Higher education budgets aimed at making college more affordable
ST. PAUL — It is time to make college more affordable for students, state lawmakers say.
House and Senate higher education budget proposals include money to freeze tuition at public universities and colleges and allot more funds for state grants and financial aid.
Senate Higher Education Committee Chairwoman Terri Bonoff, DFL-Plymouth, said her plan “stops the trend of disinvesting and for the first time makes a substantial investment in students attending colleges and universities across Minnesota and their families.”
The past decade has seen significant cuts in higher education funding, Democratic leaders said. They have made education a priority and included extra funding for college and university programs in budget targets.
“It’s been about eight years since we’ve had a positive number in higher education,” said Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, chairman of the House Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee. “I would hope we would focus it and use it wisely and prepare for the next two years.”
Bonoff said, “We do have much to be proud of, but also there has been a lack of investment.”
The Senate budget, which committee members moved forward Tuesday evening, appropriates about $1.2 billion each for the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities systems, while the House gives about $1.1 billion each.
“After a decade of disinvestment in our higher ed institutions and the cuts that have been made … the (bill) as it stands is really about investing in each of the jewels,” Bonoff said.
Much of the new funding for each organization would go toward tuition freezes, including $78 million for MnSCU and $42.6 million for the University of Minnesota.
“We are thrilled that the governor, senators and representatives agree that freezing tuition for the next two years is one of the most important issues facing our students and their families at the University of Minnesota,” university Vice President and CFO Richard Pfutzenreuter said.
The three proposals generally are similar in totals and focus on tuition relief and state grant money for financial aid.
“We’ve gotten tremendous support for this overall package,” Bonoff said.
The budgets require the university and MnSCU to meet requirements including trimming administrative costs and increasing degrees conferred and graduation rates to get their full funding in the second year.
“The things that are in the U’s proposal and MnSCU’s proposal are really designed to change those institutions to make sure they meet workforce needs,” Bonoff said.
Russ Stanton of MnSCU’s Inter Faculty Organization said some of the goals involve issues out of the education system’s control, such as students finding employment.
Senators briefly discussed the proposal that the University of Minnesota take over Fairview Health Services, which runs its hospital system. Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, said she wants to ensure that state money does not go toward the purchase of Fairview.
Bonoff said she plans to discuss the issue at an upcoming committee meeting, likely next week.
Sanford Health, with headquarters in North Dakota and South Dakota, has proposed merging with Fairview.
The Senate’s budget also gives the University of Minnesota $36 million for a new program called MnDRIVE — Minnesota Discovery, Research and InnoVation Economy. It would focus resources on four key areas: brain condition treatment, the global food supply, robotics work and advancing industry while conserving the environment.
“Now is the time to invest in long-term benefits for Minnesota business and technologies, keeping our state competitive and driving high-paying job growth,” Pfutzenreuter said.
The House committee briefly ran through its higher education budget proposals Monday and is expected to further discuss the bill next week.