Help for students is out there, MSA members find in Washington

by Brett Knapp

Four members of the Minnesota Student Association returned from Washington, D.C., this week with information to help students pay off school loans.
Catherine Hogue, Mary Jane Sommerville, Willow Najjar and Kevin Pomasl spoke with legislators, education officials and other students about federal plans for higher education during a five-day trip to the nation’s capital.
Hogue, a sophomore in the College of Liberal Arts, said there are many good federal programs for students, but officials in Washington are having trouble getting the word out.
“We found extensive information on financial aid that’s not easily accessible to the public,” Hogue said. “The problem is, the government is not able to advertise it.”
Najjar, a CLA senior, said the education agencies in Washington are not allowed to spend money advertising financial aid programs.
One such program involves consolidating many loans into one, allowing a graduate to make one large payment per month instead of several smaller ones.
Another program involves graduates paying a fixed percentage of their income to loan companies each month.
“Depending on the money you are making, you pay a percentage of that back each month,” said Pomasl, a CLA freshman.
Other fiscal realities, such as high tuition and high financial aid, are not good for students, Najjar said.
“There is a national trend toward high tuition and high financial aid,” she said. “The danger with it is that it’s a fraud. It could end up being high tuition and low aid.” This is because aid rates could easily drop while the tuition rates would remain high.
The problem, said Sommerville, a CLA sophomore, is getting information on the good programs to students either before or right after they graduate.
In order to get up-to-date information on tuition and financial aid, the group hopes to establish a relationship with the United States Student Association.
“It’s a national MSA, centered in Washington,” Najjar said.
Members of the national association told the group to work on getting students in Minnesota to vote in elections that will have an effect on tuition issues.
Najjar said there is a disturbing belief in Washington that students don’t vote, so legislators don’t give serious attention to scholars’ voices.
The group will work to register students to vote next year and to get them interested in issues that directly affect them, like tuition inflation.
“We want to have a huge concert on the Mall with a huge, big-name band,” Najjar said. “Music unifies people. The Mall unifies people. We’ll fill the Mall, have a great band and have people sign up to vote.”