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Students plead for financial help

Published (1/30/2009)
By Nick Busse
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A group of University of Minnesota students pleaded with lawmakers to consider their classmates’ financial and educational needs as they consider budget cuts to higher education.

Kristi Kremers, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly and a first-generation college student, urged legislators to consider the potential impact of budget reductions on students’ ability to pay tuition.

“I feel very privileged to be where I am, and I want to make sure future generations — that my own children — have these same opportunities. But they won’t, with the increasing amount of debt we’re having to take out to pay for our student loans,” Kremers said.

Kremers and other student legislative advocates testified Jan. 27 before the House Higher Education and Workforce Development Finance and Policy Division. No action was taken.

Alex Tenenbaum, a student in the College of Liberal Arts, said many of his classmates are having to work long hours at menial jobs to pay for their education, which not only takes away from study time but also prevents them from participating in leadership programs, community service and unpaid internships.

Tenenbaum has mixed feelings about Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s proposal to cap tuition rates at the university.

Although he likes the idea of not having his tuition raised, Tenenbaum said he also knows that “if we’re going to be putting a cap and cutting funding, then we’re going to have to cut a lot of programs that mean a lot to people.”

Rep. Bob Dettmer (R-Forest Lake) asked what level of funding cuts the students thought would be fair, given the size of the state’s projected budget deficit. Kremers declined to answer the question directly, and instead pointed out that many states facing similar budget problems are opting to protect higher education funding.

Martin Chorzempa said budget cuts would detract from students’ quality of life. He said that even cuts that only affected athletic programs, for example, would harm the school’s atmosphere and discourage alumni involvement.

Rep. Roger Reinert (DFL-Duluth) responded, “I’m thrilled to have a top-20 basketball team, but I’d be more thrilled to have first-generation college students leaving with less than $20,000 in debt.”

The students also criticized a plan by the governor to greatly expand the role of online classes in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. Kremers argued that online education “just does not compare to the quality of what you experience inside the classroom.”

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