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Letter: Responding to Clausen’s letter to the editor

I have a couple observations about Sen. Clausen’s (DFL – Apple Valley) recent letter in these pages. First, I agree that our political process demands appropriate respect from all participants regardless of political party. To the extent Sen. Clausen’s recounting of a recent committee hearing testimony is accurate, I would agree it could have been handled differently. That said, introducing bills with zero chance of creating an opportunity for reasonable dialogue, let alone passage, can only be considered political theater. He undoubtedly knows this. As an experienced legislator, and former educator Sen. Clausen understands priorities need to be set and followed. A quick search of the Minnesota Senate website will identify over 100 bills that Sen. Clausen alone has authored or co-authored. There is simply no time to waste on pie in the sky bills.

While it is my opinion addressing the unfunded liabilities in the public union pensions is a higher priority, I do not disagree that growing student loan debt is an issue. I suspect Sen. Clausen would find bipartisan support for developing pathways to reduce student loan interest rates to more closely reflect the current market conditions. He should reach across the aisle to try and do so. This would help students without leaving lenders and taxpayers completely holding the bag. It will also keep students from abdicating their responsibility for their own situation.

This latter point is one that continues to frustrate me. The discussion, including Sen. Clausen’s, tends to be focused only on the after effects of student loan debt. Treating symptoms, rather than the cause. First of all, in my opinion colleges and universities, public and private, need to have skin in the game. After all, it is the schools who are the beneficiaries of the loan dollars flowing to their institutions. Loan availability should be tied to each school’s ability to stabilize or reduce tuition costs as well as their ability to graduate students with reasonable opportunities to earn a living. Second, students and parents need to take more responsibility and have an open and honest discussion about what they can afford, what areas of study are of interest to them, and what effect any potential student debt load may have on their longer term goals. This discussion should be considered when determining what schools to consider. Just because you can get into a school, doesn’t mean you should go there. Careful cost benefit analysis should always be performed. Finally, as a society we need to refocus on the education of higher education. Do we really need the grand student centers, over the top athletic facilities, and even educational offerings too broad to reasonably support to get a great education? I think not.