Gustie Students Lobby Lawmakers for Higher Ed Funding Posted on March 13th, 2024 by

Rep. Jeff Brand meets with Kendall Flesch '26, Ivan Scarpino Korb '24, and Kendra Smaby '24 during the 2024 Day at the Capitol event.

On March 12, almost 30 Gustavus students went to St. Paul for the annual Day at the Capitol event, sponsored by the Minnesota Private College Council (MPCC). As with every DATC gathering, students fan out across the Capitol complex, meeting with state legislators from their hometown districts (whenever possible), sharing their Gustavus stories, and educating their elected representatives about the funding concerns private colleges and their students face.

This year, the primary focus is on the equitability of state funding for private nonprofit colleges. In 2023, the Legislature passed the North Star Promise Program, which made public college tuition free for students whose families earn less than $80,000. However, the new law omitted private colleges and their students from consideration, a significant drawback even considering the existence of the Minnesota State Grant, which gives an average of $6100 per year to about 30 percent of Gustie students.

DATC attendees were there to remind their lawmakers that low- and middle-income students at private colleges still need financial support, preferably in the form of a Promise Equalization Scholarship that the MPCC is promoting as a legislative workaround. (Even though 2024 is an “off” year for the state’s biennial budget process, the advocacy around the issue is already underway.)

Kendra Smaby ’24 recording a testimonial about higher ed funding for the MPCC.

Rep. Jeff Brand (DFL-18A) welcomed a group of Gusties into his office to hear their personal stories, all of which involved their appreciation for the College’s small size, affordability, and opportunities in and out of the classroom. (The students also met with State Sen. Nick Frantz, DFL-19, later in the day.) Kendra Smaby ’24 told Brand she was initially reluctant to attend Gustavus because of its small size but is glad she did. “I wanted a really big school, but I was drawn to the Division III athletics [for gymnastics], which we don’t really have out on the West Coast,” said Smaby, who grew up in Northern California and plans to attend law school this fall. “My parents actually forced me to visit Gustavus, and I was dead set against it at first. But I remember walking across campus and sitting in my first class of about 15 people and realizing this was really going to work for me. I’m so grateful I was able to make that choice and get the aid that let me do it.”

Ivan Scarpino Korb ’24 was also initially lured here from his home state of Colorado for the athletics opportunities, and now he will graduate this spring with an eye toward a career in international relations. “Even until my first semester of senior year in high school, college was never in my plans,” he said. “My brother went to the Marines, and I thought I would probably do a trade school or something—until I found out about Gustavus. These liberal arts schools really draw people from the West because we don’t have many D III options out there. Sure enough, Gustavus has given me as much financial aid as if I was a Minnesota resident, which made college an actual, viable path for me.”

Brand expressed his support for finding higher education funding solutions that help all students, regardless of which Minnesota school they want to attend. “I will sign on to the [Promise Equalization] bill, and of course, I have always supported the State Grant, so I’ll do what I can to make sure we’ve got that for next year as well,” he said. He also encouraged all the students to consider staying in Minnesota after graduation and cited our robust job market and quality of life as primary attractions. A gathering of about 15 Gustavus alumni at the end of the day, during which the Gustie undergrads made professional connections and learned about multiple career paths, helped underscore the many opportunities Gustavus and its environs provide.


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication Luc Hatlestad


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