Worried about student debt in Minnesota? Control costs

/ 10 April 2012 / jennifer

Pioneer Press Editorial, April 10, 2012 –

Young Minnesotans are paying dearly for their college educations – and for years after they close their textbooks.

Graduates in 2010 who borrowed had an average of $29,058 in student loan debt – the fourth-highest in the country, according to the Project on Student Debt. Data are from public and private nonprofit four-year institutions only and do not include students at for-profit schools.

Nationwide, Americans now owe more on their student loans than they do on their credit cards, according to FinAid.org, a website that includes a Student Loan Debt Clock showing America’s student-loan debt growing at $2,853.88 per second. Reports say it will exceed $1 trillion later this year.

At a roundtable this week on college affordability at the University of Minnesota, Gov. Mark Dayton, Sen. Al Franken and other public officials heard firsthand from those who struggle to make ends meet while in school and who will graduate to years of debt.

The governor’s effort to bring attention to the issue is useful. Paying for college without incurring significant debt can be done. But the high cost of getting a higher education is among the complex problems for which the easy answer – increased government spending – falls short.

Let’s start, instead, with controlling costs at our institutions. The pace of tuition increases – at about twice the rate of inflation – is unacceptable, and part of the answer involves holding accountable the leaders of our colleges and universities.

U of M President Eric Kaler sounded the right note in his March State of the University speech when he called for a long-term commitment “to work smarter, reduce costs, enhance services and generate new sources of revenue.”

Alternatives also include time- and money-saving programs we’ve supported on these pages that allow students to earn college credits that also count toward their high-school diplomas. Success stories include the St. Paul student who completed 60 college credits while at Harding High School, saving, he estimated, up to $40,000 in tuition and books.

We called on lawmakers to do right by students by expanding access to such programs and making it easier for students and their parents to learn about dual-credit options.

Minnesotans have a high profile in debate on the federal level. At the U of M forum, Franken noted that he has co-sponsored a bill that would prevent the rate hike on federally subsidized Stafford loans, which is set to double in July from the current 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.

A one-year delay in the rate hike would cost about $6 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

“The interest rate hike students face is the result of a ticking time bomb set by Congressional Democrats five years ago,” Rep. John Kline, chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said in response to a recent speech by President Barack Obama. “Simply calling for more of the same is a disservice to students and taxpayers.”

In Minnesota, we count on our higher education institutions to supply the workforce that has long been a competitive advantage. A commitment to cost-control serves the long-term health of those institutions – and is a competitive advantage in itself.