Montana State University junior Dan Guider has heard a lot about college affordability for veterans.
A veteran himself, Guider works in the MSU's Office of Veterans Services while he studies for a degree in accounting.
On Thursday, he had a chance to voice his concerns to Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., who stopped by the Strand Union Building for a roundtable discussion with MSU faculty, staff and students, as well as local leaders.
Walsh is sponsoring the Federal Loan Refinancing Act, which would allow those repaying federal student loans at interest rates above 4 percent to refinance to a fixed rate of 4 percent.
“Really what we want to talk about today are some things that you may have, ideas that you may have that we can incorporate into this legislation or any other ideas you may have to make college more affordable in the state of Montana,” Walsh said.
One of Guider's concerns is that veterans entering college often must take entry-level classes that are basically the same as ones they already took in the military.
“The military has already spent money on the individual, training them to be a leader, oftentimes in combat, and then that transfers to nothing,” Guider said.
MSU President Waded Cruzado, Bozeman Mayor and Regent Jeff Krauss, Bozeman School Superintendent Rob Watson, Gallatin College Dean Bob Hietala and MSU faculty, staff and students also participated in Thursday's discussion.
“We are still are noticing an incredible amount of debt in our students,” Cruzado told Walsh.
The university is taking some steps, including sending letters to students with high debt ratios to alert them to the amount of debt they've accumulated. Letters are sent to freshman with at least $6,000 in debt, sophomores with $12,500 in debt, juniors with $18,750 in debt and seniors with $25,000 in debt, Cruzado said.
“This is not punitive. This is about a red flag,” she said. “Let's come, let's sit down in our financial aid office and talk about how we can help you think about the future.”
Krauss addressed military experience transferring over to college classrooms.
“The military is going to have to work with accrediting agencies to change the way they teach classes, so people getting training, it applies to credits at accredited university,” Krauss said. “It will take Senate effort to do that.”
One woman stressed to Walsh the importance of personalized financial literacy education, rather than courses over the phone or on a computer, adding that she attended such a course and doesn't remember anything from it.
“I'm a first generation college student. We don't want to spend our time on the computer. We want to spend our time sitting down in an office with somebody,” she said.
Over years, state funding for higher education has declined. That is something Gov. Steve Bullock wants to turn that around, Walsh said.
“And we want to be able to help him from the federal level,” he said.
Before wrapping up, Walsh said listening sessions are a good first step toward making college more affordable.
“We want to be able to provide an opportunity for all Montana men and women who may want to continue their education in school, not just if they come from a wealthy family where your parents are able to pay for school,” the senator said.
Bozeman was also a stop earlier this week for Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., who is Walsh's likely Republican opponent for Montana's open U.S. Senate seat. While here, Daines toured Sitka Gear's offices on North Rouse Avenue.