By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Montana State University-Northern is using its share of a federal $2.7 million windfall to help students pay for college.
"We're trying to reach some students who get passed by," Kris Dramstad, financial aid director at Northern, said this morning.
Vice Chancellor Chuck Jensen said the Board of Regents Tuesday approved the proposals the campuses of the Montana University System made for their shares of the windfall.
The money is part of about $73 million in federal money the state received for economic stimulus. Gov. Judy Martz allocated the $2.7 million to the university system, designating $450,000 for community colleges and $250,000 to enhance distance learning at the University of Montana in Missoula for rural K-12 schools.
Northern will receive $102,299 of the remaining $2 million.
The university will give 79 students a $400 grant in the spring semester, and the students from that group who return next fall will receive another $400. The 79 students will be picked from Montana freshmen and sophomores, based on financial need.
Dramstad said her office will target Montana students who need aid but don't qualify for it under federal guidelines.
Jensen said if any of the 79 students who receive grants don't return in the fall, the money will be awarded to other students based on need.
The rest of the money, $40,333, will fund 10 to 12 new work-study positions for three semesters starting next semester. Work-study positions at Northern pay an average of $1,000 to $1,200 a semester.
The new work-study positions could be awarded under both need-based and non-need-based guidelines.
Dramstad said that last year the state funded 89 Baker grants for Montana students at Northern, worth $500 a semester. It also funded 16 Montana Higher Education grants to Montana students at Northern, also worth $500 a semester.
Northern had 55 students in work-study positions last year.
Jensen and Chancellor Alex Capdeville discussed how to use the money at a town hall meeting of the Student Senate on Dec. 10. At the meeting, the student leadership generally supported using the money for investment in the university, such as improving buildings and infrastructure, or hiring additional faculty.
One senator suggested looking into helping students who need aid but don't qualify for it.
The governor's office supported using the money for financial aid, Jensen said, and that was the route all campuses of the university system ended up going. Different campuses used different approaches, including grants, loans and tuition credits.
Jensen said he discussed the situation with the student leadership after the Dec. 10 meeting and the students agreed that financial aid and work study were appropriate.
"It seemed the right thing to do, and it's a good thing for students," he said.