Educators, lawmakers tackle student debt crisis

 

Student debt is no longer just a burden—it has become a barrier for many who want to enter the teaching profession and make it a lifelong career. 

Making post-secondary education affordable and accessible so all students can pursue higher education free from the stress of unmanageable loans and debts can be done. But what is the best way to tackle this crisis and how do we get our lawmakers to take action?












Those were the questions educators grappled with at Education Minnesota’s Student Loan Debt Symposium Aug. 9 in St. Paul. 

Attendees heard from state legislators about the landscape at the Capitol on the student loan debt crisis and how educators can advocate for solutions to this problem. They also started brainstorming actions that will help push this issue to the front burner during the 2018 legislative session.

The nine Democratic lawmakers who attended the symposium agreed that their fellow legislators recognize student debt is an issue, but do not understand that it is truly a crisis.



“I’ll never understand a nation that puts up barriers to something that makes it better,” said Sen. Jason Isaacson, DFL-Shoreview. “We have to do better….people who care about this have to win back the majority in the state Legislature.”

Legislators encouraged attendees to meet with their senators and representatives and share their stories. They also suggested reaching out to unlikely allies like the Chamber of Commerce to come up with solutions lawmakers on both sides of the aisle can support. 

The symposium is part of Education Minnesota’s popular Degrees, Not Debt program, which helps educators relieve their debt burden and advocate for making college more affordable and accessible to all. This is particularly important for our public schools. If teaching becomes an unaffordable profession, it will become even more difficult to attract and retain high-quality educators and weaken the diversity and depth of our teaching corps. 

Next steps include planning back home meetings with legislators to talk about the mental and physical toll of increasing student debt and. Participants also brainstormed some solutions that Education Minnesota could push next legislative session, including creating a student loan ombudsperson and expanding the Minnesota Teacher Shortage Loan Repayment program to include more fields like counselors, nurses and other non-classroom educators.

Want to get involved in Education Minnesota’s Degrees, Not Debt program or learn more about loan forgiveness programs? Visit www.educationminnesota.org/advocacy/Degrees-Not-Debt/Overview.