Friday, May 11, 2012

Legislative Update

Higher Ed Policies Signed into Law

The higher education omnibus bill, SF 1573, was passed and signed into law by Gov. Dayton. The bill includes many provisions that MSUSA worked hard to get passed and are important to student success and reducing costs.

The first major provision is the textbook language which includes the establishment of a work group to study methods that result in lower textbook costs for students. This was one of MSUSA’s key policy initiatives. MSUSA hopes that this work group will allow the delivery of textbooks to students can be used to enhance the learning experience while also reducing the out-of-control costs. There is also language that requires MnSCU institutions to publish course schedules and course material lists on the institution’s Web site. 
The textbook language also makes the notification to the campus bookstore of selected course material mandatory for MnSCU academic departments or instructors, and requires the notice of selection to be provided to the bookstore and students 45 days, instead of 30 days, before the start of the term. The bookstore is also required to make reasonable efforts to notify students at least 30 days, instead of 15 days, prior to the start of the term of the most recent copyright date of the printed course material and the copyright date of the most recent prior edition of the course material, if that prior edition is acceptable for class use. By moving these dates sooner we hope students have access to the information they need to shop at various sources for the lowest price textbooks instead of being forced to buy from the bookstore because of inadequate notification.

The next major initiative MSUSA helped pass is the continuing operations language that will allow colleges and universities to continue serving students if a government shutdown were to happen again. Last year there was confusion about the prospect that our summer courses would end early without credit awarded because of the state shutdown. This provision will clarify what happens in the event of a state shutdown in the future.
The bill also includes an increase in the revenue fund authority from $300 million to $405 million. This language will allow campuses the opportunity to evaluate and plan, in consultation with students, for the future of revenue generating facilities including, but not limited to: dorms, student unions, dining facilities, and parking.

In conjunction with the Inter-Faculty Organization (IFO-the university professors union, MSUSA advocated for language regarding the Teacher Performance Assessment (TPA) student fee, a classroom-based, content-specific assessment that captures teacher candidates’ performance in planning and delivering instruction primarily taken during the student teaching phase of a student’s education, was included in the bill and requires the Minnesota Board of Teaching to report to the K-12 and higher education legislative committees by January 5, 2013 with recommendations for eliminating lower priority tests or assessments required of teacher education students to offset the additional fees charged to students for the TPA. Currently the student is not bearing any cost for completing the TPA because the assessment is in its pilot phase.

Other Policy Provisions that Did Not:

The Omnibus Tax bill that was sent to Gov. Dayton included $1 million for a higher ed internship grant program that would grant money to businesses in greater Minnesota for hiring paid interns. Unfortunately this provision was included in a highly controversial bill that was vetoed by the Governor. 

MnSCU Bonding Projects

The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) was appropriated $132 million $94.7 million in bonding projects and asset preservation. The university projects are listed below:
·               $20 million for HEAPR
·               $500 thousand for Southwest Minnesota State University science lab renovation;
·               $2.5 million for the system wide STEM renovation;
·               $2.065 million for Minnesota State University, Mankato clinical science building design
·               $3.303 million for Bemidji State University business building addition/renovation design and demolition
The remaining dollars were used for projects at the MnSCU college campuses.

Doubling of the Stafford Loan Interest Rate

The US House passed a bill that would extend the 3.4% interest rate one more year but is paid for by cutting a controversial part of the healthcare reform law. The US Senate took action on a bill on May 8th that would have also extended the 3.4% for one year but the bill failed to reach the 60 votes needed to break the filibuster so the debate was stalled.

MSUSA is urging our congressional representatives to continue working together to find a solution to this problem. Student loan debt has recently grown to more than $1 trillion. On average, the doubling of the interest rate would add approximately $1,000 for every year a student takes out a loan, adding up to more than $4,000 over a four-year education. The rate hike could not come at a worse time.

The national recession has led to weak state economies, which in turn have squeezed college budgets. The result is higher tuition costs being passed on to students and families throughout the country. In 2011, 46 states dealt with budget shortfalls, resulting in double-digit tuition increases. In Minnesota we had historic cuts our higher education systems and our universities all saw a tuition increase.

We must continue our work to keep a college education within reach by stopping interest rates on subsidized Stafford student loans from doubling this July.

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