Dayton, Franken address rising college costs

Gov. Mark Dayton and Sen. Al Franken heard about the cost of higher education from college students and administrators during a roundtable discussion Monday at St. Paul College.

The two Democrats lamented the amount of debt students are graduating with and said federal and state aid to help people go to college needs to be increased.

Dayton said the amount of debt taken on by college students now is a far cry from what it was a generation ago.

"When I was an aide to then-Sen. Walter Mondale in 1975-1976, education was one of my areas of responsibility," Dayton said. "And back then federal student financial aid was one-third grants, one-third loans and one-third college work-study.

"Now it's 2 percent college work-study, 18 percent grants for the poorest student and 80 percent loans; which means for most students and their families it's loans, loans and more loans."

Dayton noted that Minnesota student aid programs have not been updated in more than a decade and said the state needs to do a lot of catching up.

Franken said the average debt for a Minnesota college graduate is $29,000, and he said that is too high.

"This is the trend we're seeing and it's not good. It's not good," Franken said. "I don't think it's good for America. It's certainly not good for young people who are going to be saddled with debt. Minnesota is third worst in the nation in terms of the level of debt that college students graduate with."

Although Pell grants have increased, Franken said they are nowhere near as large as they should be. Franken said he is pushing for legislation that would require clear, standarized financial-aid letters to help students better understand what they are being offered and compare competing offers.

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