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Some pluses, minuses — but no big surprises — in higher-ed outcome

When the final, thumbs-up, thumbs-down version of the state’s higher-education bill was posted on the Minnesota Legislature’s website yesterday, it contained virtually nothing in the way of big surprises.

Thanks to the bonding bill’s job-creating push, a few victories for the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, or MnSCU, were sprinkled around an overall cut of 10 percent and one sort of odd suggestion about tuition.

And, of course, scholars will not be prohibited from engaging in stem-cell research.

Eric Kaler
Eric Kaler

“The top-line message I’d like to get out is that we’re grateful to the governor and to the Legislature’s leaders for finding a solution that reduces the impact of the cuts on the university,” University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler told MinnPost.

State support at 1998 level
The U of M will receive $545.3 million each year of the biennium, which is about $50 million more than it was to get under the bill passed during the regular session. This brings state support for the institution back to 1998 levels or just 18 percent of the school’s budget, Kaler noted.

The legislation does hold back 1 percent of the state financing until the end of fiscal year 2013. To get the money, the U of M will have to demonstrate it met several performance measures. “Which are certainly things we’re comfortable meeting,” Kaler said.

The compromise bill did not contain a cap on tuition hikes at the university, something that will be imposed on MnSCU. Two- and four-year institutions in the state system may not raise tuition more than 4 percent over the next two years, according to the measure.

MnSCU’s cut: $120 million
MnSCU is in line to receive $545.4 million a year for the next biennium, which translates to a cut of $120 million. It is the fourth straight year of budget cuts for MnSCU, whose appropriation will be lower than the one received in 1999. Since then, the number of students served by the system has risen by almost 51,000.

“We have to address the troubling trend of the state’s disinvestment in public higher education,” a statement released by MnSCU administrators said. “Our colleges and universities educate 63 percent of the state’s undergraduates. We are the economic engine that provides the skilled workforce that Minnesota businesses need to remain globally competitive.

“This appropriation also means that students and their families will bear a bigger share of the costs of higher education,” the statement added. “Tuition now makes up an average of 57 percent of college and university operating budgets, up from 33 percent in 2000.”

A final provision commits the Legislature to “encourage” both higher-ed systems to consider guaranteeing incoming students they will pay the same rate of tuition throughout their college or university careers.

“That’s an interesting idea that has its pluses and minuses,” said Kaler. “An obvious one is that you end up with students over time paying different amounts of money for the same courses. But it does make it easier for families to plan.”

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