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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Michael Nelson (DFL)

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Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Last week the House of Representatives passed a Higher Education bill that again underfunds both the MNSCU and University of Minnesota systems. This bill restores only half the cuts made by the Legislature in the last budget, guaranteeing further tuition increases of anywhere from 16% to 20% over the next two years. On many campuses this will be six straight years of double-digit hikes. It also blocks future increases based on rising enrollment, leading to further tuition hikes and program cuts. The bill is a mistake, and I voted against it. Tuition at Hennepin Technical College and North Hennepin Community College has already risen by 15% in each of the last two years. Under this bill they will continue to need large tuition increases for the foreseeable future. Increasing this burden on our students is a move in the wrong direction. The most important resource that any economy has is its people. Nothing is more crucial for future prosperity, attracting business investment, and creating high paying jobs than making sure that the workforce in a state is highly skilled and well educated. Here in Minnesota, we have traditionally excelled in that area. For years we made sure that our colleges and universities were among the best in the nation and that the University of Minnesota was among the world’s great research institutions. This excellence has been threatened in recent years. As we continue to balance state budgets on the backs of our students, we encourage them to leave the state for their education, and we discourage talent from other states from coming to Minnesota. We are allowing states with the wisdom to invest in their universities to take away our best young minds, who will go where they can find the best programs for the best price. Under this bill, we are offering our young people more debt for a worse education. In addition, our colleges and universities are economic drivers. With strong investment, we can continue to ensure that top science and top research is conducted in Minnesota. This attracts businesses, which benefit from the opportunities to work with experts on the cutting edge of technological progress. If we begin to lose those experts, we can expect the businesses and jobs to follow. Throughout the process, I have worked to improve this bill, and there are some good parts to it, such as improvements to state financial aid formulas. However, the package as a whole remains woefully inadequate. As a state, we are faced with a choice between excellence and mediocrity. Investing in an excellent higher education system will produce excellent professionals, excellent jobs, and an excellent business climate. Making mediocre investments will lead to declining investment, a loss of our top students, and a weakening of economic opportunity, but that is the choice that the House made today by passing this Higher Education bill. [30]