By Rep. Bud Nornes
The extensive tour of colleges and universities throughout the state continues as I look to receive feedback from students, faculty, administration and others regarding a wide variety of higher-education issues.
These discussions are helpful to me in gaining information as chairman of the House Higher Education Policy and Finance Committee. Thursday brought me to four stops in the St. Cloud area – St. Cloud Technical and Community College, St. Cloud State University, and the colleges of St. John's and St. Ben's.
Many of the conversations we have with people at these schools are centered on budget issues. This is an era where enrollment has dipped at a number of institutions, adding to the challenges they face in balancing high levels of educational opportunities for students with budgetary realities. Administrators at schools in our state are trying squeeze the most out of the dollars they receive and seem to be working as hard as they can for students.
Aside from the economics of operating a vast educational system, we are hearing valuable anecdotes from students themselves. For example, a student on Thursday shared a heartfelt story about how furthering her education has been a life-changing experience.
She comes from a St. Paul family that has not prioritized higher education and she was exposed to a number of detrimental influences. This young woman seemed to have every reason to continue along that track, but was given an opportunity at college and is turning it into a ladder toward success – even as others back home give her grief for her achievements. Her story was quite moving and she deserves significant credit for building a bright future.
On a separate note, Minnesota's Cold Weather Rule took effect Oct. 15 and is in place until April 15, helping struggling families make energy payments to keep their heat on during the winter.
Under state law, utilities are required to issue a notice of disconnection and provide payment plan options to stop a disconnection if a family falls behind on payments. Customers can still have their heat disconnected if a payment plan agreement cannot be reached once the required process, including any appeals, has taken place.
Utility companies also can help people learn about assistance programs and low or no-cost tips for improving energy conservation. Other resources also are available, including Energy Assistance, the Gas Affordability Program, and the Low Income Electric Rate Discount Program.
Additional information may be found at the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission website.