An investment worth making

Larry Pogemiller, Minnesota Commissioner of Higher Education

You can learn a great deal listening to college students from every region of the state, across all sectors of postsecondary education. Some are single parents supporting children, while others are helping siblings, or even parents, go to school. They understand completing their education is critical to improving their lives and the lives of their families, but the daily challenges of making that happen are daunting.

Tuition has risen so drastically in recent years that even though some students had a college savings plan, it is no longer adequate to cover the cost of even one year of school. Some were forced to delay starting school, while others have given up on pursuing the careers of their choice.

Many receive a grant or scholarship but will still graduate thousands of dollars in debt. Nearly all of them work, and yet when asked if they also had student loans, the majority raised their hands. One student told me directly, “The best thing Gov. Dayton can do for students is help reduce debt.”

Two things became clear from these meetings: Students today recognize that a postsecondary education is more important than ever, and with few exceptions, paying for that education is hard for everyone. And, despite remaining very optimistic about college being worth it, they all worry about the long-term consequences of debt. When will they ever be able to buy a home, start a family or follow their heart down a career path instead of their bank account?

Each of them are paying the high cost of record cuts to higher education over recent years, record tuition increases and, as a result, record amounts of student debt.

Dayton listened and, this year, made higher education a priority. The historic higher education funding package passed by the state Legislature and signed into law by Dayton makes significant strides toward holding the line on the cost of college, expanding access and reducing debt for Minnesota students.

Under Dayton’s leadership, direct aid to students will see the largest increase in over 25 years. More middle-class students will now become eligible for a state grant, and current recipients will receive more money. Working adults, who are often supporting a family while seeking a new career or a better opportunity, will receive larger grants to help them reach their goals. These new investments in the State Grant Program are especially significant because they reach higher into the middle-income range, where students and families are feeling squeezed by the high cost of college. Over 100,000 Minnesota students will receive financial assistance as a result of this new law.

Tuition at both the University of Minnesota and all Minnesota State Colleges and Universities campuses will be frozen at their current level for the next two years. Over the past decade, tuition and fees have increased at three or more times the rate of inflation and personal income.

Combined, the tuition freeze at state colleges and universities and the increase in student aid means over $200 million will go directly to students to help stem the rise in student debt. This is welcome news for Minnesota students, who currently rank third highest in the nation in debt, averaging $30,000 for a baccalaureate degree.

The University of Minnesota will receive crucial funding for the Minnesota Discovery, Research and InnoVation Economy initiative. With focus on four key areas, brain conditions, securing the global food supply, robotic and advanced manufacturing, and advancing industry and conserving the environment, the University is poised to be a world leader in these key industries, strengthening Minnesota’s economy and improving the quality of life for all Minnesotans.

With an approaching labor shortage, Minnesota cannot afford to have even one Minnesota student or family believe higher education is out of reach. This year, Dayton and the Legislature halted the trend of disinvestment and took the first steps toward changing the legacy for this generation of students from staggering debt and limited opportunities to a postsecondary education that is more affordable and attainable. That is an investment in Minnesota’s future worth making, one with the potential for a significant economic and social return.

 

This is an excerpt from Pogemiller’s commentary, “An investment worth making.”