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Pioneer Editorial: Bringing stability to BSU/NTC

With the start of the 2011 session of the 2011 Legislature four weeks away. Lawmakers-elect and Gov.-elect Mark Dayton must turn their attention to the next two-year state budget and the projected $6.2 billion budget deficit. And those budget deliberations will affect Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College.

University officials gave their initial assessment in October, but now last week Bill Maki, the university's top budget and numbers man, said BSU/NTC will need to come up with $5 million for the academic biennium that starts next July.

One indicator was the outcome of the election, said Maki. Conventional wisdom says a DFL-controlled Legislature would seek higher revenues from the state's most wealthy, while a Republican-led Legislature would balance the budget through spending reductions. The state got the latter, so Maki will need to adjust his budget figures from 50/50 taxes and cuts to something with more cuts and fewer revenues.

For the two-year state budget starting next July 1, the two local institutions will need to find $5 million, Maki said. A third option, one which administrators rather not use, is to raise tuition 4 percent each year. The system is already way out of whack in placing the burden of higher education on the backs of students, but with a $6.2 billion projected state shortfall, that will probably continue.

Key to the equation is enrollment, he said. BSU and NTC enrollment have been going up, helping to mitigate the budget crisis and set forth a relatively stable budget for the current academic year. That needs to continue.

BSU and NTC will need to adapt its mission to the demands and needs of higher education in northwest Minnesota to assure enrollment stays up. More use of interactive television and Internet learning, a cost-effective way to use limited resources, must also be utilized more but at the expense of quality of education. Some new programs may need to be added, and some other ones dropped if they don't meet the academic mission.

"To be successful, we must sharpen our focus and begin resetting our academic vision and institutional profile. Ultimately, our effectiveness will depend on our ability to recalibrate our programs and services, ensuring they are distinctive, sustainable and innovative," according to a BSU budget document.

Even with a more conservative Legislature, we hope that lawmakers realize that investing in higher education becomes increasingly important as Minnesota retools for the post-recession economy, and a strong BSU/NTC are needed in northwest Minnesota.