Established in 1967, the Minnesota State University Student Association (MSUSA) is an independent, non-profit organization funded and operated by students. MSUSA serves over 70,000 students attending Minnesota’s seven state universities: Bemidji, Mankato, Metropolitan (St. Paul/Minneapolis), Moorhead, St. Cloud, Southwest (Marshall) and Winona.
MSUSA has been a strong voice for state university students on the campus, system, state and federal levels for 40 years. We are recognized by the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Board (MnSCU) of Trustees as the sole representative of state university students in Minnesota and work on a variety of issues at several levels.
MSUSA represents students’ interest in system wide policies regarding tuition, financial aid, and academics. Representatives of MSUSA also work with MnSCU staff on budget issues and building project planning.
One of MSUSA’s primary roles is to represent students at the Minnesota State Legislature, where state statutes and funding are determined. We advocate on their behalf, as well as assist in preparing students to testify directly at the Legislature about issues that affect them, such as financial aid issues and tuition relief. In addition, a large student rally is held at the Capitol every two years in order to bring public attention to the issues and concerns facing students as well as celebrate their successes.
Beyond working for students at a state level, MSUSA also works to influence higher education policy initiatives at the federal level. Students go to Washington, D.C. at least once each year to discuss issues such as student loans and Pell Grant increases with federal lawmakers and staff, as well as other organizations. In addition, MSUSA has hosted the DC Summit, where student leaders from across the country come together for training and education.
Direct contact between MSUSA and students has increased dramatically in the past several years, and has grown to become one of MSUSA’s most important objectives. Because of additional funding for staff we are now able to have Campus Organizers who frequently travel to each of the seven University campuses. The Organizers are able to directly help student leaders on each campus with MSUSA campaigns and campus projects. Because of such direct and frequent contact between the MSUSA staff and students, the students on each campus are able to better guide MSUSA’s initiatives and utilize the resources MSUSA has to offer.
MSUSA has evolved into an effective and efficient mechanism for voicing state university student concerns and advocating for state university student rights. Seven times each year, students from campuses all across the state gather to exchange ideas and campus concerns, discuss student issues, and attend trainings and educational programs. Most conferences are held on state university campuses, giving students the opportunity to visit other schools in the system.
MSUSA is governed by a board of directors comprised of the democratically elected student body presidents at each of the seven state universities and three non-voting state-wide officers elected from within the Delegate Assembly. These board members set policy and administer how funds are spent by MSUSA, to ensure that all activities are focused on the needs and rights of their constituents. Interested and engaged students serve as issue facilitators, providing expertise to the body and ensuring that the student voice is the leading voice in all MSUSA policy decisions.
While students direct the organization and are involved at a variety of levels, being students is still their primary role. To help advocate for their issues and communicate the message that support for public higher education is important, an experienced staff of nine works with the students and officers of the organization to provide training opportunities and ensure success in advocacy and consistency from year to year.
MSUSA is funded by a per credit fee, currently $.43 per credit hour, paid by all students enrolled at one of Minnesota’s seven state universities. The fee, established by state statute in 1986, provides the organization with a stable financial base to develop its platform.
MSUSA has always recognized the value in forming strong coalitions with other groups. This year, MSUSA was a leader in forming the E-16 Education Coalition, which included public education advocates from early childhood education through higher education. We worked with 22 other groups from around Minnesota to advocate for public education at the Legislature. We are committed to continuing to work with the E-16 Education Coalition, as well as expanding our various coalitions to best advocate for the students of Minnesota.
In addition, MSUSA runs the Penny Fellowship program, named in honor of Timothy J. Penny, a former MSUSA Officer and U.S. Congressman. The Penny Fellowship awards semester stipends of up to $1,500 for low or unpaid community and public service internships in Minnesota and up to $2,500 for internships in Washington DC to Minnesota State College and University (MnSCU) students. Through annual fundraising events and several grants, the Penny Fellowship Board has been able to award over $100,000 to students completing internships to offset the cost of living.
