Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Campus Visit: Metro State University

Last Thursday, after a long day of extremely hard work in the MSUSA office, I made the arduous journey (lasting almost 5 minutes!) to the shining beacon on the hill otherwise known as the Metropolitan State University.

My purpose was to visit with the Metro State MSUSA Campus Committee.

Shortly after arriving on campus I ventured into the New Main building with its shining glass fa├žade. I made my way down the circular medieval staircase to the second subterranean level. There, amid the dark, I noticed a beam of light begin to form in the distance. As I stood there in tense anticipation the beam crept across the floor and ultimately spilled onto my feet. I proceeded with caution, carefully placing one delicate step ahead of the other. As I drew nearer to the source of light I saw a visage of great familiarity begin to materialize. Before I could fully comprehend what was happening I found myself peering through the glass of the Metro State Student Senate office. On the other side of the glass, as if I was peering down through the surface of some magical pool of water, Dea price appeared. She waived me into the room as if she was expecting me. Perhaps this is because we arranged the meeting several days prior.

As I sat down in the Student Senate office, Metro State campus committee members began to appear. In what seemed like a blink of an eye all were present except the noble Diversity Specialist, Francis Cristobal. At the time, Francis was making his way to St. Cloud for the Power in Diversity conference. This was a most-worthy excuse.

The remaining Campus Committee members (Dea Price, Brian Wemerskirchin, and Angi Daus) and I began to have a conversation about the nature and function of the MSUSA Campus Committee on the Metro State campus. Many excellent points were made including some from the Campus Committee members themselves.

I left the meeting with a sense of hope and optimism. The four courageous souls that comprise the Metro State Campus Committee are focused on making the MSUSA-Metro State relationship strong. With their leadership as a guiding light, I am confident in the reality of that outcome.

Onward and upward to the next campus!

Monday, January 30, 2012

MSUSA Legislative Update 1-30-12

The first week of the 2012 legislative session included short floor sessions and a handful of committee hearings. One of the more contentious issues last week was the Senate Rules and Administration committee vote to approve the Senate budget, which includes cuts in staffing for the DFL and non-partisan Senate staff. Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, read a statement Friday that said it was a painful first week of session in the Senate. He characterized the budget cuts to the DFL Caucus staff as a “partisan attack on hard-working men and women that work for the State Senate.” Bakk said the majority did not cut any staff and misled members of the Rules Committee with inaccurate information. Senate Deputy Majority Leader Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, said the Senate Republican caucus made their cuts in staff last year. Ortman also said she has been meeting and communicating with Bakk regarding the budget.

The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system is scheduled to present its bonding request of $278 million to the House Higher Education committee tomorrow (Tuesday) at 12:30 in the State Office Building. The system will then present the request to the Senate Higher Education committee Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. in the Capitol.

The Capitol hallways will be bustling with the usual activity through Wednesday this week, then lawmakers are scheduled for a legislative break for precinct caucuses Feb. 2-7.

Gov. Dayton is scheduled to give the State of the State address Wednesday, Feb. 15 at 7:00 p.m. in the House Chamber. The State of the State is an opportunity for the governor to address both the Senate and House with a focus on his priorities for the current session. Dayton’s priorities include a bonding bill, a jobs plan and a potential Vikings stadium.

In Washington, President Obama is set to release his 2013 budget Feb. 13. Obama’s budget is the first step in the 2013 appropriations process.

House Higher Education Policy and Finance committee members heard from Director Larry Pogemiller with the Minnesota Office of Higher Education (MOHE) last Thursday. Pogemiller told members that Gov. Dayton believes there’s a higher education agenda we all can act on and spoke about the need for collaborations between higher education, K-12 education and the workforce. He discussed what he believes to be some of the challenges and opportunities for higher education, including ramping-up postsecondary readiness, assuring student access to quality choices, responding effectively to demographic changes and pending workforce shortages and evaluating and improving postsecondary quality and productivity.

When asked how he views the role of the Office of Higher Education, Pogemiller said they are an executive agency that informs the governor on higher education issues. He also said part of what he will implement is, “Beefing up the research function.” Pogemiller said it is MOHE’s responsibility to help inform the governor and legislators with the appropriate research.

