The University of North Dakota ranked #1 in student debt (Time 9/13/11) in the nation, while our state government sits on an estimated $1.6 billion budget surplus. A number that is expected to reach $4.9 billion by 2015 (AP News 2012). North Dakota's state government has a responsibility to its citizens to solve the student debt crisis and prioritize education affordability.
Recently, I made the decision to return to the University of North Dakota to pursue further education. When I earned my bachelor's degree from UND in 2008, I was excited and energized to enter the workforce. I wanted to contribute to my community but quickly realized I would have to forgo the pursuit of my ambitions and goals due to an overwhelming amount of student debt.
North Dakota state leadership has an obligation to provide quality education at its public universities and colleges [that is affordable] for everyone. A reasonable financial assistance solution might include incentives to those young people that continue to live and work in North Dakota after graduation. With its Opportunity Maine initiative, the state of Maine has been successful in assisting recent graduates in paying back their student loans, as long as they continue to make Maine their home. North Dakota could use this initiative as a model for its own system. Students and parents need to fight for affordable education! And government officials need to care about and act on the looming student debt crisis. It is not just students who shoulder the burden. Families, friends, and the entire North Dakota economy are affected: if I'm in debt throughout my 20s, 30s, and 40s, how can I invest in starting a business or buying a home?
Paralyzed in a system that has made me feel like an indentured servant, I sit and wonder how we got here. I want better for the state of North Dakota and for my fellow young people. We have an opportunity to use our strong economy and mineral resources to invest in the future of the state and the extraordinary people that live here.