U.S. Sen. Al Franken commenced the school year with a visit to campus on Aug. 28.
Along with Sen. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, and Rep. Ben Lien, DFL-Moorhead, Franken spoke to a crowd of about 40 students and community members about the efforts made toward education and student loan laws in Congress and the state legislature. The visit was hosted by MSUM College Democrats group.
Franken stood to the side of the podium, his voice loud enough to reach the back of the room clearly without a microphone.
“College affordability is something I have been focusing on since I got into the Senate,” Franken said, stating that Minnesota is third in the nation in terms of the level of debt that students graduate with, which he said averages $30,000.
“Tuition doesn’t just reflect the cost of a college education; it reflects the level of investment by the state,” Franken said, “and we have been under-investing in higher education in this state.”
Franken said that he is concerned that students nowadays are under incredible pressure, from loans to students needing to work and go to college at the same time. He said he hears from students who are working 20 to 30 to even 40 hours a week and going to school full time who are still graduating with loan debt.
“Essentially, you can try to keep the cost down, but if the state is putting less and less into education, that has to be made up by the students,” Franken said, pointing out that when his wife went to college, the Pell Grant covered around 85 percent of college costs, while today the Pell Grant only covers about 33 percent of students costs.
Franken said he has brought a lot of ideas from Minnesota with him to D.C.
Lien, an MSUM alumnus, was elected as the Moorhead-area state representative in 2012 and has been serving on the higher education committee, said the biggest accomplishment was helping pass the two-year freeze on tuition in the MnSCU and University of Minnesota systems.
“It was an incredibly historic year for higher education in Minnesota,” Lien said.
Eken, who as a state representative from 2003 until he was elected as a state senator in 2012, also spoke of the strides in higher education made in Minnesota this legislative year.
“We can’t let anyone fall through the cracks any longer,” Eken said. “We need to have the most educated workforce we possibly can in order to maintain the quality of life we’ve come to enjoy and expect in this state. Education is an economic engine for our state, and we need to recognize that and place the importance on it that it deserves.”
Eken said this is the first year of his 11 in the legislature that they finished on time with the budget balanced into future years.
“It is important to note the fact that we actually finished on time, which is getting to be a rarity,” Eken said. “There was tremendous progress made in many areas.”
Franken ended his visit with a call for volunteers for the 2014 election year.
“I want you to get involved, because we have to keep this up,” Franken said. “This is supposed to be fun, but it’s important, too. I am so lucky to get to represent (the people of Minnesota) in the U.S. Senate.”
BY KAYLA VAN EPS