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State Representative Gene Pelowski Jr.

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100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
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For more information contact: Mike Molzahn 651-296-1774

Posted: 2017-05-03
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Guest Column

Republicans’ Higher Education bill will Raise Tuition and Increase Student Debt


In a time of surplus Minnesota's legislature should not underfund higher education. In early April the Minnesota House Republican Majority passed their higher education budget, which came in $169 million below what Governor Dayton had requested. It also came $84 million under the MN State Budget system request and $125 million under the University of Minnesota Budget System Request. Now, the Minnesota Republican House and Senate Majorities released their joint budget number. Unfortunately, things have gotten worse for Minnesota’s students: $40 million worse. Instead of working with the Governor to stop tuition increases, the legislative majorities are now proposing nearly $200 million less for higher education than what Governor Dayton had requested and $100 million under the MN State request and $129 million under what the University of Minnesota requested.

If the Republican proposal became law, Winona State University would be underfunded by $4,649,000 and Minnesota State College SE $1,134,000 and find themselves in a very precarious position. Winona State alone would need to cut roughly 50 faculty members or 80 staff members. Both the short term health of WSU & MSCSE and the long term viability of our state college and university system is at stake. The ongoing structural imbalance to MN State could be negative $169 million. This will result in cutting programs for teachers when there is a teacher shortage, cutting programs for nurses when there is a high demand for health care professionals and cutting programs for trained workers when Minnesota is need of trained workers in every field. This disinvestment will threaten Minnesota’s ability to meet the future workforce needs of our state.

Saint Mary's University will also be impacted by this lack of investment in Minnesota's State Grant Program. Governor Dayton's Higher Education Budget invested $62 million in additional funds for the State Grant Program, while the Republican investment is merely $18.5 million.

The President of the University of Minnesota said the Republican’s budget would increase tuition up to 5% each of the next two years for students at University of Minnesota campuses. There will be tuition increases for four year students attending Minnesota State universities. Underfunding education will lead to increasing tuition, which is putting a tax on the backs of students in Minnesota in a time of surplus.

The amount of student debt now outnumbers the amount of credit card debt in the nation. Minnesota students have suffered record tuition increases starting from the time that the legislature began cutting budgets during the great recession. Minnesota is now fourth and fifth in the nation in the amount of debt students carry and the number of students that carry debt respectively. Minnesota should be proud of leading the nation in a lot of things, but student debt isn’t one of them.

The Republican majority’s education proposal not only underfunds higher education, it has numerous unfunded mandates. When the House passed their bill it had money to pay for freezing tuition for two year students in the MN State system. While the mandate to freeze tuition continues to be in the bill, there’s no money dedicated to pay for freezing their tuition. Mandates like that will increase costs for colleges and universities, resulting in programming cuts, layoffs, and even higher tuition for students. We have a budget surplus. The legislature shouldn’t increase costs for universities, increase tuition, or continue to cripple students with record debt. 

Rep. Pelowski (DFL-Winona) Chaired the House Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee in 1987-88 and 2013-14.  

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