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Higher ed tuition on the rise as dark clouds loom

To no one’s surprise, tuition will rise this year at Minnesota’s 32 state universities and community and technical colleges.

To no one’s surprise, tuition will rise this year at Minnesota’s 32 state universities and community and technical colleges.

The Board of Trustees for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system officially approved a budget including the increases this week.

The real question is what will happen next — after the one-time federal stimulus funds no longer are available to soften the blow on students, after Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s “unallotments” of funding for higher education kick in, after the state truly faces a massive budget imbalance that Pawlenty and the Legislature put off this year.

With those dark clouds looming on the horizon, here’s what students can expect for now: Beginning this fall, average tuition will increase by $114 at two-year colleges and $169 at state universities. That means full-time students at the 25 state colleges will pay an average tuition of $4,194 while students at the seven state universities will pay $5,791.

More students
The increases come at a time when droves of laid-off workers are going back to the MnSCU system for new skills and credentials. The system serves about 250,000 students per year in credit-based courses and an additional 140,000 students in non-credit courses.

Their tuition this fall would have been higher if not for the federal stimulus funds. The budget the trustees approved this week actually raises tuition by 5 percent. Students will see only a 2.8 percent increase at the state colleges and 3 percent at the state universities.

Some students actually could pay lower tuition after grants and other aid are factored in.

The “stimulus discounts” range from $131 per student at Metropolitan State University to $47 at Northwest Technical College in Bemidji.

Hoping economic recovery will boost future state revenues, legislators from both parties have said they could reconsider higher education funding cuts Pawlenty made when he balanced the budget unilaterally this year by “unallotment.” But many economists doubt the recovery will come quickly enough to make a substantial difference in the near future.

Meanwhile, the University of Minnesota also is raising tuition. And both of Minnesota’s systems of public higher education are eliminating hundreds of jobs and taking other cost cutting measures.  

“We worked hard to keep the tuition increase as low as possible,” MnSCU Board Chair David Olson said in a statement announcing the increases. “In the end, affordable tuition means more students can receive the education and training that Minnesota needs to remain competitive.”

Olson of Minnetonka was re-elected chair of the system’s Board of Trustees at the Wednesday meeting. He has been president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce since 1991.  Ruth Grendahl of Apple Valley was elected as MnSCU’s vice chair; and Scott Thiss of Edina was elected treasurer. They serve one-year terms beginning Aug. 1.