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Boost aid for students to afford college, say Dayton, Franken

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Gov. Mark Dayton, Sen. Al Franken
University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler, left, Gov. Mark Dayton and Sen. Al Franken discussed the affordability of college and financial aid for students at a roundtable meeting, Monday, April 9, 2012 at the U of M.
MPR photo/Alex Friedrich

Gov. Mark Dayton and U.S. Sen. Al Franken said today that the federal government should boost financial aid for college students to make college more affordable.

During a roundtable discussion at the University of Minnesota, Dayton and Franken met with 10 students from the U of M, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system and private colleges. Some spoke of how they work multiple jobs, but likely will have to repay tens of thousands of dollars in debt after they graduate.

The students included Jinaa Lane, a single mother who studies public health at St. Catherine University.

Lane said because she works up to 35 hours a week for her three jobs she cannot dedicated enough time to studying. She also said it is hard to budget for college when federal and state financial aid is constantly on the political chopping block.

"It feels as if every year there's a question of, 'Is it going to be decreased or possibly cut?' And students are freaking out," Lane said. "And I don't blame them."

Franken told the students he sympathizes with them — and backs proposals to make college more affordable. He has co-sponsored a bill that would prevent the 3.4 percent interest rate on the Federal Direct Stafford Loan from returning to 6.8 percent on July 1. He also supports extending the American Opportunity higher education tax credit, which is set to expire at the end of this year.

Dayton said his generation has broken a social compact with today's college students by making education too costly.

"We're just turning our back on these young people and just leaving them to predatory lenders and everything else," Dayton said. "They just have to make it on their own, and they're behind the eight-ball financially before they even get their first job. It's just senseless."

Dayton said government should spend less on corporate tax breaks and more on financial aid and work-study programs.

The panel also included University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler and state Office of Higher Education Director Larry Pogemiller.