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To close funding gap, Minnesota State seeks $54 million

Unfinished business has been a recurring theme in legislation being debated this session. Several measures passed by the House in 2019 that didn’t make it out of conference committees are being brought forth again.

But HF3087, a bill sponsored by Rep. Dan Wolgamott (DFL-St. Cloud), might be the first one this session that’s entirely designed to close a funding gap between what was proposed last year and what was enacted.

The beneficiary would be the Minnesota State system, which asked the state for $167.5 million last year and received $113.3 million. The $54.2 million difference would be made up by HF3087.

Approved Wednesday by the House Higher Education Finance and Policy Division, it was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee. The bill has no Senate companion.

The $54.2 million appropriation for Fiscal Year 2021 would be divided into $39.7 million for tuition relief and campus support, while $14.5 million would go toward NextGen, an upgrade of Minnesota State’s Integrated Statewide Record System.

If the full supplemental budget request is adopted, it would allow the Minnesota State Board of Trustees to hold undergraduate tuition at current levels, according to Steve Ernest, Minnesota State’s system director for financial planning and analysis. And that was a key point for testifiers at Wednesday’s meeting.

“In 2019, the state of Minnesota failed our students,” Wolgamott said. “We failed our faculty. We failed to keep tuition low at our state colleges and universities. … We can do better, and we need to do better. … Without these resources, our state colleges all across Minnesota have had and will have no choice but to make significant cuts to their co-curricular and academic programming.”

Hamisha Alkamooneh, student body president of Metropolitan State University and board member of Students United, said tuition went up 3% at six of the seven Minnesota State universities this year and 4.2% at St. Cloud State University.

“Another tuition hike is another student dropping out,” she said. “It’s another year of skipping meals. It’s a third or fourth job. It’s a choice between smart financial management and a college degree.”

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