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Higher education students share personal experiences, common concerns

Nearly two-dozen post-secondary students shared their background, insights, legislative priorities, challenges and success stories with the House Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee Wednesday. 

Students represented diverse cultural, racial and socioeconomic backgrounds — as well as an array of colleges, universities and collegial organizations. While they offered unique and personal insights, they also shared some common concerns and key legislative initiatives. Those initiatives included continued funding for the state grant program, as well as increased appropriations for higher education institutions and student support services.

Speaking on behalf of the Minnesota Association of Private College Students, Alexis Stanley, a senior at Concordia University in Saint Paul, said that due to her family’s financial constraints and pandemic-related challenges, if it weren’t for the grant program, she likely would not have been able to finish college.

“It’s crazy to think about all the obstacles that COVID has thrown my way, but regardless of all that, I’m just happy to be here and I have the Minnesota State Grant to thank for that,” she said. 

Some students touched on the impacts of the pandemic, while others focused more on their legislative priorities. Sam Parmekar, a fourth-year student at the University of Minnesota, spoke on behalf of the Minnesota Student Association. The organization’s top legislative policy proposals include expanding renter protections, student data privacy protections and providing medical amnesty for sexual assault victims.

“We know that many people are assaulted while they’re under the influence, and survey data shows that this can be a huge barrier that prevents victim survivors from coming forward and reporting,” Parmekar said. “By enshrining this common-sense protection into state law, we will help create an environment for more people, especially college-aged students, to feel safe and supported when they report an assault.”

At times, students shared personal and raw stories regarding issues with mental health, homelessness and food insecurity. Rep. Ginny Klevorn (DFL-Plymouth) expressed gratitude for their openness and willingness to share personal details.

“This is my third year on the committee and the stories we heard today were incredibly personal,” she said. “Your stories drive our work at the Capitol and it’s critical. … I just want to thank you for being so honest with us.”

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