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College students tell Franken, Dayton about impact of student debt

Gov. Mark Dayton and Sen. Al Franken listened as University of Minnesota students spoke about their concerns over student debt.

A group of Minnesota college students put a human face Monday on troubling statistics that detail the massive education debt facing many of today’s recent graduates.

Some reports show that the total outstanding student debt in the United States is nearing $1 trillion. The average amount of debt per student nearly doubled to $23,200 between 1996 and 2008, according to the Project on Student Debt.

U.S. Sen. Al Franken, Gov Mark Dayton and other Minnesota public officials hosted Monday’s discussion at the University of Minnesota to hear from college students about the affordability of higher education in Minnesota.

The officials addressed issues ranging from the uncertain fate of federal Pell Grants to declining state aid for higher education, and they heard from students from the U, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system and the state’s private and technical colleges.

Ryan Newbloom, for example, told of how his single mother’s massive student debt resulted in his family being homeless for two years. Now Newbloom, who also served in the National Guard, is attending Normandale Community College. He said many of his peers are racking up huge amounts of debt from student loans.

“Almost everybody in my student Senate has a crippling amount of debt that they’re accumulating here,” he told the panel, which also included U President Eric Kaler; Larry Pogemiller, director of Minnesota’s Office of Higher Education; and Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis.

“I think we just wanted to start a conversation. It always helps me when I am talking to my colleagues to come back with first-hand knowledge of students’ experience,” Franken said after the discussion. “Also, just to steel myself for the battle. I think this is so important.”

Franken and Gov. Mark Dayton led the discussion, questioning students from across the state about troubles they’ve had accessing and affording higher education opportunities. The governor held a similar roundtable discussion at a MnSCU campus last session.

Pogemiller asked the group of about a dozen students whether they had to resort to private loans in order to pay for a degree. Some of them did.

Camille Morse Nicholson, a student from Hamline University, said she has private loans with higher interest rates because her parents can’t afford to help her with school. Nicholson said she believes that loans for education should have low interest rates.

“Education is an investment in society and in ourselves,” she said. “This isn’t the same as buying a pair of shoes and putting it on a credit card.”

Dayton and Franken called the students’ stories “heroic,” praising them for having the drive to overcome difficult situations to get an education. But they also criticized the older generation for not ensuring easy access to advanced learning.

“I agree with the governor that these are heroic stories, but that means we have a generation of students that have to be heroes simply to be students, which is saying something,” Franken said. “Our generation is saying, ‘Get your education, but you’re going to have to go through an enormous ordeal in order to get it.’”

Franken is currently working to oppose plans that would allow federally backed Stafford loans’ interest rates to double in July.

Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Nick Magrino on 04/10/2012 - 10:08 am.

    Administrationasaurus Rex

    The University of Minnesota has 21 associate vice presidents, nine assistant vice presidents, and 10 vice presidents, all making somewhere in the neighborhood of $200,000 a year. There are also a whole assortment of provosts, multiple deans for different colleges within the University, and support staffs, offices, and other fringe expenditures for all these positions.

    In my time at the U before graduating last year, I think I caught on that the problem with funding the U isn’t necessarily that the Republicans are trying to neuter the place (though they are) or that unions are trying to bloat the place (though they are). It’s the business school attitude of needing an executive junior senior leadership task force synergy management system to tie your shoes. You’ve got the management structure of a corporation but the work ethic of teamsters. There’s so much responsibility overlap, and so many catered strategy meetings to discuss the overlap. It’s not a great way to run an institution, which is a shame. The University of Minnesota is obviously an amazing asset for our state and it’s hard to watch it run itself into the ground.

  2. Submitted by Jim Halonen on 04/10/2012 - 11:18 am.

    Affordable Higher Ed

    Of the two solutions, it will be interesting to see what the eventual decision is – throw it to the taxpayers or cut course offerings and people.

  3. Submitted by Jeffrey Klein on 04/10/2012 - 11:19 am.

    It’s state support cuts that matter

    I’m usually the first guy to jump on the too-much-management bandwagon, but I don’t think this is entirely fair. 40 executives running a $2.4 billion institution with something like 100,000 students doesn’t seem way out of hand, nor does that pay compared to their private-sector counterparts. The fact the of matter is the state has slashed the U’s budget by many millions of dollars repeatedly year after year, and trying to distract from this by haggling over whether the U should employ 40 VPs or 30 VPs is missing the larger picture.

  4. Submitted by Andrew Richner on 04/10/2012 - 11:43 am.

    Raising Student Debt, Limiting Opportunity

    I hope Eric Kaler was listening closely. Changing to a year-round structure would not only balloon student debt by compelling students to pay the same amount in a shorter period of time while simultaneously eliminating the possibility of working full-time over the summer, it would narrow student opportunity by making it harder for students to enrich their education with things like summer internships or study abroad opportunities. I for one would be much further in debt had I not spent the summer before I studied abroad working full-time plus overtime in a manufacturing plant. My other options under Kaler’s proposal would have been to take a semester off or not study abroad.

  5. Submitted by Jeffrey Kolnick on 04/10/2012 - 12:16 pm.

    where were the faculty?

    I was deeply concerned that no faculty members were invited to participate in the meeting. I would call that a major oversight. In the future, organizers of events like this should always ask for the opinions and positions of the elected representatives of the faculty or in this case, to hear the testimony of students and to respond to the media afterward.

    The Campaign for the Future of Higher Education represents the voice of higher education faculty across the US and in Minnesota. Please review the principles section of the CFHE website for a succinct analysis of the positions of faculty on critically important higher education issues.

  6. Submitted by Bob Petersen on 04/11/2012 - 08:27 am.

    More Money

    College has ballooned in cost because all anyone wants to do is throw more money at it. The government has allowed for more money to be granted and borrowed. It is proven that the more you subsidize something, the more it will cost. The students don’t get the money. The government gives it to the schools in the students’ names. It’s like your payroll taxes, it doesn’t hurt you when you don’t see it. But when you have to pay it back, reality hits. And the two rich guys (Franken and Dayton) really have no clue about the real troubles of this.

  7. Submitted by David Sandbeck on 04/11/2012 - 09:01 pm.

    Crippled By Debt

    I left the University of Saint Thomas with more than $80,000 in debt for an undergraduate degree. I was encouraged by my parents, grandparents, pastors, and other family members to go there. At eighteen I trusted them more then myself. What no one told me was that I could not afford to attend such a great University. No one at Saint Thomas, no one from my family, was there to help me comprehend, when I signed these enormous loans. My junior year I figured it out, but it was too late. Now I cannot afford to live, my debt is restructured for 25 years till amortization and I will not be able to do things like start a family or a real relationship. I am less than a man because I am unable to provide for myself let alone a family. I work two jobs and am working on a second more valued degree. My life isn’t worth living! All work and no play makes jack a dull boy.

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