorization.” Many undocumented students have lived in the United States most of their lives, emigrating with their families at a very young age and lack legal ways to become documented residents of the United States.

How does higher education differ for undocumented students?

The legal uncertainties around an undocumented students’ residential status, these students face many obstacles to pursuing higher education. Rising college costs are difficult for everyone, but undocumented students face obstacles in the ability to pay for their education. Current federal policies bar undocumented students from receiving federal financial aid—including federal subsidized loans and Pell grants. Undocumented students in Minnesota have more options than some other states, however the Minnesota Dream Act allows undocumented students to apply for state financial aid. This financial aid is eligible for use at MnSCU institutions and the University of Minnesota and also allows these students to receive in-state tuition rates.

What other challenges face undocumented students?

Not all of the challenges facing undocumented students are financial in nature. Because of the tenuous legal position of many undocumented students, some students may be fearful of disclosing their status—making the availability of safe spaces all that more important for undocumented students who may wish to discuss their experiences with support and understanding of students in similar positions. Like many students of diverse backgrounds, undocumented students benefit from culturally sensitive environments that validate and support their diversity of experience. MnSCU and fellow students can support undocumented students by treating these students with empathy and respect.

What resources are available to undocumented students and others interested in learning more?

The Obama administration recently released a report “Supporting Undocumented Youth: A Guide for Success in Secondary and Postsecondary Settings.” This report contains tips for educators and policymakers, as well as a list of state and federal resources for undocumented students. Undocumented students interested in learning more about whether they may qualify for in-state aid can visit the Office of Higher Education Dream Act website.

If you have any questions about Minnesota or MnSCU policies surrounding the education of undocumented students, please contact Director of Policy Becca Branum at bbranum@mscsa.org

News You Can Use: 11/3/15

MnSCU Happenings

If there is one thing that MnSCU loves, it’s a committee meeting. System-level committees are well under way for the 2015-16 academic year. Following appointments by President Parker at the September Student Leadership Conference, MSCSA members have attended a wide variety of committee meetings that serve as deliberative and advisory bodies to MnSCU administration. MSCSA students attend these meetings to advocate for the interests of MnSCU college students and participate in the MnSCU policy-development process. The meetings that MSCSA attends generally fall into three broad categories – Academic and Student Affairs Consultation Committees, Chancellor and Board of Trustee meetings, and other ad-hoc committee meetings convened by MnSCU administrators.

In the month of September, MSCSA had particularly positive meetings on the topics of credit transfer and campus diversity. In September, the Transfer Oversight Committee recommended that computer science classes be considered for inclusion in the Minnesota Transfer Curriculum. This recommendation is an exciting development for MSCSA students that will broaden the variety of courses available for transfer from colleges to universities in the MnSCU system. Other exciting news comes from the newly-formed Student Diversity Task Force. Convened by Assistant Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Toyia Younger, the task force intends to give students a voice at the system-level on issues pertaining to diversity and inclusion on campus. Although the task force remains in the development stage, MSCSA is enthusiastic for the opportunity to voice the diversity-related concerns of students at the system office.

MSCSA represents students at MnSCU through these committees and several more – in monthly meetings with Chancellor Rosenstone, meetings with state regulators at the Office of Higher Education, and through testimony before the MnSCU Board of Trustees. In October, President Parker testified before the Board of Trustees to emphasize MSCSA’s commitment to the Charting the Future process and the system’s combined interest in fulfilling the goals identified by the MnSCU Leadership Council.

If you have any topics that you would like MSCSA to discuss at upcoming meetings with MnSCU leadership, please contact Director of Policy Becca Branum at bbranum@mscsa.org


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