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Amy Dalrymple, Published November 13 2009

Franken hears from MSUM students about loan debt

Maria Camargo works three jobs.

Justin Norris postponed getting married.

Al Odden is thinking about selling plasma.

The Minnesota State University Moorhead students met Thursday with Sen. Al Franken to share their struggles of paying for college.

Franken, D-Minn., supports a measure in the Senate that would streamline the student loan system and put the savings into making college more affordable.

The eight MSUM students who met with Franken said they expect to graduate with about $25,000 to $65,000 in student loan debt.

Camargo, the first in her family to attend college, was on the high end of the group because she attended the University of Thomas for 1½ years.

She transferred to MSUM because it’s more affordable, but she still works 25 to 30 hours a week at her three jobs on campus to pay bills. After completing her construction management degree, Camargo wants to attend graduate school.

“I’m going to just add to the pile that I have,” she said.

Norris, a 32-year-old political science major, is raising a family but postponed getting married for tax purposes to be able to afford school. Still, he expects to have more than $35,000 in debt.

Odden, 57, said he and other older students have unique challenges because they don’t qualify for some grants and they are supporting children and grandchildren. Plus Odden has less time to pay back the loans, which he expects will be about $50,000.

The average debt for MSUM students who graduated last spring was $27,918, a figure that has gone up each semester for about a decade, said Linda Tegtmeier, assistant director of financial aid.

Franken said he’s heard similar stories from students across the state as college costs skyrocket and wages flatten.

“It’s just part of the middle class squeeze and squeeze on Americans,” Franken said.

The proposal Franken supports would end bank-based federal student loans and switch schools to the Direct Loan Program.

The switch is estimated to save $87 billion, which will be reinvested in federal Pell Grants and other initiatives to make college more affordable. The U.S. House approved the legislation in September.

MSUM already participates in the Direct Loan Program.

Concordia College and North Dakota State University use the Federal Family Education Loan Program and would need to change to direct lending under the proposal.

Larry Rock, Concordia’s director of student loan repayment, said officials there are concerned about the Department of Education being overwhelmed with the number of schools that will be switching.

Rock also is concerned about changes the proposal makes to the Perkins Loan Program. Currently, interest does not accumulate on those loans while students are in college, but that benefit would be eliminated under the new plan, adding up to $5,000 to a student’s debt, Rock said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590