Support for education sought by students

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 14, 2003

For 30 Riverland Community College students, Wednesday's rally at the Capitol is just the beginning.

Student leaders in the Student Senate plan to stay in contact with local legislators and keep tabs on their voting records, said Todd Christopherson, president of the Riverland Student Senate.

Riverland students joined about 2,000 other Minnesota State College and University and University of Minnesota students at their annual Capitol rally to voice their concern, and even anger, over the governor's unallotment cuts and possible future funding setbacks in the next fiscal year.

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"It's a bad thing. It's a bad deal," Christopherson said.

From Gov. Tim Pawlenty's cuts to public higher education, Riverland students lost work study aid, grants, spring semester grants and child care assistance grants.

Riverland Community College will need to send back $505,000 to the state for this fiscal year. This means some planned changes won't happen, such as updating the Austin campus' phone system, said Amy Wangen, Riverland director of marketing and public relations. The school will also use some of its reserve funding to compensate for the loss.

Work study and grant cuts affected 252 students at Riverland. Another Riverland 23 students will no longer receive Minnesota Child Care assistance and the 83 students who were on the waiting list will have to find another way to pay for child care.

More cuts are likely to come as the state tries to balance a $4.2 billion deficit for the 2004-05 fiscal year. Those cuts will determine what Riverland will need to do to sustain its programs, Wangen said.

The cuts changed the tone of this year's rally, Christopherson said.

"They were angry with the House and the Senate for not coming together and forcing the governor to do what he can do to fix the situation," Christopherson said. "We were mad."

The theme this year was "Higher Education Drives Minnesota." Riverland students brought an 18-wheeler to St. Paul to show legislators that higher education helps Minnesota's work force and economy.

"I thought our point was well-made," said Kyle Palm, a first-year electronics student. "It was put across very nicely."

Sen. Dan Sparks and Rep. Jeff Anderson spoke with the Riverland group and told them they favor the students' stance on education, Christopherson said.

Student Senate members plan to write Sparks, DFL Austin, and Anderson, R Austin, about their concerns.

"We'll make sure they keep to what they say to us," Christopherson said. "We'll be in contact with them and letting them know what's up."

Cari Quam can be reached at 434-2235 or by e-mail at