Other Opinions: A disturbing trend to pay for higher ed
Higher education funding has quickly become one of several cornerstone issues for the fall election campaign in Minnesota. Candidates for governor and the Legislature are citing double-digit tuition increases of the past five years, the effect of...
Higher education funding has quickly become one of several cornerstone issues for the fall election campaign in Minnesota. Candidates for governor and the Legislature are citing double-digit tuition increases of the past five years, the effect of ever-increasing debt loads on students, that students need two or more part-time jobs to afford to stay in college and that the state has not fulfilled its role in providing affordable access to higher education for all Minnesotans.
A new report by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education confirms what many policy makers have been fearing -- that the high cost of higher education is now reaching the middle class, forcing even higher debt loads. But MOHE's report goes a step further. It says that even wealthy Minnesotans are borrowing at even higher rates for college.
Among all Minnesota students, nearly half of undergraduate students took out college loans in 2004, up from only two out of five in 2000, the agency said. More disturbing, the proportion of students from families with incomes of more than $90,000 who took loans rose from 28 percent to 57 percent in that same time.
Additionally, MOHE said that in Minnesota, 63 percent of students who attend full time for the full academic year had student loans, with an annual average amount of $,6,600 and above the national average. Meanwhile, the cost of tuition and fees at the University of Minnesota rose from $4,649 in 2000 to $8,029 in 2005, and in four-year Minnesota State Colleges and Universities institutions, from $3,076 to $5,098.
State funding of higher education peaked in 2002, and has steadily declined since, with 2005 funding at about 1998 levels. While the state once paid two-thirds of the cost of education and students the remaining third in tuition, today it's closer to a 50/50 split.
So it should come as no surprise when the MOHE report shows ever-increasing debt loads by middle-income and even high-income families for higher education tuition. But it is the wrong direction, as such policy will shut out access to Minnesotans who cannot afford to take out such high debt loads, or may be saddled for decades with debt loads that will take forever to pay off. And graduate study will be out of bounds for increasing numbers of talented but broke students.
"Since student borrowing has increased over time, there is concern that debt repayment could adversely affect graduates' career plans, employment or their ability to pursue graduate school once they complete their undergraduate education," notes the report.
Serious questions need to be asked of our candidates this fall as to what kind of commitment the state needs to make to higher education. Tomorrow's trained workforce needs access to education and training, making post-secondary education key to Minnesota's competitiveness in a global marketplace. What are we willing to do so that no Minnesotan is left behind? -- Bemidji Pioneer