Governor Mark Dayton’s Wednesday visit to Winona focused on the need for the state to curb college tuition and continue to give students more opportunities to prepare for work after graduation.
Dayton visited Winona State University to take questions from area students on a range of issues, from the post-graduation job market to the university’s Education Village project. His presence packed the East Hall of Kryzsko Commons with area students and community leaders.
Dayton’s visit kicked off with an interview by WSU president Scott Olson. He then fielded questions on a number of topics, with many focused on college affordability and jobs. Students were interested in hearing how Dayton and the state can increase paid internships or work-study opportunities, freeze or lower tuition, and prepare students for high-quality jobs after graduation.
Saint Mary’s University student Conner Ellinghuysen told the governor that job experience on a resume is becoming vital when applying for work. He asked the governor what the state could do to increase work-study opportunities for students.
Dayton said work study is important, but as federal funding for the programs falls, the state just doesn't have “deep enough pockets” to make up the difference.
His response was similar on the question of tuition.
“I'd like to do more, but where is the money coming from?” he answered after Southeast Tech student Gabriel Hall asked about the possibility of easing the burden on students. “But the two-year freeze is a really good start.”
The nonprofit Project on Student Debt released its 2012 numbers Wednesday, listing Minnesota fourth in the nation in both the amount of debt students graduate with and the proportion of students who borrow for college.
State figures went up again this year, with WSU reporting one of the highest debt loads for public universities and SMU showing a more than 13-percent jump in student debt to about $35,000 compared to $31,000 in 2011.
The state added $250 million in funding for higher education in this year's budget bill, with most of the new spending going toward the two-year undergraduate tuition freeze at public universities that started this fall. The budget also increased funding for the state’s grant programs, and Dayton said he’s confident it will translate to stable or lower debt numbers when next year’s data comes out.
“Those are the two factors driving student debt,” Dayton said in an interview. “I'd be shocked if the debt doesn't drop somewhere.”
Olson and students also quizzed the governor on his stance on the university's proposed $22.8 million Education Village project, which WSU has asked the state to fund next year as part of its annual investment in construction projects statewide. Dayton has consistently expressed support for the project, though an initial request for partial funding didn’t make it through the Legislature earlier this year.
At the forum, Dayton didn’t specify what priorities he would push for the 2014 bonding bill, saying only that the state needs to look at new revenue streams to fund bonding projects, so a larger share can be approved each year.
“Ninety percent of the projects listed are good projects,” Dayton said, adding later in the forum, “We'll give the Education Village special consideration.”