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Big Ed

OHE and DEED Commissioners kick of state higher education bonding tour

Next week, Commissioners Pogemiller and Katie Clark Sieben from DEED will kick-off a tour of higher education bonding projects included in the Governor’s Capital Investment bill. On Tuesday, they will be at Metropolitan State University to learn more about the new Science Education Center, designed to increase graduates in STEM fields. On Friday, the Commissioners will be in Duluth at Lake Superior College. Their project involves the reconfiguration, remodeling and renovating of classrooms and labs in the Allied Health and Science programs. Future visits will include Dakota Community and Technical College, the Northeast Higher Education District, including stops in Ely, International Falls, Grand Rapids and Hibbing, M State in Moorhead, SE Technical in Red Wing and Winona State University. The Governor has proposed a bonding bill of $945.6 million, with $233 million designated for higher education.

posted by Sandy Connolly • 3/28/2014 at 12:58 PM


Get ready to win!

Are you ready? It all starts tomorrow with the kick-off of the “Great Minnesota Get-Together”! Thousands of visitors will flood the State Fair grounds, looking for entertainment, baby animals, rides and games, and, of course, food on a stick.

posted by Sandy Connolly • 8/21/2013 at 3:04 PM


And now for some really important news...

Tomorrow at 11:30, staff at the MN Office of Higher Education will be grappling with much larger issues than how to reign in student debt or make college more affordable. Instead, they’ll be working feverishly, stretching their imagination, physics and logic skills to claim victory in: Minnesota Grown Challenge: Produce Pyramid.

posted by Sandy Connolly • 7/31/2013 at 2:45 PM


Summer Nudging Underway!

Jen Fox, the newest member of the Communications staff, is leading an OHE pilot project called Summer Nudging, designed to offer students helpful reminders between their last day of high school and the first day of postsecondary.

posted by Sandy Connolly • 7/11/2013 at 4:31 PM


Stafford interest rates go up Monday

Jen Fox, the newest member of the Communications staff, is leading an OHE pilot project called Summer Nudging, designed to offer students helpful reminders between their last day of high school and the first day of postsecondary.

posted by Sandy Connolly • 6/28/2013 at 4:10 PM


Living the Dream Act, part 1

Last week, we traveled to Ridgewater College in Willmar to talk about the 2013 higher education bill and how it will help the Willmar community, the college and specifically, students. There was a lot of enthusiasm from all sides about the bill, including President Doug Allen, Ridgewater faculty, local legislators and staff from the West Central Integration Collaborative.

One of the participants was a young woman who stands to benefit significantly from the passage of the Dream Act. Raquel, a recent high school graduate, has lived in Willmar almost her entire life. She has taken several PSEO courses at Ridgewater College, where she is already enrolled for fall semester. Her plan right now is to complete her first two years of studies at Ridgewater, then transfer to the U of M to complete a medical degree. Raquel hopes to one day be a pediatrician.

I talked to Raquel after the meeting about the possibility of letting Big Ed follow her progress throughout her college education  in part to get a sense of how its going, but also to see what difference the passage of the Dream Act makes in her life, and possibly the lives of her siblings.

She is very willing to share her story! The first thing to do is to find out if Raquel will qualify for a MN State Grant.

Grants are need based, which is determined by filling out the FAFSA. To do so, however, requires a social security number  something undocumented students are lacking. The Mn Office of Higher Education is working hard to develop a new state financial aid application for Dreamers. Once the form is completed, students can quickly find out if they will receive any need-based state assistance for college.

Early estimates indicate about two students for every college in the state will qualify. The other benefit of the Dream Act will not apply to Raquel, at least not for now. Because Ridgewater College only charges one tuition rate (not in-state and out-of-state) Raquel will pay the same as every other student. This will change when she transfers to another college.

About six years from now, this Dreamer could be a pediatrician, a path made easier by the Dream Act!

posted by Sandy Connolly • 6/11/2013 at 10:56 AM


MnSCU steps up fundraising efforts to help more kids get to college

Just saw this from MnSCU - great effort to help more students get to college!

Minnesota State Colleges and Universities
"Access to Excellence" Campaign to Raise $20 Million in Scholarships

ST. PAUL, Minn., June 4, 2013 - Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) has launched Access to Excellence, a statewide fund-raising campaign with the goal of generating $20 million for scholarships through fiscal 2015 to assist 16,000 MnSCU students. Access to Excellence represents the most ambitious scholarship goal in MnSCU history.

