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DFL Rep. Gene Pelowski offers increased higher-ed funding — and blistering U of M criticism

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Rep. Gene Pelowski

Those who run public higher education institutions in the state were targets of heavy blows by Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, when he introduced a higher education finance bill Monday morning.

The higher-ed omnibus bill, which will be considered by the higher education finance committee today, would give the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system an increase for the first time in eight years, according to Pelowski. But it is filled with strings on how the money could be used.

The main portion of the $150 million increase proposed by the bill would be to freeze tuition for students for the next two years. That freeze applies to the students. But, in fact, the state would pay what amounts to 3 percent increases in each of the next two years.

“This is the first significant base adjustment we’ve had in a long time,’’ Pelowski said of the increase in funding to higher ed. “This bill focuses those news resources largely in two areas — tuition and debt — so we can put our resources into areas that directly benefit the students.’’

Pelowski said that colleges and universities have used large tuition increases in the past eight years to more than make up for cuts in  state money. In his view, too much of the funds from tuition increases went for raising the salaries of administrators and creating huge bureaucracies.

The bill that’s expected to pass would demand far higher accountability in how funds are being spent, Pelowski said.

“We found that administrative costs and salaries are growing at an unsustainable rate and students are paying the prices with higher tuition and debt,’’ Pelowski said. “That is unacceptable. The Legislature needs to treat increases with the same level of oversight as tax increases.’’

In the last eight years, Pelowski said, Minnesota students have gone from paying the 25th-highest tuitions in the country to paying the second highest.

Under the bill, the institutions of higher ed would have to offer specifics on how public funds are being spent.

Pelowski took special delight in blasting the Board of Regents and the athletic department in his remarks.

He compared the regents to “the House of Lords — they have nice titles, a nice place to meet and don’t do anything ...’’

Pelowski called the $2 million buyout of the contract of basketball coach Tubby Smith “an obscenity.’’

Athletic department officials calling that buyout an investment in the future is “an even greater obscenity,’’ he added.

Pelowski cited a Wall Street Journal article about the University of Minnesota’s “bloated bureaucracy’’ and criticisms launched by former Gov. Arne Carlson about the University’s spending on administrative costs, as well as the legislative auditor’s criticisms of University accountability as reasons for coming up with tighter controls on University and MNSCU spending.

Despite all the blasts, Pelowski said he expects to receive praise from University and MNSCU offcials.

“I would like them to say, ‘Thank you,’ for putting resources back in the base,’’ he said.

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