Affordability with U.S. Senator Tina Smith

 

Friday, May 18, 2018 ten students participated in a round table discussion with U.S. Senator Tina Smith about the students' experiences with the high cost of college and the challenges they have paying for textbooks and other necessities. 

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We, Students United, brought five students to the round table. The students who attended were Vice Chair Lexi Byler, State Chair-Elect Kayla Shelley, Board Member Heather Moenck, Government Relations Intern Donovan Lura, and St. Cloud State student Nyajuok Puok [Nya].

All the students brought their own unique perspectives to the table and were able to give Senator Smith insight into the struggles college students are facing in Minnesota. 

Senator Smith started by having students raise their hands if they worked one job -- two jobs -- three jobs while being a student. One student stated that while being a full-time student she also worked 65 hours a week between three jobs.

 
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College students -- we hustle.

On the topic of textbooks, Heather discussed how there is a common misconception that "college students today" are lazy. She stated that listening to the students' stories at the round table it is very clear that that is not the case. Heather explained to Senator Smith that college students, like herself, aren't just asking for cheaper textbooks because it would be nice. She is asking because when Heather's 14 week course needed a $200 textbook she opted for registering for the two week online trial of the book and finishing all the class assignments during those two weeks because she didn't have $200 to spare.

The people going to college today aren't the same as the people who went to college a generation ago.

Lexi explained the lack of education students have around financing their educations. She discussed how being a first generation college student it took her well into her college career to feel as though she understood the different public and private loan options she had. Donovan and Nya, also added to this discussion, as first generation students they too had to figure out the financing of college with very little help or experience. 

Nothing would have prepared me for being this broke. 

Senator Smith asked the students' opinions of a bill she is working on with Senator Elizabeth Warren that would allow Americans to refinance their students loans. Students thought such a bill made sense and would be helpful in their futures. Kayla articulated an additional point during this discussion, that to her it seems many lawmakers tend to think that she and her peers are extremely worried about how they are going to pay back their loans after they graduate [which she explained she is], but that is not what is on her mind everyday. That is not what she is most concerned about. Her day-to-day worries are about being able to afford her rent, car, and food for the month. Kayla explained that lawmakers need to do more to help with what college students are facing while they are college students.

The rising cost of tuition was also a part of the conversation, Lexi explained that at the state level we need our legislature to hold up their side of the bargain and pay for the 66% that they promised they would in a state statute, but haven't done in over a decade. On the federal level, many student mentioned the Pell Grant throughout the discussion and how it is helping them make it through their college careers.

We would like to thank Senator Tina Smith for inviting Students United to participate in the round table discuss. We also appreciated how genuinely interested Senator Smith was in listening to the stories of all the students and hearing their input on the different battles for affordability within higher education that students deal with each and every day. 

 
Aly Hagglund