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Bemidji State rally voices concern over tuition

Becky Boe, co-president of the Bemidji State University Student Association Student Senate, speaks at a press conference Thursday afternoon at BSU's American Indian Resource Center. The press conference was part of the Student Senate's "Freeze Tradition, Minimize Tuition" student and community rally Thursday at BSU. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Students at Bemidji State University have a message for the state of Minnesota - freeze tradition and minimize tuition.

"It is my belief that affordable public higher education is the key to the future success of our region, our state and our country," said Ryan Schwingler, co-president of the BSU Student Association Student Senate, at a press conference Thursday.

The Student Senate, in conjunction with the statewide student associations for both two-year and four-year colleges, hosted a "Freeze Tradition, Minimize Tuition" student and community rally Thursday at BSU.

Becky Boe, co-president of the Student Senate, said students have seen a continued increase in tuition throughout the past few years.

"The percentage increase just needs to slow down," she said.

In 2003, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system was cut $191 million, and in the two years that followed, state university students saw tuition increases of about 15 percent each year, according to the Minnesota State University Student Association.

In-state tuition rose by 55 percent, adjusted for inflation, at MnSCU schools from 2000 to 2007, according to MSUSA. At the same time, the average state grant amount decreased by 7 percent.

"With the job market becoming increasingly competitive every day, obtaining a post-secondary education is, and will continue to be, an essential stepping stone for today's young people entering the workforce, and non-traditional students seeking career advancement," Schwingler said. "Not only is an accessible and quality education essential for prospective employees, but it's important for the state of Minnesota as well."

According to MSUSA, more than 80 percent of state college and university students live and work in Minnesota after graduation.

"As a board member of Minnesota State University Student Association, I support inflationary funding for MnSCU as my No. 1 legislative priority," Schwingler said. "Inflationary dollars will be used to fund our campus' services and infrastructure and also help to keep tuition low."

He said MSUSA supports the MnSCU Board of Trustees' biennial budget request of $71.7 million to help fund inflationary costs on campuses.

Mayor Richard Lehmann, who also spoke at the press conference, said it's critical that higher education is funded at a higher, adequate level.Lehmann works in admissions at Northwest Technical College.

Chris Brown, president of the BSU Faculty Association, noted, "I think the state needs to reinvest in public education."

Pointing to a poster behind him with notes from students stating how much debt they owe, Brown said it should be called the "wall of shame." He said the money the students owe could otherwise be used by them to buy a house or a car.

Many students have to try and make ends meet to pay for college, said Chris Doege, northwest regional representative for the Minnesota State College Student Association. Doege is a second-year student at Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Fergus Falls.

Later Thursday, the Student Senate held several outdoor activities at BSU as part of the rally, including a Ramen soup line, a student debt relay race, a bonfire and contests for building snow forts and snowmen.