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U, Minnesota State officials response to governor’s higher ed budget? Not enough

A view of the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus. University officials told lawmakers far larger appropriations would be needed that are proposed in Gov. Tim Walz's budget. House Photography file photo

Not nearly enough. That’s how representatives from the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State system responded to Gov. Tim Walz’s proposed higher education budget.

On Tuesday, the state’s commissioner of the Office of Higher Education touted the governor’s proposed increases in higher education funding over the previous biennium to the House Higher Education Finance and Policy Division.

On Wednesday, representatives from the U of M and Minnesota State told the division far larger appropriations would be needed, and that budget and personnel cuts and increased tuition rates may be on the way if the systems are funded at the proposed levels.

Earlier in the legislative session, Minnesota State officials asked for a budget increase of $206 million for the next biennium. But Walz’s proposal is for an increase of $65 million, or about 32 percent of what was requested.

House Higher Education Finance and Policy Division 3/27/19

University of Minnesota leaders seek an $87 million increase in funding over the previous biennium, but the governor’s revised budget calls for only $51 million more, or about 59 percent of the request.

Representatives from both the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State said the budget targets set by the House DFL on Monday are far more palatable, as they propose a total increase of $305 million for higher education. House DFL leaders said they believe the increase would allow a tuition freeze at state-funded colleges and universities.    

“The governor’s budget does not cover the cost of our request, nor the cost of a tuition freeze,” said Laura King, Minnesota State’s vice chancellor for finance and chief financial officer. “With your help, over the past six years, we’ve been able to avoid or hold down tuition increases. Because we only have two sources of revenue, an unfunded tuition freeze means budget cuts for our colleges and universities.”

“Fundamentally, if our resources aren’t sufficient, then we’re closing programs,” King said. “We’re eliminating staffing, we’re slowing down our repair and replacement investments.”

Brian Burnett, the university’s vice president for finance and operations, said that it is confronting the possibility of similar cuts.

“The university will have to make difficult decisions to maintain a balanced budget,” Burnett said. “This funding level is not sufficient for flattening or freezing tuition, and it makes it difficult to enhance support services that students rely on, such as academic counseling and mental health services.

“To close the $36 million gap, we’re going to have to ask our board to consider resident tuition increases slightly above the 2 to 2-1/2 percent originally contemplated in the budget," he continued. "… We’d also have to make more cuts than the biennial total of $33 million that we were already planning to make. And this will result in a loss of staff and faculty positions throughout the university.”

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