Students can sometimes feel like they don’t have a voice in the policymaking that affects them. That’s why a group of Minnesota state senators and representatives are traveling to various educational institutions around the state to listen to the concerns of the students they are representing at the capitol. The Listening Tour made a stop at UMD this past Wednesday to hold a discussion where students did the talking. State senators Terri Bonoff (DFL) and Greg Clausen (DFL) were on hand to share in the conversation.
"We decided that in order to fulfill our mission as leadership of the higher ed. committee, we had to understand what our colleges and universities are all about,” said Bonoff to a small group of students gathered in Griggs Center. “We wanted to understand our strengths, understand the challenges (colleges) face, and most importantly, we wanted to hear from the students."
The open forum lasted over an hour, where students from UMD and neighboring St. Scholastica were able to share their stories with the senators in charge of making the laws.
"I've always said that education drives our state—there’s no question about it," Clausen said. "An educated workforce is really going to determine our future, and we need to make sure that we're doing a good job in securing that future for students and for our states.”
Several miscommunications between the UMD planners and the touring party resulted in a smaller crowd than what was anticipated. Even with the smaller turnout, the conversation touched on a variety of topics: from college expenses and budget cuts, to ways that students can get a head start on college while still in high school.
“The people that were there really provided well to the conversation," said Student Association member Ben Dufault. “I would have loved to have it packed, but, at the same time, students that were there provided a lot to the conversation. I don’t think it would have been the same if more students had shown up."
Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG) campus organizer Steve Wick attended the meeting to talk with the senators about the Opportunity Minnesota bill, which was designed to help relieve student debt. The Opportunity Minnesota bill was authored by Clausen, and had passed through the Senate Higher Education Committee earlier this year. The bill failed to pass through the House Higher Education committee.
"The meeting went pretty good,” Wick said. “It would have been better to have more students here, but I appreciate (the senators) being here to listen. They seem very receptive to things students are saying, and some of the ideas that were brought forward."
Students who were unable to attended the discussion can submit their comments with the senators at www.mnhighered.wordpress.com/submit/.
BY GRAHAM HAKALA