Franken and Bruininks push for student loan reform

Franken was on campus to discuss the financial burdens of higher education with students.

University President Robert Bruininks and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., spoke about student loan reform at a press conference in Morrill Hall on Monday.

Ian Larson

University President Robert Bruininks and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., spoke about student loan reform at a press conference in Morrill Hall on Monday.

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Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., joined University President Bob Bruininks on Monday to discuss abolishing the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) in favor of a Direct Lending program. The FFEL, initiated by the Higher Education Act of 1965, is a program where the federal government subsidizes banks to give student loans at no-risk to the bank, guaranteeing the loans and allowing banks to keep the profits. The program has helped about 60 million Americans pay for higher education, but Franken and Bruininks said they donâÄôt feel it is efficient enough. The Direct Loan program, which was approved by the House of Representatives in September, would cut out the banks from the lending equation. âÄúDirect lending slashes administrative costs by cutting out the middle man and lending directly to the students,âÄù Franken said. After his news conference with Bruininks, Franken met with students to hear their concerns about paying for college. FrankenâÄôs visit to the Twin Cities campus was the first stop on a tour of several other schools in Duluth and Rochester to discuss student loan reform. Bruininks cited a recent opinion poll that stated two-thirds of Americans think the affordability of higher education is a serious national issue. âÄúWhen two-thirds of our population think something is important, then it is indeed an important issue,âÄù Bruininks said. Half of the undergraduate student population receives substantial grants and scholarship assistance, Bruininks said. âÄúThe goal of the University of Minnesota is to save students money, to save families money and to make it a more seamless, direct and efficient process,âÄù Bruininks said. The University converted to direct loans in 1995. Direct loans can save the federal government $87 billion over 10 years, Franken said. Measures in Congress would set aside $40 billion from the savings to increase Pell Grants , something that FrankenâÄôs family knows well. FrankenâÄôs wife, Franni , and her three sisters were all supported through college with help from Pell Grants and other scholarships. Franken said the rest of the savings would be used to increase college graduation rates, expand low-interest student loans and increase the quality of early childhood education programs. âÄúThis all comes down to who should benefit from the student aid and I think it should be the students,âÄù Franken said. Ryan Kennedy , a first year public policy graduate student at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, said he was able to get his undergraduate degree without going into debt, but graduate school is going to be different. Kennedy plans to take out a student loan in the near future, but is still worried about paying back his student loans, even if he finds a job right out of graduate school. âÄúEven if I have ten, fifteen thousand dollars in debt, thatâÄôs still not easy to pay,âÄù Kennedy said. Mandy Stahre, a Ph.D. candidate at the School of Public Health, had her masterâÄôs degree and part of her Ph.D. funded by direct loans. As an undergraduate, she took loans from banks. âÄúI didn’t know who owned my loans; it was consistently being sold,” Stahre said. “The direct loan program has a very strong infrastructure.” Franken said student loan reform would help students get ahead after graduation. âÄúThis is simply the right thing to do for our students, for our families and for our country,âÄù Franken said.