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Minnesota State System of Colleges seeks $350 million from legislative session

The system will present their budget request to the Minnesota State Legislature and focus on three priorities: student support, workforce and economic development, and Minnesota State stabilization.

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Chancellor Devinder Malhotra speaks during a Minnesota State Biennial Budget Listening Session on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022, at BSU's American Indian Resource Center.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI — Following their biennial budget listening session tour this fall, the Minnesota State System of Colleges and Universities has come out with its proposed budget request of $350 million to fund the system’s 26 colleges and seven universities — for which Bemidji State and Northwest Technical College are a part — for the 2024-2025 fiscal year.

After receiving feedback from several campuses across the state, the system will present its request to the Minnesota State Legislature and focus on three priorities: student support, workforce and economic development, and Minnesota State stabilization.

“There were great turn-outs (at the listening sessions),” said Roger Moe, chair of the System’s Board of Trustees. “It was not just faculty, students and support staff, but the community that these campuses serve as well as the employers that benefit from the graduates that we turn out. From that, we developed this budget.”

Student support

In the student support category, $125 million would directly support students’ critical needs with a focus on affordability. Within student support, $77 million would go toward a tuition freeze and expansion of free textbook offerings.

“We’re really focusing on enhancing access, promoting student success and closing educational equity gaps,” Chancellor Devinder Malhotra said. “We’re asking for a tuition freeze because the pandemic has had a big impact on the ability of our students to come back and also for new students to access our institutions.”

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Following a tuition freeze in 2019, Minnesota State colleges and universities have seen 3% tuition increases each year since the 2020 fiscal year.

Outside of the tuition freeze, $26 million would be reserved for expanding student support services, $12 million for transfer scholarships and $10 million for emergency grants.

Malhotra noted several outside factors that contribute to a student’s success in the classroom and wants to position the Minnesota State System as a system that can connect its students with resources relating to housing, food insecurity and mental health issues.

Two resources include Internet hotspots and on-campus food pantries that some campuses currently offer including BSU and NTC.

“We’re fully cognizant that we don’t have the resources to give everybody housing and take care of their medical issues, but what we can do with this investment is create an infrastructure where a student who is experiencing these difficulties, we can link them to those resources,” Malhotra added.

BSU would receive an estimated $427,000 to expand student support services, and nearly 6,000 students would benefit from a tuition freeze and greater access to free textbooks.

NTC would receive about $109,000 to expand student support services with roughly 1,500 students benefiting from a tuition freeze and textbook access.

Workforce and Economic Development

The system is seeking $100 million to address the advancement of the state’s future workforce. All requested state funds within this category would be matched one-to-one with non-state funds — in-kind or cash — particularly for workforce development scholarships.

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“We think (the match) will leverage a couple of million dollars to help train additional workers that are so badly needed across the state,” Moe said. “Everywhere we went (during the listening session tour), we heard ‘give us more teachers, give us more nurses, train us more welders.’ It didn’t make a difference where we went. Workforce issues are all over the state.”

Within the $100 million allotment, $49 million would upgrade college and university equipment and $25.5 million would aim to increase the amount of workforce development scholarships with the remaining $25.5 million reserved for developing and expanding industry sector programming.

“We’re focusing on the overall professionalization of many of our programs, but more importantly on high-demand areas,” Malhotra said regarding health care, public safety, teaching and manufacturing programs.

Minnesota State’s legislative request did not specify allocations for BSU or NTC regarding workforce and economic development funds. However, it detailed that roughly 1,000 NTC students would benefit from state-of-the-art facilities and equipment, workforce scholarships and newly designed programs.

Minnesota State stabilization

In the request, $125 million would aim to maintain academic programs and further address affordable tuition. Keeping inflation in mind, Malhotra noted colleges’ and universities’ reliance on state appropriation to cover significant portions of their general fund operating budgets.

Typically, technical colleges have been funded more by state appropriation while universities are more tuition-funded.

During a Sept. 15 listening session at BSU, vice chancellor for finance and facilities Bill Maki credited state appropriation as a more stable resource compared to tuition and said that there’s a more immediate effect of tuition revenue when enrollment fluctuates at a state university.

“The pandemic has had a significant impact on the system, particularly for universities,” Malhotra said. “Inflation rates are very high, so we want to make sure colleges and universities are appropriately resourced to deliver on what we’re asking them to do.”

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Moe added that the most common theme throughout the listening sessions was the difficulty for institutions to recruit and retain faculty, another consideration when requesting stabilization funds.

BSU would receive close to $4 million in stabilization funding to ensure programs and services remain available with $596,000 allocated to NTC.

In Minnesota State’s 2022-2023 request, the system received $56.4 million of their requested $120 million. The allocation included $45 million for campus support, $3 million for equity and affordability, and $8.4 million for additional legislative-funded priorities.

With hopes that the state legislative session will turn out a favorable outcome, Malhotra emphasized the system’s request as an investment versus a cost.

“This is an investment we’re asking the state to make so we can sustain and expand the middle class,” Malhotra left off. “This investment will ensure every region throughout the state will have the necessary workforce for its continued social and economic vibrancy.”

Daltyn Lofstrom is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on education and community stories.
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