MSUSA currently holds an annual Diversity Conference and a Women’s Leadership Conference. Our organization is also extremely active during the Legislative session each year by training students to properly lobby for higher education issues at the state and federal level. MSUSA also leads voter registration drives at each of the seven universities.
Description of Project
At our summer conference in July, the project was proposed to student delegations from our member schools, and they agreed with the proposal, which was then passed by the Board of Directors. A core group of students on each campus, with the help of the staff, will strategize and plan extensively for three semesters so that there will be a significant student turnout at the polls on Election Day 2008. The campaign projects they choose will rely heavily on the amount of funding MSUSA is able to commit to the campaign. The campaign can be split into three main phases: voter education, voter registration, and a get out the vote effort. MSUSA will also be mobilizing a diverse group of college students to become deeply involved in the political process and their communities.
I. Assessment of Need
There are no other non-partisan organizations advocating on behalf students that have such direct ties to each MN state university campus as MSUSA does.
The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE) found that 43% of young voters in MN, ages 18-24 voted in 2006, while 71% of citizens 30 and older voted. While Minnesota’s youth voter turnout is high compared to national averages, this portion of the population is still not voting at the same rate as older voters. MSUSA did not have additional funding in 2006, which we believe hindered our ability to execute the most influential campaign possible. However, our organization was able to help the campuses through many of the roadblocks its students have faced in the past, such as students being told incorrect information regarding how many days they must live in MN before they can vote and what they can and can’t use as identification to vote.
In 2002, MSUSA received a grant, which allowed the organization to participate in YouthVote, which was a national coalition that worked to increase the youth voter turnout. CIRCLE reported that in 2002, MN had the highest youth voter turnout in the country with 45% of the youth voting. MSUSA has proven that additional funding is used properly and is often the key to success.
However, MSUSA has not been able to carry out a campaign as large as we would like. Two years ago the students implemented a caucus campaign, but we know could have been much more successful if we were able to directly contribute more time and resources to it. With additional resources the organization would have been able to commit more staff time to the campaign, pay for interns on each campus to lead the campaign, and get timely information to students about the caucuses. This year, the caucuses will be held February 5th, which for the majority of schools is the beginning of a new semester after winter break. The timing of the caucuses has the potential to make motivating students difficult, however with additional funding provided by GameStop Grant, we would be able to put more resources into directly targeting students during that busy time of year, thus making our campaign more successful.
During the past year MSUSA successfully ran a student debt awareness campaign and influenced local and national textbook legislation. The staff is now able to utilize everything we have learned from those projects so that we can run an extremely effective campaign. The MSUSA staff strongly believes in civic engagement and feels that this campaign will be extremely invigorating and motivational. MSUSA has built credibility at the state and national level and now is the time to take advantage of that.
MSUSA has been committed to promoting diversity efforts, and we would like to also use this opportunity to include students of all backgrounds in civic engagement. There are many international students who are active within MSUSA and on each campus. We would like to work with the International Student Offices and clubs on each campus so that students from other countries are aware of all the ways they are able to participate in the United States’ political process, since the elected officials and laws that are enacted affect them as well. International students can do things such as attend caucuses, voice their opinions on issues, register others to vote, lobby, volunteer to canvass and table, and serve on community task forces. With additional funding, MSUSA would be able to make sure that international students are included in every facet of the political process, as well.
II. Accomplishing our Goals
Through this project a core group of students on each campus will learn an extensive amount about civic engagement and become the campaign leaders. These students will become extremely familiar with all aspects of the campaign, such as how and where to vote, how to remain non-partisan, how to properly use grassroots organizing techniques, how to register others to vote, how to be an election judge, and how to be a caucus leader. The students will also become more familiar with the political process by holding candidate forums, distributing non-partisan information about candidates and issues, and creating coalitions with other student groups across the state. For example, MSUSA will be working in cooperation with MSCSA (Minnesota State College Student Association) and MnSCU to educate and register students, as well as sharing tactics and best practices with other student associations across the country and with the USSA (United States Student Association).
