Student loan debt continues to rise

Marshal Will, News Reporter

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Student loan debt has been on the rise for years with no end in sight.

According to a Bloomberg report student loan debt has doubled since the 2009 recession to about $1.5 trillion. Nationally, the total amount students currently have in debt is $44 million.

Student Senate representative Zaria Smith was asked how the Student Senate addresses these uncertainties.

“They are taking money out of the pot that is shrinking so they are looking at ways of how not to be in debt, and still maintaining that students’ experience at Winona doesn’t decrease,” Smith said. “This is still a conversation we are having and this is something they will try to come back on.”

There is a shrinking amount of funds expected for Minnesota public colleges, this is despite the Minnesota government having a $1.5 billion surplus reported in their annual budget for 2018. Because of the expected decrease in funding Winona State is looking at ways to budget this expected loss.

“Because of the shrinking pot they might consider cutting student activities, departments might get cut. For example, the art department has received cuts in the past, they’ve raised the cost of the health and wellness center for getting a counselor,” Smith said.

Though department cuts may be a possibility, Smith said she is hoping for a different solution.

“There might be considerations of cuts depending on how much the government gives Winona State next year,” Smith said. “They’re looking at things like raising tuition but we are hoping for a tuition freeze.”

Smith also said the way the state used to figure out the finding for state schools has changed.

“They had recently changed the formula of how Minnesota state schools are funded and all four-year state schools are getting a decrease in the shared pot of government funding,” Smith said. “They said if they don’t get funding they’re looking for they will have to look to students to raise the money.”

According to a CNBC report the average student can expect to graduate with about $37,000 in student loan debt, which has increased by $13,000 over the last 13 years. US News and World report has shown that since 1998 tuition at public universities has increased on average 243 percent.

Mari Livingston, associate director of financial aid, was asked why tuition seems to have increased over the past few years.

“A number of years ago we saw some major tuition increases, the state legislature took a major twist on funding. Now that has occurred they don’t really want to see anymore tuition increases and I don’t foresee any huge tuition increases,” Livingston said.

US News and World report several causes that explain the tuition increases. These range from less tax subsidies for student tuition, increase in administration overhead and competition with other universities.

One solution Smith mentioned was that Winona could use to try and improve the loan situation was to advertise scholarship opportunities.

“I don’t think we stress enough the amount of opportunities for scholarships here. That in turn can help affect how many loans students take out. It can help show that it is not that hard to get free money,” Smith said.

When asked if Winona State will increase tuition, Livingston said inflation will most likely be the cause of an increase in tuition.

Despite talks of tuition increases, Livingston assures students that Winona is a good option when comparing to other universities.

“One of the things we do excel at is that our default rate is much lower and one of the lowest when looking at the national average considerably,” Livingston said.

Students attending Winona State have a range of sources they can obtain loans from.

When a student is going to apply for financial aid they must take an “entrance loan counseling” program, which is meant to educate the student on what they are borrowing and how they should be able to pay it back.

Some have criticized that students who had just graduated high school may not fully understand what they are signing up for with student loans.

When Smith started school at Winona State she too went through the loan education program. However, she believes Winona State could be doing better.

“As freshmen, we had the opportunity learn about how our loans work. Although the information was there it may have been more of a onetime conversation and that is something I think they could do better at,” Smith said. “Maybe they could do it again when your sophomore or a junior where they say, ‘Hey you’re taking out loans and this is how you pay them back.”

Livingston was asked what ways Winona State is helping students manage their student loans and she mentioned a range of programs.

“We run various events to help financial literacy for example at the end of the school year where we are focused on seniors. We [the Financial Aid office] look at things like now you’re going out and getting a job, what type of things are you trying to look for, this includes things like insurance,” Livingston said. “Which was highly regarded by students last year. We’ve also done FAFSA events and scholarship events, or the cash cart program around campus.”

Smith was asked on her thoughts of ways the situation of student loan debt in general could be improved. Starting with teaching high school students that college is an investment.

“[It is] never stressed in high school this is what it means to take out loans, this is what it means to be in debt,” Smith said. “It should also be readdressed in college with a financial advisor. It’s never really taught, you are just expected to figure it out.”