What MN students are eyeing this legislative session

We've got our own agenda

As I try to get a view of what might be discussed this legislative session, I thought I’d talk to representatives from the two groups representing students in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system.

I spoke recently with Jonathan Bohn of the Minnesota State University Student Association, as well as Geoff Dittberner and Jessica Medearis of the Minnesota State College Student Association.

Here’s an overview of what’s on students leaders’ minds — what they’ve heard may come up, or what they’re pushing:

    • Transfers. You may recall that MnSCU recently released its report to the legislature on the subject, which boasted a 91 percent success rate. (See my update on this.) “I think there will be a push to make transfers easier for students,” Bohn told me. “We do have a 90-plus percent rate, but even if only (9 percent is left), that’s still too much.” He said one idea might be to enact something similar to California’s Student Transfer Achievement Reform Act, passed in 2010. That said, both he and Dittberner said the organizations don’t want to short-circuit any progress that MnSCU’s central office is making on the matter.
    • Maintenance. No, it’s not sexy. But student leaders were hoping that the state would concentrate more on maintaining the facilities it has than on building new ones. That’s because students tend to shoulder a great deal of the cost of new construction. (The state, on the other hand, pays for practically all maintenance- and related costs, known as Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement, or HEAPR). MSUSA leaders last week were “really disappointed” by the amount allocated to HEAPER in the bonding recommendations that Gov. Mark Dayton released. Student reps are meeting with the governor’s staff on Wednesday, Bohn said, and will have a formal letter in by the end of the week. “We have taken stronger stances,” Bohn told me. “There needs to be a serious discussion in bonding, and this just won’t work.” Medearis said MnSCU has a $775 million maintenance backlog and needs almost $110 million a year just to keep up. Dittberner said, “It’ll only get more expensive if we put it off.”
    • Voter identification. With a push underway for a state constitutional amendment requiring a photo ID to vote — something students say will make it too hard for them to exercise their right — Bohn said, “we’ll continue to put pressure on legislators and let them know our concerns.”  Groups of students at Bemidji State, Winona State and Minnesota State University – Moorhead, he said, have started gathering signatures today for a petition opposing the amendment.
    • Textbooks. Despite state and federal information-disclosure legislation designed to help cut textbook costs over the last few years, Bohn said students are seeing textbook prices continue to climb amid a lack of competition among sources. “The system,” he told me, “just isn’t working well.” So Bohn said student leaders will approach politicians about setting up a textbook task force. Among other things, it would study the feasibility of setting up a MnSCU central office for textbook purchasing and distribution, including how technology could bring down costs. “MnSCU has already been talking about it,” he said. “Hopefully, it could be cutting-edge.”
    • Veterans. Dittberner said MSCSA would like to see the Minnesota G.I. Bill expand to offer financial aid to all Minnesota vets, not just those who’ve gone to school after 9/11. “We have $4.5 million in unspent funds in the current G.I. bill, so we can expand it.”

Items on the back burner: For-profit colleges and the State Grant — which MPR’s Tim Post reported probably won’t come up.