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Where to trim U of M spending should be obvious to leaders

Tuition growth is due to rapidly increasing expenditures that are tied to increases in the number of employees at the U. And the most rapid growth among these employees is in the category labeled Professional and Administrative.

University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

The University of Minnesota is currently welcoming students back to the Twin Cities campus. Sadly, they will find some unwelcome changes.

Tuition will be increasing by 2% for Minnesota undergrads. Graduate students will be paying 3% more. Out-of-state students will see a 10% tuition increase. But it doesn’t stop there. The College of Science and Engineering is introducing a $2,000 annual surcharge, dorm rates will be 4.5% higher, and parking rates will see a similar increase.

While unwelcome, these increases should not be unexpected. Over the last 20 years tuition has gone up over 200% [PDF] — more than three times as fast as Minnesotans’ median household income [PDF].

The U’s administration has identified a decline in government support as the cause of these increases. According to its analysis, in 1989 the U received $3 in state appropriations for every dollar of tuition revenue it took in. In 2018 these state contributions were equivalent to only 75 cents per tuition dollar.

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As a picture of the history of the U’s finances, this is entirely misleading. The decline in this ratio is due to the rapid increase in tuition. If tuition revenue had increased in step with inflation, the ratio of state dollars to tuition revenue would have actually increased. But even this is not the whole story. In an effort to mitigate the effects of rising tuition, state and federal governments have increased indirect funding for higher education.

If we “follow the money, [PDF], we find that tuition growth is due to rapidly increasing expenditures that are tied to increases in the number of employees at the U. And the most rapid growth among these employees is in the category labeled Professional and Administrative. It is easier to describe what members of this class of employees don’t do than what they do. They do not teach classes. They do not screw in light bulbs or clear snow. They do not conduct scientific research. Still the number of these employees has increased by 50% over the last 15 years. This growth trend has now reached a new pinnacle. Students returning this fall have the luxury of being greeted by two university presidents (one emeritus) — each being paid in excess of $600,000.

During the coming year these presidents and their colleagues on all levels of the school’s bureaucracy will be taking part in innumerable meetings where they will discuss the question of what needs to be done to address the university’s fiscal problems.

The answer will be staring them in the face.

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Robert Katz works in the University of Minnesota Libraries Research and Learning Division.

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