ST. JOSEPH -- Putting students needs first and making college more affordable, College of St. Benedict President, Mary Dana Hinton is leading the way.

Earlier this month Hinton was chosen as the next Board Chair for the Minnesota Private College Council and Minnesota Private College Fund.

Hinton says the council and fund work hand in hand to help identify the shared needs of 17 private colleges and advocate for policies that support education.

"The Private College Council and our 17 members, we work together to discuss shared needs and ways of meeting our students needs. We then partner with community leaders as part of the board and the fund, to think more broadly and advocate for public policy that serves each of us."

Hinton has been serving on the council's board since 2014, when she took over as President at St. Ben's. She says the council and fund have helped several students afford a private college education.

"Each year our 17 institutions award over a half billion dollars in institutional grants and scholarships to students. Ninety-four percent of first year students at our 17 institutions receive grants or scholarships that don't need to be paid back. I did say over half a billion, with a B, so I'm proud of our sector for that commitment to student education."

Hinton says for the 17 private institutions the council represents, their four-year graduation rate is higher than our public system and it's higher than other states non-profits.

"For us to be able to say that we have students graduate in four-years, at a rate of 87 percent is really meaningful to me. It's the work of all 17 of our private [institutions], the work of our donors and our advocates in the legislature that allow us to accomplish those statistics."

477 women graduated from the College of St. Benedict and 449 men graduated from St. John's University last spring.