The Gustavian Weekly

Annual Day at the Capitol’s emphasis hits home with students | The Gustavian Weekly

By Chris Stewart Staff Writer | February 26, 2010 | News

Gustavus students are offered opportunity to talk with Minnesota legislatures about college funding

Gustavus students will be heading to the Minnesota Capitol Building in St. Paul for Day on the Capitol. Students will meet with legistlators to speak about college funding. Alex Messenger.

In one week’s time, on Thursday, March 4 2010, a number of Gustavus students will once again flock to Minnisota’s Capitol grounds in St. Paul to try to make their voices heard by legislators. Each year, the Day at the Capitol presents an opportunity for those interested in taking an active role in Minnesota’s governmental process to do so.

According to Brittany Richardson, a junior political science major and coordinator of the Day at the Capitol student leadership committee, a number of “other schools in Minnesota participate in [this opportunity] throughout a time span of a few weeks.”

Generally at each Day at the Capitol event, a wide variety of legislative policies concerning higher education are either defended or opposed by the Gustavus students who choose to participate in the event.

“Day at the Capitol is a time for students to come together and show support directly to their state governement representatives for the Minnesota State Grant Program, [which is a] program that makes college affordable for many Minnesota residents in private and public insitutions across the state,” Derek Holm, a senior management major and student senate co-president said. “[It] is a time for students to meet Gustie [alumni] who work at the capitol, learn how the state government works and learn how to directly lobby the issues that you support. It is an exciting and action-packed day.”

This year is a little different. Student participation in the day’s event is particularly important this year, as the prevailing issue of the trip is hitting home for college students.

In this current period of economic hardship on the state, national and global scale, governments at all levels are facing significant deficits in their operating budgets. In Minnesota, for example, the state government is facing a projected $1.2 billion shortfall for the 2010-2011 fiscal year.  This is despite the fact that in the past year Governor Tim Pawlenty spearheaded an effort in St. Paul to make sweeping budget cuts. The budget cuts did constrict some spending and reduced the projected deficit figure by over $ 3.5 billion since March 2009.

To accommodate for the remaining shortage of funds, many more programs are inevitably facing cuts in their budget, and money going to college students for financial aid is no exception. As a result, the focus this year for the Day at the Capitol event is on the Minnesota State Grant Program, a large source of financial aid funding for more than 80,000 college students in both private and public institutions across the state.

A large proportion of this fund goes directly to low-income students who attend four-year colleges and universities. For the current fiscal year, the grant program is facing a deficit of approximately $44 million. According to Richardson, this program provides educational funding to 727 Gustavus students and averages out to more than $3,700 in aid to each of those students.

This is a significant issue for many Gustavus students, as financial aid provided by federal and state grants are what make attending a private institution like Gustavus, which comes with a larger price tag, possible. Dr. Kate Knutson, assistant professor of political science, said that although “our state is facing financial challenges … now is not the time to cut back on our commitment to developing a highly educated workforce.”

For those students to whom this issue carries a particular significance, Day at the Capitol is an accessible medium for one’s voice to be heard. The event does not require any political experience, thus making it an opportunity available to all Gustavus students.

“The severe budget deficit that the Minnesota government is facing makes this year more important than others simply because the reality of possible cuts is more prevalent than ever before,” Holm said.

On March 4, transportation will be provided for all students attending, and the bus will leave at approximately 7:15 a.m. from Three Flags. Participants will be provided with information about their legislators and talking points to cover in personal meetings with state lawmakers. Ten dollars for lunch during a free time period will also be provided by the College. During that time, students are encouraged to tour the Capitol grounds, watch House or Senate sessions or write letters to the governor and other politicians about the issues that matter to them. When the day is done, two different buses will head back to Gustavus at different time intervals to accommodate students’ schedules.

For students who are not able to attend Day at the Capitol next week, many avenues remain in which their opinions can be voiced. Richardson suggests that “whether it is a phone call, a letter in the mail, an e-mail or all three, it is important that we let our representatives know how important this program is.”

Students who would like to participate in Day at the Capitol need to take steps immediately. To register, contact Richardson or either of the Student Senate co-presidents, Matt Olson and Derek Holm. The registration site can be viewed directly here.

“[It is] the students [who] can put a human face on policy decisions by showing up and telling their story,” Knutson said.