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Reader's View: Student loan debt, state budget are connected

I want to suggest a connection between two issues that have been discussed in the paper recently ("Is college worth the cost?" May 22). One is the problem of student loan debt, which has become an increasingly heavy burden for students whose parents cannot afford to subsidize their education. The other is the state budget, which includes tax cuts for people who do not need them, and which the Legislature recently approved and the governor signed.

I think that tuition is too high at public colleges and universities, and I think that in Minnesota a cause for the high tuition is the unwillingness of the state government to support higher education adequately.

I was a student at UMD in the early 1960s, when tuition was just over $200 per year. I returned to UMD to teach in 1980, when tuition was still less than $1,000 per year. Now tuition is nearly $12,000 per year, and with fees the total is over $13,000. There has been an increase in the cost of living, but if tuition had merely kept up with inflation since 1980, tuition would be about $4,000 a year, which is about what a person could earn over the summer at a minimum wage job.

What seems to have happened since 1980 is that whenever there is an economic downturn, state revenue falls, and spending — including support for higher education — is cut. Then the economy recovers, and because spending was cut in the bad times, now the state runs a surplus, which legislators decide should be returned to the taxpayers. Funding for higher education has suffered in both good times and bad, and colleges and universities have responded by raising tuition. The result is tuition that is too high for any but the children of the well-to-do.

Dick Green