Director Pogemiller also spoke to the state grant program. He described the program as balancing access and choice and allowing students and their families the ability to decide how they access postsecondary. Pogemiller spoke of the impact the federal Pell Grant changes will have for fiscal year 2013. He said the federal changes will create modest reductions, less than predicted. The total loss in Pell Grant funds to students at Minnesota institutions is estimated at $6 million. Approximately 1 percent of Pell Grant recipients will lose their full Pell Grant award; other Pell Grant recipients may see smaller awards, but some of these reductions and losses will be offset by increases to the student’s state grant.

As for the state grant, MOHE is currently projecting a spending balance of $6.9 million. Pogemiller said the number will be finalized with a report to the Legislature mid-February. He said if the balance holds, MOHE will recommend allocating it to reciprocity and the living, miscellaneous expense allowance, or LME. Pogemiller said somewhere in the range of $3-5 million would be allocated to the LME.

Thank you to Melissa Fahning from MnSCU for preparing this legislative update.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Our View: State of the Union

On Tuesday night, President Barack Obama addressed the nation during his annual State of the Union address.  He stressed education as an important piece in the puzzle to reviving the economy and creating jobs. 

To watch President Obama's remarks on education please click here.

The transcript of the section related to higher education is below:

"When kids do graduate, the most daunting challenge can be the cost of college. At a time when Americans owe more in tuition debt than credit card debt, this Congress needs to stop the interest rates on student loans from doubling in July. Extend the tuition tax credit we started that saves middle-class families thousands of dollars. And give more young people the chance to earn their way through college by doubling the number of work-study jobs in the next five years.

Of course, it’s not enough for us to increase student aid. We can’t just keep subsidizing skyrocketing tuition; we’ll run out of money. States also need to do their part, by making higher education a higher priority in their budgets. And colleges and universities have to do their part by working to keep costs down. Recently, I spoke with a group of college presidents who’ve done just that. Some schools re-design courses to help students finish more quickly. Some use better technology. The point is, it’s possible. So let me put colleges and universities on notice: If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down. Higher education can’t be a luxury – it’s an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford.

Let’s also remember that hundreds of thousands of talented, hardworking students in this country face another challenge: The fact that they aren’t yet American citizens. Many were brought here as small children, are American through and through, yet they live every day with the threat of deportation. Others came more recently, to study business and science and engineering, but as soon as they get their degree, we send them home to invent new products and create new jobs somewhere else. 

That doesn’t make sense."

The President's remarks on the substantial amount of student loan debt are spot on.  Students across the United States and right here in Minnesota have more debt from student loans than they do from anything else, credit cards included.  For this reason, we are thankful the President mentioned keeping the federal loan interest rate at the current level of 3.4%.  If Congress does not take action the interest rate will double to 6.8% in July. According to a statement from Rich Williams, a higher education advocate for US PIRG, "If Congress does nothing, borrowers who take out the maximum $23,000 in subsidized student loans will see their interest balloon to an additional $5,200 over a 10-year repayment period and $11,300 over a 20-year repayment period."  If you are interested in getting involved in the efforts to lobby congress to maintain the 3.4% interest rate please email Jonathan Bohn, Director of Government Relations at govrelations@msusa.org

Later in his speech, the President praised Universities striving to change the way they do business to keep costs down.  Our campuses have experienced this through reorganization, recalibration and simply changing how programs are offered.  The MnSCU system will see more of this innovative change as the newly adopted strategic framework comes to fruition.  Gone are the days when our Universities could operate at the status quo.  However, many of these reorganizing efforts have come as a result of decreasing appropriations from the state of Minnesota.  Students in the MnSCU system have gone from covering under 40% of their tuition, with the rest coming from the state, to currently funding over 60%.  At the same time, tuition has increased over 100% in the last 10 years.  Though the President's remarks leave many questions unanswered, we look forward to seeing progress on these issues in the coming year. 

