College students press case for tuition freeze
ST. PAUL -- Landon Mondry said telling Minnesota legislators about his financial debt is a good way to get their attention. "When I talk about it, they are just outraged," Mondry said of $35,000 in college loans he has racked up. The Minnesota St...
ST. PAUL -- Landon Mondry said telling Minnesota legislators about his financial debt is a good way to get their attention.
"When I talk about it, they are just outraged," Mondry said of $35,000 in college loans he has racked up.
The Minnesota State University-Moorhead student is hoping that outrage leads to action by the Legislature this year to halt big tuition rate hikes.
Mondry, a Grand Forks, N.D., native, joined college students from across the state at a Wednesday rally outside the State Capitol. They called on lawmakers to pass a measure providing a two-year tuition freeze at Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.
The bill would provide an additional $73 million to the college and university system during the 2008-09 budget period. That funding would be on top of the system's $177 million request. Some estimates show the system's tuition is expected to increase by about 4 percent next year, following several years of larger increases.
Students said they were hopeful lawmakers would address soaring tuition costs in 2007, pointing to the new Democrat-controlled House. The DFL also controls the Senate. GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty has expressed support for tuition-lowering efforts.
"With the shift in power, we think we've got a pretty good shot," said Jacob Littler of Aurora, Minn.
Littler was one of 22 students from Virginia's Mesabi Range Community and Technical College who traveled south to St. Paul for the rally. Littler said even community colleges are becoming unaffordable for students, estimating he pays more than $2,000 a semester for school.
Bill author Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, said college students are graduating with up to $70,000 in debt. That's a "serious situation" for the state, he said.
"They graduate with a mortgage and they don't own a home," Tomassoni said at a related press conference Wednesday.
Students said rising tuition costs have forced them to change their school plans. Carol Brotzler, who during the rally held a sign reading "Students are imprisoned by debt," said she could only afford one year at Bemidji State University.
"Of course, the tuition was so high I had to go someplace else," said Brotzler, who pinned her debt load at $15,000. She transferred to a Twin Cities-area technical college.
College tuition traditionally increases each year, Rep. Bud Nornes said, and that may mean a freeze is unlikely.
"I would like to see a freeze, but I'm a little pessimistic that that's what actually will be the result," said Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, the former House Higher Education Committee chairman.
House Majority Leader Tony Sertich said lawmakers have heard the students' message, but he and others encouraged them to continue lobbying their local legislators.
"The era of double-digit tuition increases is officially over," Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said.
Scott Wente works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.