The issues facing higher education in Minnesota over the next two years are dire as a result of a huge state budget deficit, a leaking state grant program and an economy in shambles.
For the Legislature, which provides a significant amount of funding for the state’s higher education institutions, tough choices are ahead.
Sen. Michelle Fischbach, Senate Higher Education Committee chairwoman, said her primary focus this session remains on the state’s projected $6.2 billion budget deficit.
She acknowledged immediately that cuts in state funding to higher education are coming.
“Cuts are going to be on the table,” Fischbach, R-Paynesville, said.
The committee’s inaugural meeting on Monday focused on educating new members on the state of higher education. Lawmakers requested detailed data from the Minnesota Office of Higher Education and geared up for a session of difficult policymaking.
Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, said she’d like to focus on making public higher education institutions more nimble and acclimated to changing job opportunities.
One number that seemed to strike Fischbach, who also is the Senate president, is the significant decrease in the state grant program for 2011.
The program, a need-based grant that provides an average of $1,800 a year to more than 80,000 students, spent nearly $170 million last year because enrollment spiked dramatically. There is only $120 million in grants left for this year, and 20,000 fewer students are set to receive them.
Fischbach said that the committee likely will take a more detailed look at the program as more data become available.
Rep. Bud Nornes, House Higher Education Committee chairman, said he’s looking to meet with Fischbach and such DFL leaders as Rep. Tom Rukavina, the committee’s former chair, to prioritize for the session.
The House Committee meets for the first time today.
Although specific legislation is still weeks away, Nornes said he may introduce a bill requiring English proficiency to be a part of the hiring process for a professor.
James Nord, a student at the University of Minnesota, is a MinnPost intern.