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Higher Education

Higher education bill passed by House, Senate

published 7/19/2011
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Given the opportunity for a retake, the Legislature adopted — and Gov. Mark Dayton is expected to give a passing grade to — an omnibus higher education finance bill that contains double-digit percentage reductions for the state’s public institutions of higher learning.

The nearly $2.57 billion bill is $60 million greater than what the Legislature proposed in May, but is still about $351 million below base funding. Dayton’s initial plan called for a $170.9 million base reduction. It was passed 71-57 by the House and 35-30 by the Senate.

“Fifty million was added to the appropriation for the University of Minnesota, $9.7 million was added to the appropriation for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system and $257,000 was added to the Office of Higher Education funding the agency appropriation,” said Rep. Bud Nornes (R-Fergus Falls), who sponsors HF4*/ SF5 with Senate President Michelle Fischbach (R-Paynesville).

Overall, the total higher education spending is reduced 8.8 percent from the previous biennium. Both the University of Minnesota and MnSCU will receive approximately $1.09 billion from the General Fund: a 15.1 percent reduction from forecast base for the university and 13.5 percent for MnSCU. In terms of reductions from the 2010-2011 biennium, it is 10.4 percent for the university and 10.6 percent for MnSCU.

One percent of fiscal year 2013 university and MnSCU funding will be contingent on meeting three of five specific criteria, including MnSCU increasing the enrollment of students of color by at least 10 percent compared to fiscal year 2010 and increasing persistence and completion rates for students entering in the fall of 2009 and 2010. For the university the criteria includes increasing institutional financial aid so it is greater in fiscal year 2012 than it was in fiscal year 2010 and producing at least 13,500 degrees on all campuses in fiscal year 2012.

The state grant program would see an additional $21 million, a 7.3 percent increase. The House initially proposed increasing base funding for the state grant program by $27.1 million; the Senate $7.2 million and the governor kept state grant funding at base levels. There is a 3.1 percent increase in work-study programs, and stable funding is provided for child care assistance grants that help students who have children to continue their education.

Rep. Terry Morrow (DFL-St. Peter) noted studies indicate that 85 percent of Minnesota’s workforce in 2020 will need to be college educated. He said this bill could price college at an unattainable level for many Minnesotans who come from cash-strapped families.

For example, he said a university undergraduate could face a $1,300 tuition increase under this bill. “Not only are you threatening to price out students, and price out their families by making historically large cuts, we’re also cancelling thousands and thousands and thousands of classes, cutting faculty and staff.”

Proposed tuition increase caps did not make the final product, except for the MnSCU community and technical colleges, which cannot increase tuition by more than 4 percent in the 2012-2013 academic year.

The MnSCU Board of Trustees and university’s Board of Regents are encouraged to offer an optional tuition plan for undergraduate Minnesota students with the goal of holding tuition constant at the rate charged in the first semester.

Prohibiting the use of state or federal funds, for state programs, to support human cloning or for expenses incidental to human cloning was removed in negotiations between the governor and legislative leaders.

Other finance and policy provisions in the bill include:
• eliminating the state-funded matching grant for low- and middle-income families who participate in the Minnesota College Savings Plan;
• lowering the eligibility age for the senior citizen higher education program from 66 to 62;
• requiring the Office of Higher Education to study the state’s for-profit graduate education sector and report its findings and recommendations for improving graduate education in the area to the Legislature by Jan. 15, 2013; and
• repealing the requirement that public institutions sell American-made clothing and apparel in their bookstores to the extent possible.

- Mike Cook

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