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Omnibus higher education bill increases funding for institutions, freezes tuition for some

Students on the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus. House Photography file photo

Many college students and postsecondary institutions have been particularly hard hit by the unprecedented events of the past year.

The omnibus higher education bill is a collaborative effort to respond to the challenges those students and institutions faced as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to Rep. Connie Bernardy (DFL-New Brighton), the bill’s sponsor.

The House Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee received a walkthrough of, and testimony on, a delete-all amendment to HF993 Tuesday. The committee plans to take additional testimony and review amendments Wednesday.

The companion, SF975, awaits action by the Senate Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee. Sen. David Tomassoni (I-Chisholm) is the sponsor.

“I’m proud of the package our committee crafted together to serve students now and in the future,” Bernardy said. “Minnesota students deserve the opportunity to achieve their dreams and provide economic security for themselves and their families. In our budget, we are investing in Minnesotans so they can thrive and emerge stronger post COVID-19.”

The bill would provide $120 million in increased higher education funding for the 2022-23 biennium, for a total of $3.53 billion in state funding. The largest share would primarily go to support the state’s public institutions’ operating and maintenance costs, with the Minnesota State system receiving $68.4 million and the University of Minnesota receiving $41.75 million.

The State Grant Program, which is utilized by more than 75,000 low- and middle-income students, would receive an additional $6.3 million during the biennium, for a total appropriation of $421.1 million during fiscal years 2022-23.

[MORE: View the spreadsheet]

Pointing to a provision that would require Minnesota State to freeze undergraduate tuition for the 2021-22 and the 2022-23 academic years at both state colleges and state universities, Rep. Marion O'Neill (R-Maple Lake) asked how it would impact the system’s bottom line and budgeting process.

Bill Maki, vice chancellor for finance and facilities at Minnesota State, explained that state appropriations and tuition comprise the majority of the system’s revenue and help ensure the colleges and universities can offer programs and services to meet students’ needs.

“Given this, the tuition freeze in both years of the biennium is a concern of ours,” he said. “Federal funding will help us in the short term, but having an unfunded tuition freeze without a permanent revenue stream will provide a difficulty to fund ongoing costs in the future.”

The state is expected to receive $552 million for higher education from the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, but Myron Frans, senior vice president of finance and operations at the University of Minnesota, said restrictions on how the federal funding is used has made it more difficult to use that money to address pandemic-related shortfalls. He encouraged lawmakers to meet the institution’s full request of $46.5 million.

“We appreciate the funding,” he said. “But the funding that you have provided we believe does not fully fund our request, and with some consequential impacts placed on our students and employees across the system.”

Other notable appropriations increases for the 2022-23 biennium include:

  • $4.9 million for grants to underrepresented teacher candidates;
  • $4.5 million for aspiring Teachers of Color Act scholarships;
  • $1.43 million for postsecondary summer enrichment programs;
  • $1.3 million for Minnesota Workforce Stabilization Grants;
  • $1 million for emergency assistance for postsecondary students; and
  • $1 million for a new direct admissions program.

Notable policy provisions would:

  • prohibit schools from attaching transcript releases to payment of student debts;
  • expand the existing hunger-free campus designation to eligible state universities, University of Minnesota campuses, and private nonprofit postsecondary institutions; 
  • create a new, non-statutory pilot program to automatically offer conditional state college or university admittance to eligible graduating high school seniors; and
  • direct Winona State University to partner with Minnesota State College Southeast to develop a teacher preparation program leading to licensure within the career and technical education field.

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What’s in the bill?

The following are selected bills that have been incorporated in part or in whole into the omnibus higher education finance bill:

 


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