University of Minnesota president Eric Kaler

Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune

About the Morrill Act

President Abraham Lincoln signed U.S. Rep. Justin Smith Morrill's Land Grant College Act into law in 1862. Many colleges, including the University of Minnesota, have a Morrill Hall named in his honor. The Vermont native served his home state for more than 40 years combined in the U.S. House and Senate.

Tweet of the week

MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell (@Lawrence), weighing in on the vice presidential prospects of former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty: "You heard it here first 223 days ago: Tim Pawlenty is #1 on @MittRomney's VP list. And now everyone knows it."

The week ahead

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the Affordable Care Act sometime this week.

Hotdish politics: Loan rate deadline looms large for colleges

  • June 23, 2012 - 10:55 PM

WASHINGTON - University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler and University of Minnesota Duluth Chancellor Lendley Black will head to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial this week to ask Congress to focus on the needs of America's colleges and universities.

Kaler and Black are among dozens of college leaders in Washington this week to mark the 150th anniversary of the federal Morrill Act, landmark legislation that established land grant colleges in every state.

Organizers have billed the confab as a look back at what necessitated the legislation and a look ahead at what's needed to keep higher education viable.

While they're here, a looming deadline for Congress could dominate the conversation: Federal college loan rates are set to double July 1 unless lawmakers act.

The government-funded Stafford loans currently have a 3.4 percent interest rate; that will become 6.8 percent without congressional action.

More than 200,000 Minnesota students, and more than 2 million nationwide, will need to take out new federal loans this year, the White House estimates.

Most Democrats and Republicans agree that the rate should remain where it is and support at least a one-year extension, but they haven't been able to reach consensus on how to offset the estimated $6 billion cost.

Republicans in the House have proposed taking money from preventative health care programs of the Affordable Care Act, the federal health care reform law. Senate Democrats want to eliminate some corporate tax breaks.

Along the way, each side has accused the other of impeding progress and resisting compromise.

The debate has brought representatives from at least two student groups -- the Minnesota State University Student Association and the University of Minnesota Duluth's Student Legislative Coalition -- to D.C. to lobby the state's congressional delegation.

In turn, several members of the delegation took the issue back home to Minnesota, hosting forums and news conferences to connect with college-age voters, college leaders and parents pressed about the rising cost of a college education.

Now, with less than a week left before the loan rate deadline, D.C. is once again the battleground.

That's where the college heads, with representation from Hawaii to New York, will join three former U.S. education secretaries and others pressing Congress to put politics aside and find solutions that help colleges and their students, if only for another year.

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