Franken, students talk college costs

The senator outlined his plans to address college affordability issues while hearing students’ stories.

Taylor Nachtigal

When Will Dammann’s mother needed multiple surgeries, the costs were so high that his family nearly lost their house and car to pay for them.

To keep that from happening, the University of Minnesota human resources and marketing freshman took money out of his college fund.

“Living in your house is much more important than anything you wanted,” he said.

Dammann was one of six University and high school students who attended a college affordability roundtable with Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., at Coffman Union on Friday.

Franken, who has been a major advocate for college affordability, listened to students’ stories and talked about his ideas for bringing down higher education costs.

Some of Franken’s major proposals focus on making college costs more transparent — things requiring institutions to give students more accurate cost estimates before applying.

For some students, Franken said, there’s a lack of financial knowledge that needs to be addressed.

“A lot of students really don’t know the price of their school until after they’ve applied,” he said.

Franken said many colleges already use a net price calculator — which allows students to estimate the cost of schools they’re considering — but he said he hopes to make the tool more accessible and require that more institutions use it.

University President Eric Kaler joined Friday’s roundtable, where conversation stemmed largely from students’ stories of balancing school, jobs, internships and family concerns — all while trying to pay for school.

Attendees said many of their peers juggle multiple jobs and internships while attending school full time, and it has a negative impact on their schoolwork.

“I have a 3.0. I know I could be a 4.0 student, but I don’t have time to be a 4.0 student,” said nutrition senior Rylee Ahnen.

And even after graduation, students aren’t expecting the stress of college costs to go away.

Despite being a Pell Grant recipient, Dammann said, he’s facing thousands of dollars of debt.

Franken said the cost of college has become a greater family concern and individual burden than it was in the past. He said decreasing state funding places financial burdens on students and their families.

“I think it’s really important for us to remember that college affordability is generations deep, and that it’s really impacting us now, but it has compiled off of past generations of problems,” said incoming student body President Joelle Stangler.