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Pioneer Editorial: Don't limit higher education to the wealthy elite

The Minnesota State Colleges and University system consists of 32 technical colleges and universities.

If they were to shut down July 1 along with other government agencies because of a state budget impasse between Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislators, summer-school students would be deprived of classes they need for their programs. Backed by his DFL supporters, Dayton wants to raise income taxes on the richest 2 percent of Minnesotans, while Republicans are determined to hold the line on spending without raising revenue.

Dayton suggested MnSCU colleges and universities could be supported by funding from Minnesota Management and Budget if the courts rule in favor of that solution.

Otherwise, the shutdown would include about 2,500 Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College students. More than 1,000 instructors, professors and staff also would be laid off for the duration of the shutdown.

BSU and NTC offer unique attributes and opportunities.

BSU's advertising logo is "The Lake, The Learning, The Life," and is the only Minnesota university situated on a major lake. BSU also has offered American Indian studies longer than other Minnesota universities.

BSU has traditionally offered higher education to a large percentage of students who are the first in their families to attend college or university. These students are more likely to succeed in the small format classes that allow professors to get to know students rather than in large lecture hall formats.

MnSCU technical colleges graduate 90 percent of new mechanics, 84 percent of construction majors, 85 percent of law enforcement and 83 percent of nurses. These colleges offer one-of-a-kind programs such as unmanned aircraft systems, stringed instrument repair, gunsmithing and wind energy technology.

NTC itself is known nationwide for its high-performance engine courses.

The MnSCU system gives students with a variety of interests, diversity of backgrounds and modest means to attain degrees. As BSU professor Brian Donovan noted during a meeting of BSU faculty and legislators Wednesday, the MnSCU philosophy opens higher learning opportunities to everyone, rather than limiting it to the elite few who gain entry because of wealth and family connections.

The 14 percent across-system cuts in funding in the current Omnibus Higher Education Appropriations Bill - on top of the already mandated $5.2 million cuts to BSU, and subsequent loss of 33 faculty members - would result in tuition hikes of 2 to 4 percent per year, elimination of nearly 6,000 courses and denial of enrollment to an unknown number of potential students.

These scenarios would greatly damage Minnesota's competitive edge and explode the dreams of countless people both young and old.