Twelve members of MSUM’s Minnesota State University Student Association chapter attended the “Invest Like It’s 1999” rally for higher education at the Minnesota State Capitol on Feb. 13.
Student rally day happens once every other year and is put on by Minnesota State College and University System. There are 400,000 students in the MnSCU system between seven four-year universities, Bemidji State University, Minnesota State University, Mankato, Metropolitan State University, St. Cloud State University, Southwest Minnesota State University, Winona State University and MSUM, and roughly 40 two-year colleges throughout the state.
“The idea of the organization is that the students have a voice at the legislative level,” said Jessica Bernier, the MSUM MSUSA campus coordinator. “The point was to go and show our representatives that our students care about what they are doing, and we are paying attention to the decisions they are making, so that they keep that in mind when they are doing budgets this year.”
The rally’s theme “Invest Like It’s 1999” was chosen because the state has not increased state funding for higher education since 1999. In the last 12 years, state funding has actually decreased by 4.5 percent.
For this budget cycle, MnSCU is requesting $97 million over the next 2 years; 35 percent from the state, 35 percent through efficiencies and 27 percent from students.
“We realize we can’t put it all on the state,” Bernier said. “Students do need to take some portion of the increase, at the same time the state’s constitution still says that they (the state) are supposed to be paying for two-thirds of our education, and right now we are paying two-thirds.”
In Minnesota, students used to pay 33 percent of tuition, but now pay 56 percent, causing the student loan debt per student to increase by $10,000 per student. At MSUM, student tuition rates have steadily increased over the last five years as well, increasing at an average of over 5 percent per year.
Gov. Mark Dayton, Terri Bonoff, senate higher education chairwoman and Gene Pelowski, house higher education chairman, along with other committee members, came out of the capitol to speak to the 150 students that were rallying throughout the day. MSUM students also had the opportunity for face time with local representatives Ben Lien, DFL-Moorhead, and Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, during and after the rally to voice their concerns about higher education funding.
“Our legislators here, Ben Lien and Kent Eken, are both very pro-higher-education, so lobbying them is going to be fairly easy,” said Russell Ferguson, Student Senate president. “It’s making sure that they really champion the new proposal for more funding for higher education. That’s going to be our big mission, so they push it to the other senators and other legislators at the state capitol.”
All students at MSUM, and at any four-year university in the MnSCU system, are members of MSUSA because it is a statewide student association, so Bernier said she would like to see more student involvement.
“In the future I hope that we can get more students to be involved because it is so important for our legislators to realize that we are paying attention and that we do care,” Bernier said. “As students, a lot of people don’t think that our voice matters, and we need to show them that it does and that we do have the power to make a difference.”
The governor’s revised budget recommendations will be released in March with the end of session estimates coming out in May or June.
BY MEREDITH WATHNE