"Unmet financial need is a major factor preventing many students of modest financial means from completing a college degree," said Steven Rosenstone, MnSCU chancellor. "The availability of need-based scholarships will help enable more low income students to enroll and help students complete their program or degree in a timely fashion."

The initiative was announced in conjunction with a meeting of volunteer board members and institutional advancement officers from 42 affiliated foundations throughout the MnSCU system. Speakers at the Access to Excellence kick-off event included Wendy Hanson, scholarship recipient and alumna of North Hennepin Community College; Fred Goldschmidt, Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College Foundation Board Chair; Deeann J. Griebel, Managing Director - Investments, Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC; and Mike Newman, Vice President of Travelers Foundation.

The Access to Excellence campaign is one element in MnSCU's ongoing commitment to remain the state's highest value, most affordable higher education option. Additional elements include a commitment to generate $44 million in efficiencies and cost control over the next two years, tuition rates that are substantially lower than the state's other higher education options, and a tuition freeze for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 academic years. As a result of these and other initiatives, more students graduate from the colleges and universities of MnSCU with little or no debt than is true of the state’s other colleges and universities.

The 31 colleges and universities of MnSCU educate 58% of all Minnesota undergraduates, serve more students of color than any other provider of higher education in Minnesota, provide educational services to nearly 11,000 veterans, and serve more low-income students than all of the state's other higher education providers combined.

posted by Sandy Connolly • 6/5/2013 at 4:04 PM


2013 Higher Education bill signed into law

For the first time in many years, Minnesota has a positive number in the budget column for higher education. Last Friday, Governor Dayton signed the 2013 Higher Education bill into law, increasing spending on colleges and financial aid by 10%, with over 74% of the $250 million in new spending going directly to students.

Students will realize $203 million in savings as a result of a tuition freeze and an historic increase in state grants.

While the tuition freeze at the U of M and MnSCU is drawing the biggest headlines, the $46 million investment in the Minnesota State Grant and the changes to how award amounts are calculated are significant steps forward.

For instance, for the first time since 2008, the actual cost of tuition at the University of Minnesota will be used to calculate state grant awards. By raising the tuition cap, students at both the U of MN and private colleges will see an increase in their grant award that better reflects their actual costs. The allowance for living expenses has also been increased for every grant recipient, again coming closer to what students are actually paying. (In case youre wondering, tuition increases at MnSCU campuses have always been covered.)

The bill also recognizes that the federal assigned family responsibility for independent students was unrealistic to what they could afford. This budget bill increases their state grants by changing the expected contribution from .65 to .5.

As a result of these changes, over 9,000 additional Minnesota students will receive a state grant and all 102,000 grant recipients should see an increase.

The U will receive nearly $36M for its MnDRIVE research and development program, and MnSCU will receive $17M for faculty retention and $7M for new equipment.

It should be noted that the budgets of public colleges and universities underwent intense scrutiny this session, especially how they relate to record tuition increases. The final bill includes accountability measures for both public systems, requiring them to meet certain performance standards before receiving their entire funding.

Finally, after years of trying, the Minnesota Dream Act was passed, extending in-state tuition and state financial aid to undocumented students who meet necessary requirements. It is estimated that 750 students could qualify over the next biennium, including both undergraduate and graduate.

posted by Sandy Connolly • 5/28/2013 at 2:28 PM


First Higher Education Conference Committee update

The Higher Education Conference Committee met yesterday for the first time – here are just a few notes from that meeting.

Chair Pelowski thanked the leadership of the House and Senate and Governor Dayton for the target and said he expects everyone in the room to be very happy. The higher education target is $250 million, close to the Governor and Senate number.

The $250 million target includes a $17.8 million increase in State Grant available resources, due to updated projections largely based on Pell Grant changes authorized by Congress, and also enrollment changes reported in March and wage changes in conjunction with the March budget forecast. Discussions are underway as to how so reinvest these additional resources.

Senate Counsel and House Research walked through the policy language and the spreadsheet; most of the same and similar provisions were adopted.

Senator Clausen raised some concerns about the SLEDS language, specifically with regard to data privacy. These issues will be addressed in coming meetings.

Chair Bonoff told the committee they have been asked to have their committee work done by midnight on Wednesday. The next meeting has not been called, but it will likely be at the “call of the chair” after the House or Senate adjourns today.

posted by Sandy Connolly • 5/14/2013 at 9:04 AM


Higher Education Conference Committee begins meeting today

Over the week-end, Governor Dayton and House and Senate leadership reached a broad agreement on the state budget priorities and provided spending targets for each area of the budget.