MSUSA State Chair 
Amanda Bardonner

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Comments from the January meeting of the MnSCU Board of Trustees

This afternoon I testified to the MnSCU Board of Trustees on behalf of the state University students.  The President of the Minnesota State College Student Association (MSCSA) and I have the opportunity at the monthly board meeting to address the board with any concerns we may have an update them on the work of our associations.

Below are the remarks I shared with the board:

"Good Afternoon Chair Theiss, Trustees and Chancellor Rosenstone, I am Amanda Bardonner, State Chair of the Minnesota State University Student Association.  Thank you for the opportunity to speak today.
Earlier today you passed a new Strategic Framework for the system.   Though no one knows exactly what this framework will develop into, our association is excited to continue participating in the brainstorming process and developing a new “norm” for our students.  This new way of thinking rejuvenates the system, and signals new possibilities for our students to succeed.    

We have taken the opportunity to review the legislative report on credit transfer, and appreciate the system’s continued efforts to improve transfer at our colleges and universities.  It is important to note that although 91% of students do not experience credit loss due to transfer, there are still issues related to communication and process needing to be addressed.  Students outside of the 9% who experienced credit loss do experience problems related to communication and process issues, including those whose credits transfer as they should, but not as the student expected.  We believe the system is committed to continued work in these areas, and look forward to partnering in these efforts.
Another brief point I’d like to make with regard to transfer is about the focus on communication of the appeals process.  We agree that better communication to students about their right to appeal is important, and progress is being made in this area.  We hope, however, the system will also work to evaluate the reasons for the initial rejection of credit and make efforts to reduce the need for student appeals as a part of continuous improvement in the area of credit transfer.

This is an exciting time for MSUSA with not only the hiring of our new executive director but also the success of our initiatives.  Last semester, with the help of MSCSA we were able to collect over 4,000 student signatures in opposition to the proposed cuts to the Pell Grant, making this our largest push to date.  Though we were saved from cuts for the next year, the fight is not over.  We are now working to keep these students engaged by collecting their story of how the Pell Grant has helped them with their academic success.  We continue to educate students on the proposed Voter ID amendment and will launch a textbook survey to our students regarding the price of textbooks and evaluate if the legislation has made an impact. We will also work at the legislature to lobby for substantial HEAPR appropriations. 

I also have the pleasure today of introducing our new Executive Director, Elsbeth Howe.  Elsbeth spent 11 years with MSUSA before her time as the student senate advisor at MCTC and her most recent role as a legal instructor at Minneapolis Business College.  We are delighted to have Elsbeth back with the association and look forward to what is to come."

If you have any questions regarding the board meeting minutes or my testimony please contact me  at statechair@msusa.org 

Amanda Bardonner
State Chair 
Minnesota State University Student Association

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Let me introduce myself, from the new Executive Director

I am so excited to be writing this blog, my first as the new Executive Director!  My background for the past 15 years has been in higher education, with most of that time being spent at MSUSA.  I also worked at a MnSCU campus and have been an instructor for several years. I am ready to serve the Officers and Board to make MSUSA the absolute best student organization in the country.

I see many great opportunities for MSUSA.  MSUSA has many hard-working students, from the Officers, Board Members, Campus Coordinators, to every student that gets involved.  The staff is committed to the mission of MSUSA, and there have been many successes.  There are exciting things happening at the organization, including a potential move to a student-owned building, Lobby Corps during the legislative session and congressional visits to campuses this spring.

I am spending my first week meeting with the State Chair, MSUSA staff, MSCSA staff, and the MnSCU Chancellor and staff.  There is a lot of work for me to do, and I am ready to take it on.  Please contact me at ehowe@msusa.org if you have a question for me or want to give me any suggestions. I work for each student at the seven state universities, and I will work hard for you.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Minnesota State University Student Association Hires New Executive Director

The Minnesota State University Student Association (MSUSA), which represents more than 70,000 state university students, is pleased to announce the appointment of Elsbeth Howe to the position of Executive Director, effective Monday, January 8, 2011.

Previously, Elsbeth served with the Minnesota State University Student Association in a number of roles from 1997-2008 including the position of Director of Research and Policy. She also worked as a law clerk in Mankato, staff attorney for Legal Aid in Pine City, student senate advisor for Minneapolis Community and Technical College, and legal instructor at Minneapolis Business College.

