Higher Education, Republican-Style: Minnesota Vets Lose Grants But Allowed To Take Out Loans During Budget Debacle

July 12, 2011, 12:59 pm

Minnesota legislators take a break while students languish

We at Tenured Radical are still vacationing on a lake in Northern Minnesota, a state where the Republican-dominated legislature, in all its wisdom, decided to shut down state government over a $5 billion budget gap rather than raise taxes on the state’s wealthiest citizens. This means that the vast majority of Minnesotans who cannot afford to rent a private house or book a room in a lodge, and who usually take advantage of the state’s wonderful park system to hunt, fish, canoe and camp on a working person’s budget, found themselves home over the July 4 weekend baking in 90 degree heat.  I am an out-of-stater, but I do hope all Minnesota voters, whether they are enrolled in college or not, remember how much fun they had on their three-day federal holiday when it is time to go to the polls in November.

As usual, education is taking a hit too.  According to this public document issued by the University of Minnesota, all employees — including faculty — have been invited to take “voluntary leave” (while keeping their benefits and retirement pay) in order to help avoid layoffs.  Students will not only be affected by the shortage of classes and services, but veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars and other citizens who rely on state grants to pursue their education, may be closing their notebooks for now.

You will be glad to know — since you were probably concerned — that in the closing hours of the legislative session these same Minnesota lawmakers passed a special bill to keep their own paychecks coming. Governor Mark Dayton has announced he will not collect his pay during the shutdown but most legislators will: 72% of Republicans will accept shutdown pay, as will 65% of Democratic Farmer Labor party members.

What happens to a major state educational system when politicians play chicken?  According to this news release, “The University of Minnesota is open during the state government shutdown. Medical and dental clinics are open to treat patients, while summer classes, new student orientation, student services and other activities continue as usual. Buildings and offices are also remaining open during regular hours.”  The Minnesota State system has also remained open.

Open, however, does not mean that higher education in Minnesota continues to be accessible.  A shutdown into late summer  could begin to disrupt or prevent the matriculation of a majority of students prior to the opening of the fall semester. According to this source, financial aid to the state’s most needy students has already been disrupted, interrupting the education of hard-working students who often rely on the summer term to speed their path to a degree. “State grants and scholarships like State Work study programs, the Minnesota Indian scholarship, Child Care grants and the Minnesota GI bill have all been suspended,” reporter Megan Nicolai writes, and the financial aid office is operating on limited hours. However, “The Student Educational Loan Fund program has stayed open, however, after Ramsey County Chief Judge Kathleen Gearin ruled the service critical during a state government shutdown. SELF loans are low-interest loans for Minnesota students who have exhausted their federal aid options for higher education.”

So, irony of ironies, Republican legislators (who voted to pay themselves for work they have not accomplished) are making it impossible for students to get scholarship money which they have earned through academic achievement, military service, or in residual compensation from having been dispossessed from their land in the case of Native people.  But students can still take on more debt to complete their degrees, allowing banks to profit from the shutdown as well.

Radical fans in Minnesota:  how are you experiencing the shutdown?  Tell us in the comments!

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