How bad is the student debt crisis? “75% of the time somebody would start crying,” says state Senator Terri Bonoff of the times she met with college student groups. “They would tell me about the debt they carried…and they didn’t know how they were going to pay it off and they didn’t know what kind of job they were going to have at the end of it.”
At the same time, Bonoff had business groups telling her that they couldn’t find candidates for their jobs because potential employees don’t have the skills needed to do the work. So she co-authored a law that spends about $3 million tax dollars to cover students’ tuition if businesses agreed to hire the students. “It’s exactly like an apprenticeship model,” Bonoff told a crowd at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute. But she says she doesn’t call it an apprenticeship to avoid restrictions that federal laws place on apprenticeships.
There are about 500 students now in the “Pipeline” program and Bonoff points to it as a possible new model to solve both the student debt crisis and the skills shortage problem. She also thinks it shows she can work with Republicans, Democrats, businesses and government to come up with solutions — something she says congress needs more of.
Oh, and she’s also running for congress.
In a discussion that was long on detail and short on politics, Bonoff answered questions about education from University of Minnesota Professor Larry Jacobs for more than an hour in front of a lunch-time crowd. Bonoff’s opponent, Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-MN) was invited to the discussion, but declined — saying he may do a solo discussion with Jacobs later.
German model for education
Video above: Full discussion between Larry Jacobs and Terri Bonoff.
Video at bottom: Bonoff on why she is against Minneapolis raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Jacobs asked Bonoff to focus in on just one topic for the discussion and she chose her “dual education” project — which is modeled after a similar system in Germany where students are focused on learning a trade from an early age, but their tuition is paid for by the state. Germany directs students into tracks starting in the 8th grade, which Bonoff thinks is too early. But she says US students need to decide what they want to do much earlier than they currently do. Having an undecided major in college is costly.
“I think we need to do a better job of introducing our students (to jobs) earlier so they can make better choices so that they don’t have the burden of debt and nowhere to go.”
She would like to see businesses take an active role in setting curriculum for students in areas where the businesses say there are not enough good job candidates. Information technology, health sciences, advanced manufacturing and agriculture are the areas she thinks are good candidates for this.
Her Pipeline education program is called that because it creates a pipeline from education to careers and it tries to include students of color and outstate students who are often left out of the job market. It does that by matching students and businesses like a blind dating service. Likes, skills and preferences between the students and the businesses are matched using a computer algorithm, which Bonoff says levels the playing field for normally disadvantaged students.
Unlike her fellow Democrats Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, Bonoff said she doesn’t favor taxpayers paying for four years of college. She’s OK with taxpayers funding two years of trade school.
Bonoff also said she diverges with many of her fellow Democrats when it comes to the minimum wage. She doesn’t think Minneapolis should raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour. She thinks cities shouldn’t decide minimum wages and that should be left up to the state. She was one of the co-authors of a bill that would have prevented cities from setting minimum wages. The bill did not pass at the legislature this year.
The federal government, not states, should be in charge when it comes to labeling food products that contain Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), says Bonoff. She would rather the federal government make the decisions than the state to prevent a “patchwork” of laws businesses would have to comply with.
Bonoff also said she is for universal background checks as a way of reducing gun violence, and chided her opponent Rep. Paulsen for not doing anything to solve the problem. “My own congressman has voted over 20 times just in the recent times to not bring up gun violence prevention laws. And he stands with the NRA and his party on that. And so I think the public really wants this stopped. The public is very frightened about the amount of gun violence we have in our communities.”