MnSCU should update students on grant money

Marissa Colangelo and Vickie Kepler are rightly frustrated about the way an amazing opportunity for Minnesota students is being carried out.
Colangelo, a Monticello High School senior, and Kepler, a northern Minnesota educator, are upset about what is happening with the MnSCU Two-Year Occupational Grant Pilot Program.
This is an incredible, historic opportunity. The state Legislature has decided to pay tuition for up to

Nathan on Education, by Joe Nathan
Nathan on Education, by Joe Nathan

two years at Minnesota public two-year colleges for students in most vocational fields if their families earn $90,000 or less annually. The state grant will be used after other federal and state scholarships are applied.
Colangelo has applied for this grant at 12 Minnesota public colleges, but only heard from four that they received her application for financial aid. Wouldn’t it be possible for colleges to acknowledge admission and financial aid applications and give students a timeline for final decisions?
When I make a hotel or airplane reservation, there’s an immediate email confirmation. I realize that the Minnesota State Colleges and University system is not the same as a for-profit hotel or airline, but wouldn’t it be possible to have a simple confirmation that the admissions application and the financial aid request have been received, since both are submitted online?
For example, North Hennepin Community College admissions representative Candice Bartelle, who has communicated with Colangelo, said the confirmation process for the admissions application at NHCC: “Once a student applies, they automatically receive an email that states we’ve received their application. And then another automatic email goes out within a couple of days letting them know they’ve been accepted.”
Jim   Grathwol,  a   government

relations specialist at MnSCU, did not respond when I asked if MnSCU could give students written updates on the status of their applications. He did describe how MnSCU is publicizing the program and concluded: “I am told patience is a virtue. Something I try to practice every day. Some days are harder.”
Students might not know until June how much financial aid they are receiving, said Dave Kornecki, administrator of the Minnesota Senate Higher Education committee.
“The MnSCU system will not know exactly how much money the Legislature is giving it for other scholarships until the end of the legislative session. When it has that information, MnSCU will be able to tell students how much they’ll receive in financial aid, including the new Two-Year Pilot Grant Program,” he said.
That seems reasonable. Why not share information now with students and their families about when financial aid decisions will be made? Families need to plan.
Colangelo has encountered other glitches. One admissions person wrote to her last month, “I understand your frustration and there has been a lot of confusion around this grant program and not much is being said by MnSCU.”
Kepler, who works with students at Northern Lights Community School, a charter in Warba, described her experiences in seeking information from the Minnesota Office of Higher Education — which received the grant funds from the Legislature. Kepler reported that a MOHE staff member told her “the Office of Higher Education did not have any information on the program and that I would need to call the particular individual colleges and ask the college which programs the college plans to use under this grant pilot program.”
While patience is a virtue, I hope MOHE will provide more information and MnSCU will tell students like Colangelo that their admission applications have been received and that final decisions about financial aid will be made late this spring.
Information about the grant program is available here: http://bit.ly/1RGsV6z.

Joe Nathan is a senior fellow at the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at [email protected] forschoolchange.org.forschoolchange.org.