ST. PAUL (AP) -- Public and private schools are battling it out now that lawmakers are considering major cuts in the amount of tuition money the state gives to college and university students.
Private schools, so far, have been out front in getting their message across.
A group that represents 17 private colleges and universities, the Minnesota Private College Council, recently bought newspaper ads and plastered billboards with pleas to protect a program that administers $115 million in public grant money each year to students -- more than half to those at private institutions.
David Laird, president of the council, said the campaign aims to protect aid for all students, to give them the power to choose "the college that's best for them, whether public or private," as the text in the ad states.
That campaign, however, has aroused suspicion among students in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system who believe money for public-school students should be considered first.
The two sides were scheduled to square off Thursday before a Senate panel at the Legislature.
Lawmakers are predicting substantial cuts in higher education funding, which totals about $3 billion every two years. Of that, 45 percent goes to the University of Minnesota, 44 percent to MnSCU and 11 percent to the Higher Education Services Office, which runs the state's financial-aid program.
The Higher Education Services Office has drawn fire from MnSCU student groups.
At the start of the school year, the office addressed a shortfall in the state grant program by transferring in the entire $12.4 million state work-study appropriation, as well as $3.6 million of $4.7 million earmarked for child-care grants.
Then, citing dim chances of getting emergency funding in 2003, the office announced in early January that it could not fund any grant awards for applications it received on or after Jan. 10.
Those miscalculations are reason enough to have it disbanded, said Yorgun Marcel, chairman of the Minnesota State University Student Association, which represents students in MnSCU's seven state universities.
University students also have been questioning the level of state assistance given to private college students, Marcel said.
Average 2002-03 tuition and fees for full-time students at Minnesota private colleges is $19,166. It is $3,040 for two-year state colleges and $3,788 at four-year state universities. The maximum amount considered for calculating state grants is $6,913 for two-year colleges and $8,983 for four-year colleges.
Aid is tuition-driven, meaning a student who elects to attend a higher-priced private school typically gets more state grant money than if he or she attends a state university. To Marcel, that would be like giving struggling families more food stamps because they shop at Byerly's.
Laird, however, who acknowledged the council is well-served by the current student aid system, said there are clear public benefits to helping students attend private colleges.
The council's schools educate 53,000 students, he said. Its graduates, if grouped with those of the University of Minnesota and MnSCU, would make up one-third of all the students being awarded four-year degrees, and about half of those who receive math and science degrees each year.
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