Survey reiterates student stress

A campus study shows that college costs continue to be a source of stress for U students.

Olivia Johnson

University students are hoping to use their own research to help lobby for college affordability at the state Legislature this session.
 
 
After surveying 253 students from eight University of Minnesota student groups, the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group released a study this month showing the effects of increasing costs on students.
 
 
The study explored housing costs, students’ work hours, potential student loan debt and how they affect stress levels.
 
 
MPIRG has chapters at schools around the state that train students to engage in the community, said Rachel Haile,economic justice organizer for MPIRG.
 
 
She said MPIRG sent a survey in September to students from eight groups, like the Marxist Student Association, Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee and the Student Employment and Labor Law Association.
 
 
Haile said the group has also helped the Service Employees International Union in its push to unionize the school’s faculty. She said SEIU first had the idea for the study, which MPIRG administered.
 
 
“They … thought that it would be really good to have this to hand out to legislators, to show President [Eric] Kaler that we are really suffering as students,” she said. “It’s not just students complaining about the cost of higher education.”
 
 
Haile said they wanted the study to highlight high costs at the University and to encourage leaders to come up with solutions.
 
 
“One of the ways to move forward is to … unionize faculty and give them … a good amount of wages,” she said. “Yes, students want lower tuition but also a way to move this forward.”
 
 
Opportunity Minnesota, which MPIRG has worked on for eight years, is a legislative push to give tax credits to college students who work in Minnesota after graduation.
The credits would help students pay loans, and the proposal is now moving through the state Legislature.
 
 
Haile gave copies of the study and its findings to 13 members of the state Senate’s Taxes Committee and told them about the Opportunity Minnesota bill.
 
 
Ryan Kennedy, MPIRG’s executive director, said one main thing he hopes people remember about the study is how much debt students will leave with after graduating.
 
 
According to the survey, 42 percent of respondents expect to graduate with more than $40,000 of debt.
 
 
“Another big thing is we found that 80 percent of those surveyed felt stress over the cost of college, with more than half indicating that they felt a lot of stress over the cost of college,” Kennedy said.
 
 
Kennedy said the survey allowed respondents to comment on their feelings about debt after college, and many said they think about whether it is a worthy investment every day.
 
 
“We hear all the time in university … programs talking about ways to minimize stress,” he said. “The fact that 80 percent are feeling stressed basically just by being [in] college and taking out debt is really problematic.”
 
 
According to the study, 76 percent of students have a job during the school year, while 73 percent of those work more than 15 hours a week. He said that workload can significantly impact student retention.
 
 
“It really is harder and harder; students are getting squeezed more and more by the year,” he said. “We really wanted to highlight what’s been going on.”
 
 
Taxes Committee member Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, saw MPIRG’s findings and said she supports the tax credit bill to assist Minnesota graduates with loan debt.
 
 
“The University administration and regents are not fooling anyone when they conclude that the University is affordable,” Ortman said. “It’s not affordable.”
 
 
She said the University never responded to the 2009 recession and didn’t bring spending down as other schools cut back.
 
 
Ortman said although she wants the bill to pass and provide tax breaks for students, she said the measure doesn’t meet on the issue head-on.
 
 
“More direct relief would be better,” she said. “It’s just another item that would have to go into the budget.”
 
 
Ortman said she also wants University officials to be more transparent about where they get their money.
 
 
“They owe everyone an explanation,” Ortman said. “It is just totally out of control.”