While the rest of campus slept, 10 Concordia students boarded a coach bus at 5 a.m. on March 14, departing for the Minnesota State Capitol. For the past several years, Concordia’s Student Government Association has organized a trip for Cobbers to spend a day in St. Paul. This year, Concordia was one of 17 Minnesota private colleges to participate in the Day at the Capitol event hosted by the Minnesota Private Colleges Council.
Day at the Capitol is an opportunity for private college students to spend time touring the capitol building and meeting with senators and representative for their hometown and college city. Each year focuses on a different issue within the Minnesota Office of Higher Education pertaining to Minnesota private colleges. This year, the MPCC encouraged students to lobby for the State Grant Program.
The non-partisan Minnesota State Grant Program helps students from low- and middle-income families afford college at both private and public institutions in Minnesota. According to data from December 2017 distributed by the MCPP, 535 Concordia students receive a state grant, which is almost 1 in every 4 students on campus. The average state grant award to the Concordia students last year was $4,946—a total of more than $2.6 million.
Students were given a chance to meet directly with their district representatives and senators to ask questions. Concordia senior and SGA President Ahna Van Valkenburg met with her legislators, Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen and Representative Bud Nornes.
“What we really focused on was the State Grant, because that was the purpose of our trip, and why MPCC works and sets up those grants for us,” Van Valkenburg said. She also mentioned that they discussed gun control, curriculum, and the student walkouts that were also occurring across the country that day.
Van Valkenburg sits on the Minnesota Association of Private College Students as a representative along with the SGA President Jacob Hanson. The two assist in coordinating much of the Day at the Capitol trip and encouraging Concordia students to go along. This was Van Valkenburg’s second year attending.
“Hearing stories from students, especially constituents or students who get the State Grant really helps,” she said. “Making sure even the Senators are aware that it exists is important … So it’s really important to make sure that new representatives hear about it and that its been there for a long time and to continue to think about it.”
The students also participated in large group discussions, including a meeting with Senator Jeremy Miller from Winona, Minnesota; Senator Paul Anderson, a Concordia graduate of ‘96; MPCC member Amy McDonough; MPCC’s President Paul Cerkvnik; coordinator of Day at the Capitol Dennis Egan; and Karl Stumo, vice president for enrollment and marketing as well as the legislative affairs liaison at Concordia.
Much of the discussion focused on the impact the State Grant Program has had on students throughout the state and how those on the committees and in the legislature need to hear from students and see them engaged in the political process.
Students had another meeting after lunch, this time with Senator Kent Eken, Cobber of ‘88, and Representative Ben Lien, a Minnesota State University-Moorhead graduate serving on the Higher Education Committee.
Both Senator Eken and Representative Lien are in support of the State Grant Program and want to make sure all students have access to whatever college fits them best. The discussion pointed out new aspects of the program; for example, many people do not realize that most private college students do not come from wealthier families who can afford the entire cost of private college tuition.
The state grant’s 2018 request has two parts: “1. Increase the size of students’ state grant awards … 2. Increase the number of Minnesota families receiving the awards.” Their long-term goal is “ensuring that the State Grant program helps all low- and middle-income students from Minnesota who have financial need,” according to the document.
Sean Feeney, a sophomore business major from Concordia who attended the Day at the Capitol, is determined to make sure this goal is followed through.
“Every year we come here and sometimes it might not be a top issue, it’s ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ So as long as we’re in their face about this every year it’s not ever going to be out of their mind,” Feeney said.
In addition to making valuable connections with senators and representatives, Feeney also got to bring home a piece of history. Feeney’s favorite part of the trip was receiving a piece of the old Minnesota State Capitol that one representative received when the building was being renovated to use for the base of an art project he had planned.
“[The Representative] was like, ‘You need a paper weight?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I got a lot of papers,’” Feeney said.