What can be done to aid college students?

Published 9:46 am Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Guest Column by Greg Clausen

Last fall, I traveled throughout the state with the Senate Higher Education Committee to connect with young people at Minnesota’s colleges and universities. In every conversation we had with students, the No. 1 issue was the high cost of post-secondary tuition. It is clear Minnesota must find creative solutions to address this complicated problem. As I plan my legislative work for the next session, my priorities include exploring several initiatives to help Minnesota’s students and their families with tuition costs and managing student debt.

Greg Clausen

Greg Clausen

At this time, I plan to work on the following initiatives:

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Reduce student loan debt

College graduates are faced with excessive student loan debt that places an unfair burden on our future workforce. My bill to allow students to refinance their student loans through the Office of Higher Education passed as part of the supplemental finance bill last session. Implementation of the bill is contingent on final legislative approval of the OHE’s plan that they will present to the Legislature in 2015. If the Legislature approves the final plan, the OHE could refinance student loans at a rate as low as 3 percent. I will be working diligently in the upcoming months to move this bill forward. Refinancing student loans is just one way the legislature can help make student debt more manageable for young adults.


College in the schools

In my years as a principal at Rosemount High School and as a board member of the College in the Schools program, I saw firsthand how high school students can earn college credits through the CIS program. CIS operates in high schools around the state, including the high schools in Rosemount, Apple Valley and Eagan. The program allows students to earn college credits through the University of Minnesota, while staying on their local high school campus. Student participants save money on higher education credits, which reduces their overall post-secondary debt. While the CIS program has grown exponentially over the years, state funding to support the program has not kept pace. Currently, many school districts within the CIS program are left making up the costs. I am committed to working toward stable funding solutions for this important program.


529 savings plans

I plan to introduce a bill this session to reinstate the matching grant component of Minnesota’s 529 college savings plan program. A 529 college savings plan provides a way for all families to save money for college through accounts that are exempt from federal income tax and potentially state income taxes as well. Enabling families to access matching state dollars for their college savings will better position families to afford post-secondary education and be less reliant on student loans as a primary mode of payment.

None of these initiatives will completely fix the problem of rising student debt, but I believe they can all contribute in a positive way to support Minnesota students and families. Minnesota has some of the best educational institutions in the country, and I am committed to doing all I can to make sure our students can access these opportunities.


State Sen. Greg Clausen is a  DFLer from Apple Valley. He is the vice chairman of the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee. He also sits on the Senate Education Committee.