What if student loans were an actual campaign issue?

When you consider all of the silly things that pass for “issues” in the current political campaigns in Minnesota — Colin Peterson’s use of an airplane to get around his large congressional district comes to mind — it’s hard not to envy North Dakota, where students loans and the state’s obligation to educate its own are an issue. In the race for agriculture commissioner.

The Fargo Forum reports that Ryan Taylor, a candidate for ag commissioner, is proposing a fixed-rate 1 percent interest rate for college kids.

Why is it an issue in a race for agriculture commissioner? Because the ag commissioner is one of three members of the North Dakota Industrial Commission, which oversees the Bank of North Dakota, which is the state’s primary lender of student loans.

Currently, kids in North Dakota have to play “Let’s Make a Deal” on student loans: Take the 5.29 percent fixed rate (which is absurd) or a 1.99 percent rate that can change. Do you feel lucky, kid?

But here’s the really envious part. It’s an issue in more than just the ag commissioner race, the Forum notes:

Taylor’s proposal follows a plan announced by state Sen. George Sinner in August to cap interest rates at 2 percent for unsubsidized federal student loans and 3 percent for subsidized. Sinner is running against incumbent Kevin Cramer for the U.S. House.

On Thursday, Taylor emphasized that North Dakota should invest not only in “hard assets,” but also in “intellectual infrastructure.”

He said reducing student loan interest would draw students to trade schools and four-year colleges, and that would mean more workers for North Dakota.

It’s a plan that could turn North Dakota’s “one-time harvest,” he said, meaning the oil boom, into a “lasting harvest.”

“How do we ensure that our No. 1 economy of today can also be the No. 1 economy of tomorrow?” he said. “I think we do it through the graduates we produce.”

Meanwhile, back in Minnesota, the University of Minnesota is again playing “chicken” with the Legislature using students’ ability to get an education.

The University is proposing to extend and expand a 2012 tuition freeze for two more years and to expand it to graduate and professional schools if the Legislature gives it $1.5 billion in the next budget. The money would be used for facilities upkeep and maintenance.

Related: American RadioWorks documentary: 'The New Face of College' (Minnesota Public Radio News).

  • Kassie

    A lot of good things have happened in the last couple years about student loans, but more still needs to be done. It is just so confusing and the companies administering the programs tend to hire people who don’t understand the programs and can’t give clear, correct answers.

    • Tim

      I agree; just getting the existing process to work as designed (and making everyone aware of it) would be a major improvement by itself. I’ve had my payments miscalculated and misapplied multiple times now; Sallie Mae seems to be one huge disorganized mess of a company.

      • Kassie

        My loans have been sold so many times and it has been hard to track who has them. Every time I call I get different answers. And due to some bad answers years ago, I’ll be paying thousands of dollars more than I needed to. BAH!!!!

  • kevinfromminneapolis

    I hope the next legislature has the guts to tell the U to take its proposal and go for a long walk off a short plank.

    • Dave

      They did that during the Pawlenty years. High tuition was the result.

  • John O.

    Kevin is spot-on. The more dastardly part of this to me is, however:

    //Because the ag commissioner is one of three members of the North Dakota Industrial Commission, which oversees the Bank of North Dakota, which is the state’s primary lender of student loans.

    From the ND Industrial Commission website:

    “The Legislature created the Industrial Commission of North Dakota (the “Commission”) in 1919 to conduct and manage, on behalf of the State, certain utilities, industries, enterprises and business projects established by state law.”

    If we had a “Minnesota Industrial Commission” comprised of the Governor, A.G. and Ag Commissioner doing what this threesome is doing in ND, heads would be exploding all over the place in this state in a bipartisan fashion.