MANKATO — Students from Gustavus Adolphus, Minnesota State, Bethany and South Central College all told variations of the same story: The money coming in is less than the money going out, debt is piling up, but they’re hopeful that their investment in higher education will pay off in the end.
The message was no surprise to Larry Pogemiller, director of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education. Minnesota college students are graduating with an average debt load of about $30,000 — third highest in the nation.
Pogemiller is planning to visit communities across Minnesota this winter and spring, partly to pitch Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget and its $240 million in proposed higher spending for student grants and for the state’s colleges.
But he spent most of his Thursday visit to Minnesota State University — the second stop on his tour — listening to students.
Phil Ochs told Pogemiller about how he’s handling the tuition and fees at South Central College in North Mankato. Ochs said he gets out of bed at 6 a.m., is at school by 7 a.m., goes to his full-time job at a book publishing warehouse after classes and finishes work at 11 p.m.
“Oh my gosh!” Pogemiller said.
“I’m kind of busy,” said Ochs, who is in the machinist program at SCC. “And I’ve been doing that since I started school.”
Ochs, a Nicollet resident, said he received no government grants last quarter, and he doesn’t want to give up the income from the job he’s held for several years when he knows the college bills will keep coming.
“There’s more than a few of us in our shop alone that are paying out of pocket or with loans,” he said.
Even working 40 hours a week while a full-time student, Ochs figures to be contending with about $15,000 in debt when he finishes the two-year program at SCC.