On November 3, Demand Affordable Universities
This letter is paid content. Some of the unsung heroes of this COVID pandemic are college students. Since March, the pandemic has blown a hole in their college experience. They have had to write papers at home, while taking care of their families. They have been front-line workers—cashiers, home care assistants, nurses—while juggling their classes. Homecomings and hockey games have been put on hold, but their papers and tests haven’t.
Anyone who works with college students can tell you about the resilience and spirit they’ve shown since March. They are doing their part. It is time to demand that Minnesota’s lawmakers do theirs.
Unfortunately, Minnesota hasn’t been giving its college students a fair shake for some time. In 1980, the state of Minnesota paid 81% of the cost of instructing a college student at a Minnesota State university. The rest was paid for by scholarships or out of the student’s own pocket (tuition). Adjusting for inflation, a year’s tuition cost about $2,225 in 1980.
Today, the state of Minnesota pays only 50% of the cost of instruction at Minnesota State universities. Minnesota’s lawmakers control the funding of Minnesota State; and they have authorized increase after increase to Bemidji State’s tuition.
A year’s tuition is now over $8,000. That’s below the national average, but gone are the days of paying off tuition with a decent summer job. Many of my students juggle multiple jobs. They and their families are often forced to go into debt for the rest of the cost of instruction.
The cost to them, and to Minnesota, is profound. The average college student in Minnesota will graduate with tens of thousands of dollars in debt. When a college graduate starts their career with that burden, they postpone buying that first house, starting that new business or investing in that new idea.
A college education is still one of the best investments a student can make in their future, but it should come with a fair price tag. A few months ago, my union’s board (representing Minnesota State University faculty) voted to forego negotiating for pay raises. Minnesota State’s trustees voted to cancel tuition increases, tightening their belts once again. We are willing to do our part, to take the financial pressure off our students and their families.
It is time for lawmakers who are prepared to do their part. Alan Roy (Senate District 2) and Rita Albrecht (Senate District 5) want to make universities affordable again. Roy and Albrecht are both endorsed by the Inter-Faculty Organization, because they understand that affordable education equips the next generation to start families, buy homes and build businesses.
Just last year, both of their Republican opponents voted for unfunded mandates that would have further reduced campus budgets across Minnesota State by $60 million, and supported tuition increases for Bemidji’s students and their families. The choice could not be clearer—and it is time to choose affordable universities. Let’s send Alan Roy and Rita Albrecht to Minnesota’s Senate.
Dennis Lunt, PhD is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Bemidji State University. Dr. Lunt’s views are his own and are not meant to represent those of Bemidji State University.