Another aspect to the education phase is for MSUSA to educate elected officials and the community about higher education. Our goal is to do an extensive amount of lobbying at the state and federal level around higher education issues throughout the next legislative session. In order to help the community understand why higher education is a public good, MSUSA will help students to reach out to their local communities and prepare students to ask higher education related questions at local candidate debates.
While voting on Election Day is extremely important, we want to make sure students understand how they can directly influence policy changes at all levels of government. We want students to know that they can actively participate in presenting higher education friendly resolutions at their local Caucuses, vote in the Primaries, and serve as an Election Judge. The Secretary of State has agreed to partner with us and our campuses in order to encourage the youth vote. They can also attend City Council meetings, serve on community task forces, or meet regularly with their local leaders. MSUSA can help to make sure students are prepared to participate at this level by providing them with support, trainings, and timely relevant information.
Registering students to vote before Election Day is another important aspect to our campaign because when students are registered before Election Day they are much more likely to vote. MSUSA can help each campus carry out a grassroots effort to register thousands of students by tabling, attending events, speaking in classes, and participating in “dorm storms.” We will also be creating coalitions between groups of students, faculty, staff, administration, campus clubs, athletic teams, and surrounding community organizations that focus on registering students to vote. MSUSA will also assist each campus student government in forming a relationship with their local election officials and their County Auditor. Teaching students how to properly register others to vote will be a huge asset to the community as we continue to create a stronger democracy.
On Election Day we will be carrying out a large Get Out the Vote drive on each of the seven campuses to assist the student leaders. Ideally, with sufficient funding, we would like to have a staff member present on each campus everyday for two weeks before Election Day to work out problems, register students, and assist student leaders during this extremely busy time of year. During this time a core group of students on each campus will be working to make sure that every student knows how to vote, where to vote, and has transportation to their polling place. We will also be ensuring that the students are allowed to utilize same day registration, and are allowed to vote at their polling places if they have all of the necessary information and are eligible to vote.
The staff will be giving annual reports about the progress of the campaign to the Officers, Board of Directors, and students involved with MSUSA. Students' input is always taken seriously and acted upon. We will also hold quarterly assessment meetings to check on progress with the core groups of students on each campus, as well as within the Officers and staff. Information will be collected from each campus regarding how many students they have registered and how many students vote in each precinct. Campaign leaders on each campus will be required to closely track voter registration cards and monitor not only how many students have been registered but also by which tactic (class presentations, tabling, at events, etc.) so that campaign goals can be closely monitored and the most successful tactics replicated and unsuccessful tactics modified.
Through discussions with each campus, we will work to create campus specific goals that each group would like to work towards. During the Presidential Election in 2000 46% of young voters in MN cast their vote. In the 2004 Election, 69% of young voters in MN voted. Since there was such a large increase in the number of youth voters in 2004, we would like to work to at least maintain a 69% youth voter turnout statewide. MSUSA will be analyzing the 2004 turnout numbers of student heavy precincts and will set goals to increase turnout over the 2004 numbers. During the 2006 Election, MSUSA played a large part in registering 2,000 young voters. During the 2008 Election we will be working with other groups to register over 4,000 thousand. MSUSA has set a goal of ensuring that at least 10% of all MnSCU students are registered before Election Day.
This data will be analyzed after Election Day and utilized during the next election so that we can properly target student centered areas and utilize strategies that we find work in specific areas. We will be also sharing the data, research, and knowledge gained during this project with other student government’s and statewide student associations throughout Minnesota and the country. Our results and accomplishments will be published in our annual report. When our students are lobbying they can also site our results and the good work of our organization in their discussions with legislators, which will further influence our elected officials making higher education a priority. Success of the campaign will be dependent upon the number of students who participate in their local Caucuses and in the Primary Election; as well as the number we register before the election, and the number of students who vote.