All Minnesotans deserve the chance to further their education — but having access to education isn’t enough. Working together, we can find ways to make college available for more Minnesotans, make higher education more affordable, and make student loan debt more manageable. Recognizing a four-year degree isn’t for everyone, we can also find ways to encourage career and technical education, apprenticeships, and vocational training.
Address student loan debt
Going to college can be very expensive and places an enormous financial burden on students and their families. In fact, Americans owe more on student loan debt than they owe on credit cards; 44 million Americans have a total outstanding student loan debt of around $1.3 trillion. In the Minnesota Senate, I was glad to support student loan debt forgiveness programs to incentivize graduates in needed fields to work in underserved communities. We must explore similar initiatives on the federal level.
Improve transparency of choices
College completion rates are low; of the students that begin a two-year associate’s degree, only five percent complete on time. Of the students that pursue a four-year bachelor’s degree at a non-flagship university, only 19 percent complete on time. Only approximately 40 percent of students complete their post-secondary education — and, of those who do, approximately half would go back and change their major or career path.
That’s why we should focus on giving students and families more information about loan repayment rates, future earnings potential in their field of study, and other important indicators to help ensure they understand the true costs and financial impact of their decision. It is also important to ensure students are better prepared for college to help them graduate on time and get a better return on the investment of their degree.
Encourage innovation and new delivery models
Higher education is evolving in its delivery methods. In many cases, the traditional model of classroom learning is outdated an inefficient. We should focus more on innovation and providing students of all ages an affordable, easily accessible education, rather than placing value on seat time and credits earned.
In addition, we must recognize that a four-year degree isn’t for everyone. Policymakers must do more in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education and find ways to better promote career and technical education at non-four year institutions. In the Minnesota Senate, I was proud to support career and technical education and training programs for our public schools and believe the federal government must also make an investment in nontraditional learning.
Keep the states involved
It is also important that states have involvement in trying to solve this problem. Rather than a Washington-based, one-size-fits-all approach, states should help find the best method of delivering information about educational choices and outcomes to their residents. Individuals need to understand the investment they are making and the best career path for them. Several states are paving the way in creating sound models for this information to be given to families.