$250 million has been designated for higher education, the most significant investment in years. The Higher Education conference committee will begin meeting today to negotiate the specifics of the bill. If the final bill mirrors the Governor's initial recommendation, it will be a balanced split between the University of Minnesota, MnSCU and the Minnesota State Grant, with some smaller investments included, as well, such as funding for the American Indian Scholarship and SLEDS.

Members of the conference committee include: Representatives Pelowski, Winkler, Rosenthal, Dorholt and Nornes, and Senators Bonoff, Clausen, Miller, Pappas and Eken. Once they have reached agreement on a final bill, it will be returned to both bodies for passage, and if passed, on to the Governor for his signature.

Big Ed will provide ongoing updates on the 2013 higher education bill, check back daily.

posted by Sandy Connolly • 5/13/2013 at 1:28 PM


Big Ed is back!

It's a new day for Big Ed! After a long hiatus, Big Ed is back on the new Office of Higher Education website. Check back often for updates.

posted by Sandy Connolly • 5/6/2013 at 2:25 PM


Good advice for veterans returning to school

The U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs posted these reminders for veterans returning to campus this fall. They've included very helpful information about accessing VA education benefits, check it out!

posted by Sandy Connolly • 8/20/2012 at 9:25 AM


New online tool available to help college students manage loan debt

The U.S. Department of Education announced today a new interactive loan counseling tool designed to help college students manage their debt.

Known as "The Financial Awareness Counseling Tool", the site will help students determine both their current level of debt and get an estimate of what their total debt will be upon completion, among other features.

The Department also plans to release a model financial aid shopping sheet in the coming weeks. This new tool will help students and their parents more easily determine the actual cost of attending college.

The Financial Awareness Counseling Tool can be accessed through at Student Loans

posted by Sandy Connolly • 7/11/2012 at 4:42 PM


SELF Loan rate drops to 3.5%

Back from vacation!

Good news today about the SELF Loan interest rate dropping to 3.5%! This is good option for students and their families who need some extra funding to help pay for college.

Check out the press release:


The Minnesota Office of Higher Education (OHE) is pleased to announce a reduced interest rate on the State of Minnesota SELF V variable interest rate student loan.

The new rate on this variable loan is 3.5%, down from the previous rate of 4.0%. According to Marilyn Kosir, SELF Loan Manager at OHE, the lower rate was made possible by a reduction in the margin utilized to calculate SELF Loan interest rates. The SELF Loan also carries a fixed rate option at 7.25%.

Our first recommendation to every student is to consider all options for paying for college before taking out any loan, said Kosir. However, sometimes borrowing is the only option available, so we work hard to keep SELF Loan interest rates and terms competitive.

In 2011, over 16,000 Minnesota students borrowed $85 million through the Minnesota SELF Loan program. This number was down from 2009, when $125 million was loaned to 24,700 students. According to Larry Pogemiller, Director of OHE, this drop in participation was due to the new federal preferred lender requirement, which restricts the ability of many colleges from informing students about state run loan options.

When Congress passed the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, it became more difficult for students to learn about high quality, often less expensive, state-based student loan programs, said Pogemiller. As a result, students and parents often choose the easiest path, such as federal PLUS loans, which carry a higher interest rate than the state SELF Loan.

It is unfortunate that borrowing for college is costing many students and their parents more simply because they are unaware of the SELF Loan.

Minnesota is one of 15 states that offer a state loan program with borrower-friendly terms. Colleges must certify the loan, there is no prepayment penalty, and students are charged the same rate of interest regardless of the type of postsecondary institution they attend. The loans help meet the net price of attendance after other forms of financial aid are deducted.

The SELF program operates at no cost to the state, with funding provided by revenue bond proceeds, investment earnings and student loan repayments from borrowers. SELF Loans are available to Minnesota students attending eligible postsecondary institutions within or outside Minnesota and to non-residents attending eligible postsecondary institutions in Minnesota. There are no minimum or maximum income thresholds and no application fees for the SELF Loan program. Students pay only interest on their SELF Loan while in school.

For information about the SELF Loan program, students can contact the financial aid office at the college they attend or are considering attending, or contact the Minnesota Office of Higher Education at (800) 657-3866 or visit

posted by Sandy Connolly • 7/6/2012 at 10:19 AM


Six MN schools join FAFSA Completion Project

Congratulations to six MN schools for being selected to participate in the U.S. Department of Education's FAFSA Completion Project!

