A look at what students and faculty are telling senators

Finally, it’s coming to the point where I’m starting to hear a lot of the same stories I’ve heard in state legislative hearings on higher ed.

This afternoon, a half-dozen or so student and faculty groups testified before the Senate committee. The messages remain the same — though still unsettling: an eroding higher education system will harm the economy; students are working multiple jobs and can’t handle any more debt; and university research is too valuable to be cut.

A few snippets:

  • Russ Stanton, director of government relations for the Inter Faculty Organization, lamented the decrease in per-capita state and local government expenditures for higher education. Minnesota spent $706 in 2007, a bit above the national average of $678, putting it at 28th place out of the 50 states. Stanton told the committee:

“This state used to be near the top. Now we’re even behind Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas — states that we used to look down our noses at.”

  • Senator Tom Saxhaug (DFL-Grand Rapids), joined some in echoing how cutting back on education leads to a less-attractive workforce for businesses here and fewer residents who’ll study in this state:

“I hear the sucking sound, and it comes from people leaving Minnesota.”

  • Sen. David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm) stressed the need to keep college programs designed to help retrain laid-off workers:

“Funny, we (lay off people), but to get back into the workforce, they still need state help. Often when we cut funding (for retraining programs) we’re taking opportunities away from people.”

  • Sen. Claire Robling asked why the average student debt was so high. (The state average is about $26,000, but MnSCU’s is apparently a bit lower, a student leader said.)

“If you had $26,000 debt, you completely financed tuition payment with loans, and that just seems unusual to me. Yes you have living expenses, but many students get family help, there’s a $2,500 tax deduction, and there’s financial aid. I really want someone to tell me why loan levels so high. What are they borrowing for, unless they’re fully financing education? Or are they financing other purposes?”

Student leaders said they’d get some information back to her.