North Hennepin Community College student and Student Senate vice president Basil Ajuo, a native of Cameroon, knows he needs to continue his education to make a better life for himself and his 5-year-old daughter. But, he doesn’t know how he can pay his bills while continuing to study for his degree.
“There is no way I can make a future for her without student debt,” he told Rep. Melissa Hortman during a Feb. 23 roundtable discussion on student debt hosted by Education Minnesota and the North Star Policy Institute.
Ajuo’s involvement in the Student Senate is a direct result of his frustration with juggling the cost of living, paying his bills and for childcare while buying books, too. “I want to be part of the conversation for people,” he said.
Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, who represents District 36B, takes notes as North Hennepin College student Kari Hovorka tells about her concerns about student debt and her son starting college while she’s also working toward her degree. Listening during the roundtable discussion Feb. 23 was Debra Tucker, a North Hennepin student and a representative to the Minnesota State College Student Association. (Sun Post staff photo by Gretchen Schlosser)
Hortman is introducing three bills this session that she said will help students who are struggling with the cost of college, student debt and financial aid.
The bills call for a tuition freeze, paid for with $42 million for MnSCU schools and $43.5 million for the University of Minnesota from the $1.2 billion budget surplus, the appropriation of $5 million to the Office of Higher Education to expand its refinancing program for high-interest student loans to students with lower credit scores and to increase the state grant to students by changing the assigned family responsibility portion of the grant calculation.
“A college education should be within reach of any Minnesota student with the ambition and drive to pursue it,” Hortman said.
The roundtable discussion at the Brooklyn Park campus was one of a week-long statewide tour organized by the North Star Policy Institute, a new think-tank supporting policies that help working families, gives all Minnesotans the opportunity to succeed and promotes smart investments in public services.
Student Kari Hovorka is studying for her biology degree through NHCC’s new partnership with Bemidji State University. She has managed to stay out of student debt, but worries how her family will manage when her son, who is a junior in high school, begins his college classes. One of her key points was that a student’s investment in community college must transfer with them when they advance to a university.
“If students are going to invest in community college, they need to know their investment is going to transfer,” she said.
Shelly Siegel, director of the TRIO program at NHCC, told Hortman that the federally funded program to provide student support to low-income and first-generation college students currently serves 350 students. One of the TRIO goals is to help students understand their student debt and help them minimize the amount of debt they accrue.
“We are very interested in helping students not get into debt,” she said.
Quintin Heard, legislative coordinator for the NHCC Student Senate, is in his fourth semester at North Hennepin, but could be homeless because his apartment lease ends before his graduation date this spring. He is thousands of dollars in debt and also wonders how he will continue his education while paying his bills.
“You don’t know where it will end,” he said. “One thing you do know, you are going to get the tuition bill at the end of the semester.”
Contact Gretchen Schlosser at firstname.lastname@example.org reposted from Sun Post (http://post.mnsun.com/2016/03/02/hortman-meets-with-north-hennepin-students-on-student-debt-burden/).