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Conference committee work gets underway on omnibus higher ed bill

Conferees began reviewing the differences between the House and Senate versions of the omnibus higher education bill during a meeting April 28. Photo by Paul Battaglia

The biggest difference between the House and Senate versions of the omnibus higher education bill comes down to a $75 million gap in overall spending.

Conferees began reviewing the differences between the House and Senate versions of HF993/SF975* Wednesday, with a side-by-side comparison of both proposals outlined by nonpartisan fiscal and research staff. They are scheduled to meet again Thursday.

Overall, the House bill would add $120 million in higher education spending during the 2022-23 biennium for a total of $3.53 billion. In comparison, the Senate’s $3.45 billion proposal would provide $45 million in new investments.

Funding for colleges and universities

The largest investments in both bills would go to bolster operations, maintenance and programs at the state’s colleges and universities.

The House bill would provide the Minnesota State system an additional $68.6 million over base for a total 2022-23 biennial budget of $1.6 billion. The Senate would provide $25 million over base, for a total appropriation of $1.55 billion.

Likewise, for the University of Minnesota, the House would provide an additional $41.2 million over base for a total appropriation of $1.4 billion. The Senate also proposes increased funding to the tune of $13.3 million, for a total appropriation of $1.36 billion.

Tuition rates and student basic needs

Several policy provisions within the bills deal with similar issues but offer substantially different solutions.

For example, both the House and Senate aim to address tuition rates at Minnesota State colleges and universities. The Senate language would require Minnesota State to reduce tuition by 5% in 2021-22 and 2022-23 academic years. It would direct the Board of Trustees to use federal funds to cover the costs rather than offset tuition relief by increases in mandatory fees, charges, or other assessments to students.

Unlike the Senate version, the House bill would not lower tuition, but it would require Minnesota State to freeze undergraduate tuition during the same time frame at both state colleges and state universities.

Additionally, both bills contain several provisions to address student basic needs through the Hunger-Free Campus Act program but differ significantly in how they identify which campuses would be eligible to receive the designation of a Hunger-Free Campus, and how much funding would go toward supporting the program. 

Despite differences, conferees made headway during their first meeting by adopting 10 policy items that share similar or identical language, including provisions to exclude developmental education from counting against the eight semester cap on state grant awards.

Appropriations included the House proposal but absent from the Senate version include:

  • $4.5 million to establish and award Aspiring Teachers of Color Scholarships;
  • $2 million for the University of Minnesota’s Natural Resources Research Institute;
  • $500,000 to support four physicians enrolled in an Addiction Medicine Graduate Medical Education Fellowship at the Hennepin County Medical Center; and
  • $400,000 to establish a career and technical education pilot program led by Winona State University and Minnesota State College Southeast.

Provisions included the Senate proposal but absent from the House version include:

  • $4 million to establish and fund the Fostering Independence in Higher Education grant program for individuals who are, or were, in foster care to attend a postsecondary institution;
  • requiring Minnesota State to establish mental health awareness programs at all schools by the 2022-23 academic year; and
  • requiring Minnesota State to award onetime faculty COVID-19 risk stipends to instructors, including adjunct and part-time instructors who taught in person during the spring 2021 semester in which students were present.

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