Elsbeth received her bachelor of arts from Drake University before pursuing and receiving her Juris Doctorate from the University of Iowa College of Law. She currently resides in Dellwood, Minnesota.

Established in 1967, MSUSA is an independent, non-profit organization funded and operated by students.  MSUSA serves the students attending Minnesota’s state universities in Bemidji, Mankato, Marshall (Southwest), Moorhead, St. Cloud, St. Paul/Minneapolis (Metropolitan), and Winona.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

2011 Fall Semester Recap and Spring Semester Preview

As another semester comes to an end and we welcome in 2012, I would like to take the time to reflect back on all that we have accomplished here at MSUSA.  It definitely has been a busy semester, especially since we were without an executive director for the full semester and Shannah Mulvihill our Director of University and System Relations was on maternity.  Though we were short handed the staff and officers continued to carried out the mission of MSUSA.  We held three successful board member and campus committee conferences as well as a full delegates assembly conference. Our student leaders have all worked hard on their respective campuses, spreading the work of MSUSA and engaging more students in decisions that affect them!

Johnathan Bohn, Director of Gov Relations and I traveled to Washington DC twice this past semester, once in July and once in September, taking along other students each time. While there discussing the Pell Grant and how outlining how potential cuts to the maximum or eligibility requirements would affect MN students, we developed many contacts which have helped launch MSUSA on a national level.  Our campus committees, board members and students of our association worked tirelessly to collect signatures for our petition in opposition to the proposed Pell grant cuts.  In one of the most successful campaigns in our associations history, we collected 2,100 signatures from university students.  In partnership with our sister association, Minnesota State College Student Association, we presented the petition, with over 4,200 signatures, to the MN congressional delegation in a press conference held at the Minnesota Capitol.  Education Trust, a new partner of our association, helped to launch the creation of this idea, but our students really took hold of this project and worked to educate as many students as they could on their campuses.

Our federal contacts also came to use when our association was invited to participate in a series of events with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) when they visited MN.  The CFPB  opened their doors July 1, 2011 and serves to protect consumers from predatory practices lending and other financial issues. The morning round table discussion allowed for people from across sectors of Minnesota to discuss openly the financial issues facing the people of MN.  Our association presented on student loan and credit card debit, an epidemic sweeping the nation and affecting many people, current students and alumni, in Minnesota. That evening, I represented our association and students across Minnesota who are affecting by the rising cost of college and experience the reality of student loan and credit card debt.  Many students from both our association and MSCSA were present to share their story with staff of the CFPB.

Our association was also invited to participate in the Governor Dayton's Job Summit, representing students in the discussions of how to fill the workforce gap.  The message heard at the Job Summit continues to resonate in our meetings at the MnSCU System Office.  Employers across Minnesota are looking for skilled workers with a variety of education levels.  Chancellor Steven Rosenstone presented a strategic framework to the MnSCU Board of Trustees that addresses the workforce gap and MnSCU's role in meeting the needs of MN but most importantly outlined three fundamental commitments of the system.  We have been and will continue to be actively engaged in these conversations as the system works to meet these commitments.

I am also proud to announce the publishing of our association's first Annual Report.  Director of Communications Jered Weber worked to compile the successes of this past year.  With the release of this past year's annual report we can look toward the future and prepare for another epic adventure.

Spring semester will be filled with another riveting legislative session which is set to include conversations of transferability issues, voter identification and the rising cost of textbooks.  Each campus has organized a Lobby Core and dates are set for them to visit their campus representatives at the Capitol.  Our association will also continue working on student financial literacy, debt protection and awareness and adovating against predatory lending practices affecting students.

With a new year, new initiatives and the resent hire of an Executive Director, this spring semester is guaranteed to be full of just as many successes as the last.  Our board members, student officers, staff and campus committee members are committed to continue work on our strategic plan and to represent, inform and organize students across Minnesota.  Look for another student association email in your campus email mid-January and sign up to receive MSUSA updates to stay engaged in the work that affects you as a student in Minnesota!