ST. CLOUD -- Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith stopped by St. Cloud State University Thursday to talk with students and staff about tuition costs, student debt and how the state is planning to invest in higher education.

Governor Mark Dayton released his list of bonding projects in January, among the $1,500,000,000 total proposed, $255,000,000 would go toward investing in initiatives to lower tuition and student loan debt. Of the $255,000,000, $26,300,000 would go toward St. Cloud State University and St. Cloud Technical and Community College.

Smith says paying for college can be challenging for students and they struggle to finish their degree or they struggle to finish it on time because of the high costs associated with going to school.

"The huge burden that students have paying for their higher education has a couple of different challenges. One is that a lot of students aren't finishing because it's so hard for them to continue to pay for higher education. And that means they aren't going to get the degree they need to get in order to pay off their debt. The other thing that happens is the costs are so high it takes students longer than it ought to, to finish."

The average student debt in Minnesota is $27,000. Smith says this amount of debt is hurting the economy and the students that are paying off these high loans.

"What happens then is instead of taking the very best job they can take, they have to take a job that is totally geared toward paying their monthly debt on their student loans. And so that holds them up and it means that they can't buy a car, and they can't buy a house and they can't start a family, everything just gets slowed down, and we really need to fix that for our kids."

There are many different ways to pay for college and state grants are a common form. Smith and Dayton are proposing $62,000,000 be added to the State Grant Program.

"What our State Grant Program does is it helps to fill the gaps so students can cover the basic necessities of living while they go to school. Most of these students are working two maybe three jobs to try to finish. And the State Grant Program helps them to be able to focus on their studies and cover some of their basic expenses. It can be used for living expenses as well as tuition. It works incredibly well, we have a State Grant Program right now and we're proposing we put more money into it."

The proposed funds that could be added to the program would come from the state's general fund. The general fund is paid for through income taxes, sales taxes and other state fees.

If additional funding is added to the grant program, 136 more students at SCSU would be eligible, bringing the total to just under 3,900. At St. Cloud Technical and Community College, 175 more students would be eligible while 1,900 would be eligible.

Statewide grants would increase for more than 82,400 students and more than 6,400 new students would be eligible for state grants.


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