University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler testified before the U.S. Senate Education Committee on Thursday, discussing how the college plans to boost graduation rates for low-income and first-generation college students.

At the hearing, “The Role of States in Higher Education,” lawmakers explored strategies that could help more students land on top-notch campuses and walk away with degrees.

“The value of a public college degree for our students and our states … has never been higher,” Kaler told lawmakers. “More jobs than ever require a degree. But costs are higher than ever too.”

U.S. Sen. Al Franken and Kaler discussed bills he introduced that would require colleges to use uniform financial aid letters and net-price calculators.

Colleges are required by law to have the calculators on their websites to help families estimate what they would really pay for an education. But the price calculators vary by institution, making comparisons tough when students are trying to select a college.

“We’ve attended a number of college affordability roundtables together,” Franken said to Kaler. “One of things we both heard is that very often student say that they didn’t really understand going in what the cost was.”

Kaler also discussed university programs focused on peer mentoring, advising and financial aid that help keep low-income and minority students on campus once they get there.

“What goes on in the classroom is a pretty important part of a student’s experience, but what goes on outside is at least as important,” Kaler said.

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