MOORHEAD - Investing in higher education is an economic stimulus package, a university president said Thursday.

Minnesota State University Moorhead President Edna Szymanski told a group of students cutting higher education spending is the wrong approach to helping this region.

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"I fear that the proposed budget cuts will stimulate a downward spiral for the state and especially for our region of northwest Minnesota," Szymanski said.

Students, officials and community members gathered at MSUM to call for public support for higher education.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty has proposed cutting about 10 percent from the budget for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, which includes MSUM and Minnesota State Community and Technical College.

Laura Zeiher, MSUM student body president, said students already carry heavy debt loads, and it will get worse with the proposed budget cuts.

"Borrowing, which was once a last resort, has now become the norm," she said.

Zeiher said the state needs to support the

system because graduates are the future of Minnesota.

More than 80 percent of the system's students live and work in the state after graduation, she said.

"They are tomorrow's nurses, teachers and police officers," Zeiher said. "They are tomorrow's educators, educated citizens and taxpayers."

Ann Valentine, president of MSCTC, said the budget cuts will especially hurt the students with the lowest incomes who need higher education to improve their lives.

Though Thursday's event was promoted as a press conference for students to ask for support, Zeiher was the only student speaker.