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Conferees take testimony on cuts

Published (5/6/2011)
By Mike Cook
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University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks testifies before the omnibus higher education finance conference committee May 3 about how the proposed funding reductions would affect the university and the state. (Photo by Andrew VonBank)Higher tuition, reduced class offerings and a questionable future.

Those were some of the concerns raised at the May 3 meeting of the omnibus higher education finance conference committee — its first gathering since April 14. No action was taken.

Both the House and Senate plans would reduce spending by $411 million (14.1 percent) from the forecast for the upcoming biennium, and 11 percent from current biennium spending. Sponsored by Rep. Bud Nornes (R-Fergus Falls) and Senate President Michelle Fischbach (R-Paynesville), HF1101*/ SF924 calls for $241 million more in reductions compared to the budget proffered by Gov. Mark Dayton.

The Senate bill calls for an 18.9 percent General Fund reduction to the University of Minnesota; the House, 17.7 percent; and the governor, 6 percent. The respective percentages for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system are 13.3 percent, 15.9 percent and 6 percent. However, the House increases the base funding for the state grant program by $27 million, the Senate $7 million.

“We expect to be part of the solution, but the cuts proposed for fiscal 2012, in my judgment, is way too big, especially on the heels of $190 million that was reduced from the university’s state resources in this current biennium,” said University President Robert Bruininks. He said tuition increases should make up no more than one-third of the solution.

Both bills limit tuition increases at state universities to 4 percent per year. The Senate limits tuition increases at state colleges to 3 percent annually; the House 2 percent. Both also express expectations that tuition increases at the university be limited.

MnSCU Chancellor James McCormick said the system would like some flexibility. “The Board of Trustees and I share the commitment to increasing tuition by no more than 5 percent each year of the biennium. The 5 percent level has been in the planning parameter for our campuses.”

It is estimated that by 2018, 70 percent of all jobs in Minnesota will require a postsecondary education. Some testifiers questioned how that can be met when state funding is proposed to be comparable to 1998.

“How can we grow an economy that is increasing dependent upon higher education by underfunding higher education?” said the Rev. Ted Tollefson, who teaches psychology at Metropolitan State University. “My guess is we can’t do that.”

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