Affordable higher education

By Matthew Mullarky and Maren Hagman

For decades, Minnesota’s excellent institutes of higher education have produced the state’s most powerful and renewable resource – its educated, innovative, and productive workforce. However, today’s families and many aspiring college students face the dual challenge of the skyrocketing cost of higher education along with the current economic stagnation. Because of this, many are turned away from college due to costs and even those that graduate must leave Minnesota after graduation to find a job. Ultimately, this could cause a brain drain as high tech industry and highly educated workforce exits the state over time. Fortunately for Minnesotans, newly proposed legislation, Opportunity Minnesota, offers a solution.

The premise of Opportunity Minnesota is simple: any Minnesota resident who attends college in Minnesota or in one of the states that have tuition reciprocity with Minnesota (Wisconsin, North and South Dakota, and Manitoba) and then remains and works in Minnesota following for ten years will have the cost of their student loans reimbursed through tax credits. The reimbursement will have a cap at the cost of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.
Opportunity Minnesota not only gives Minnesotans unable to pay for a college education a way to finance their college education, but also a way for Minnesota to stop the potential brain drain of highly skilled individuals exiting the state. The requirement that graduates remain in Minnesota would keep the talent in state, as well as have the added benefit of expanding the tax base, since better-educated individuals have greater potential to get better paying and higher quality jobs. This expanded tax base would continue to bring in tax revenues to the state, ensuring that this legislation essentially pays for itself.

In fact, the economic analysis for Opportunity Maine, passed in July 2007 and the model for Opportunity Minnesota, found that it would only take three years for the bill to start paying for itself. This is part of what makes Opportunity Minnesota such a great bill – not only does it start paying for itself, but also it is a program that has already been implemented with success in another state.

While the poor economy might make it tempting to suggest that the state and the taxpayers should be saving their money rather than paying for student loans, it is precisely because of our current economic situation that passing Opportunity Minnesota is so important. It will allow Minnesota students to pursue the higher education that they need without fear of repaying a burdensome debt; it will attract and retain industries with well-paying jobs to Minnesota; stop the current brain drain; and actually result in the state increasing revenue from a broader tax base.

This semester, students at Macalester’s MPIRG chapter, in conjunction with other MPIRG chapters across the state, has been working to pass Opportunity Minnesota into law. This past Tuesday, Mac’s MPIRG chapter visited the state capitol and lobbied in support of this innovative piece of legislation.
Macalester’s chapter of MPIRG is also working on making Macalester a little more affordable in the more immediate future by asking the college to reserve some textbooks that students could borrow instead of purchasing. If you would like to learn more about this and other proposals that may affect you, please attend the upcoming forum in the JBD lecture hall this coming Monday, April 13, from 5:30-6:30. Additionally, if you are interested in supporting Opportunity Minnesota, feel free to join us at an MPIRG meeting, every Tuesday evening at 10:00 PM in the Campus Center.Matthew Mullarky ’12 can be reached at [email protected], and Maren Hagmen ’11 can be reached at [email protected].