Dayton, Franken discuss college costs

Students told the officials stories about paying for college.

by Jessica Lee


State and federal leaders discussed the struggle students face to pay for college Tuesday.

U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., Gov. Mark Dayton and other state higher education officials hosted a roundtable discussion at Saint Paul College about reducing student debt and increasing loan accessibility.

“We put an impossible burden on young people,” Dayton said.

Nearly a dozen college students, including University of Minnesota Student Association President Taylor Williams, shared their stories about how they’re paying for their degrees.

“This helps me a lot when I go back to D.C. and I’m on the education committee in the Senate,” Franken said.

Impressed by the panel of students working hard to minimize their debt, the officials noted the challenge of working full time and trying to go to school simultaneously.

“You never have time to just enjoy college and actually savor the experience,” Dayton said. “I don’t know how you find time do anything other than work and study, work and study.”

Williams said, like many students, he works up to 40 hours a week to manage his loans while working toward an entrepreneurial degree at the Carlson School of Management.

“If I didn’t have to work so much, what could I have focused my time on academically?” Williams said.

“What other majors could I have pursued? Where would my grades be right now?”

The average University student who graduated in 2011 was nearly $30,000 in debt.

Franken said state and federal officials need to partner in discussions like Tuesday’s to work toward lowering the cost of college and helping students who are overcome with debt.

The combination of institutional support and direct financial aid is the best way to make sure students are “not crushed by this debt,” said Larry Pogemiller, director of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.

He said University President Eric Kaler’s 2014-15 budget request for the state Legislature that would freeze tuition for in-state students and fund research at the University would also provide loan forgiveness for students.

“We’ll try to see that through,” Dayton said.

The governor announced in January his budget proposal includes boosting the state’s spending on higher education by $240 million — $80 million of which would be set aside for the University’s tuition freeze.

Pogemiller said “the whole program is underfunded dramatically,” and Dayton’s proposal is the first step toward fixing the gap so people who want to pursue an education at the University and other schools “have a fair shot.”

Franken said the students’ stories about working to earn scholarships, receiving funding and having jobs while going to school gives him optimism about the country’s future.

Captivated by the super-achievers’ stories of facing adversity to secure their finances, the governor asked the panel of students: “What do you do in your free time?”

Williams answered blankly: “Work.”