According to the press release sent out today, Austin, Deer River, Osseo, Rockford and Warren-Alvarado-Solo School Districts will join the Minneapolis School District as members of this project.

Beginning in the 2012-13 school year, participating school districts can track whether or not their seniors have filled out the FAFSA - a necessary step for financial aid.

posted by Sandy Connolly • 5/31/2012 at 2:40 PM


Congrats to two new MnSCU presidents!

Congratulations to Scott Olson on being named Winona State University's 15th president!

Olson comes to WSU from Minnesota State University - Mankato, where he was the provost and vice president for academic and student affairs.

We had lunch with Olson at MSU-Mankato during a campus visit there earlier this year. He played an integral role in the tremendous service provided to the students at Mankato, where they brag of an outstanding placement rate!

Congratulations also to Peggy Kennedy, appointed today by the MnSCU board as president of Minnesota State Community and Technical College. We met Peggy on a blustery winter day at the Fergus Falls campus when she was interim president.

The MnSCU board was clearly impressed with the work Kennedy did during her tenure as interim president. The campus connection to the regional workforce was especially impressive in light of the ongoing discussion about workforce alignment across the state.

We look forward to working with both President Olson and President Kennedy in their new roles.

posted by Sandy Connolly • 5/16/2012 at 10:43 AM


Some tips for avoiding college debt

Jana Hollingsworth, a reporter with the Duluth News Tribune, did a good story this week-end on some students who found a way to finish their college education without accumulating too much debt.

As Jana pointed out, most students today find some level of borrowing necessary to complete their education. In fact, 73% of Mn students graduating in 2009 took out loans, with up to 90% of the students at some campuses.

There are ways to limit borrowing, however, but it takes hard work and planning - and learning to say no, as the students in this story found out.

Check it out here:"College Debt Load Rising"

posted by Sandy Connolly • 5/14/2012 at 2:47 PM


Tricia Grimes honored for her contributions to financial aid administrators

Last Friday, OHE policy and research analyst Tricia Grimes was surprised to receive the MAFAA 2012 Special Recognition Award at their annual conference in Brainerd. This award is presented to a person who consistently provides outstanding service to MAFAA and is affiliated with the financial aid community.

During every legislative session, Tricia provides members of MAFAA with detailed yet concise summaries of legislation that impact higher education. She also volunteers with committee members often, and meets with the Leadership Symposium participants prior to their visit to the Capitol, to name just a few of her many contributions.

The people who nominated Tricia called her a true leader in financial aid and a keeper! We agree!

Congratulations to Tricia on receiving this important reward!

Tricia Grimes receiving award

posted by Sandy Connolly • 5/7/2012 at 5:09 PM


Soft skills required

At the MnSCU Workforce meeting in Stacy, MN on Monday, the owner of a manufacturing operation was lamenting the lack of "soft skills" among some of his workers.

He went so far as to outline his "Ten Commandments for Career Success", as follows:

1. Be Positive - Attitude is everything

2. Show Up - On time, every day, reliably

3. Work Hard - Earn your keep, get something done

4. Get Along - Play together nice in the sandbox

5. Pay it Forward - Do more than is expected today, and you will

receive more than you expected.

6. Be Flexible - Willingly take on different tasks

7. Figure It Out - Be a problem solver, not a problem asker

8. Join the Club - Be proud to be part of your organization

9. No Whining - Communicate positively and well, don't be high maintenance

10. Keep Learning - If you don't keep up, you will become obsolete

Good advice for everyone!

posted by Sandy Connolly • 5/3/2012 at 10:06 AM


Financial Literacy Month comes to a close

Today marks the end of Financial Literacy Month in Minnesota! True to their word, Commerce Commissioner Rothman and his staff led solid efforts all month long to help Minnesotans of all ages get the best value for their money.

The second week in April was Higher Education Financial Literacy Week. OHE had events scheduled throughout the week aimed at helping students and their families navigate the bumpy waters of paying for college.

We listened to dozens of students and their families talk about the difficulty of paying for college. Once out of school, countless students struggle to cover their student loan payments. Instead of living the dream by buying a new car, their first home, or starting their own business, many students are straddled with student loans that can be several hundred dollars a month.

This is one of the most important challenges facing our state. Check out OHE's website for more information!

posted by Sandy Connolly • 4/30/2012 at 4:31 PM


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