After years of scrimping, state-supported colleges and universities have a little money to spend again.
Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, who chairs the House Higher Education Finance Committee, says the bill allows the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System some breathing room.
"There's no way you could have done better when you have a system that was decimated and you're also trying to keep the students and the systems operative and the grant program going," he said on the House floor on Monday. "We don't want Bonehead University, we want MnSCU and the University of Minnesota and that's what we got in this bill and I thank you for your support."
The spending plan passed with considerable bipartisan support. The House passed if 127-to-7. Approval in the Senate was unanimous.
"We've worked with students to try to control the price of textbooks, we've funded the G.I. Bill, and we've kept tuition to reasonably low increases," said Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul.
Most students at Minnesota's public colleges and universities will see about a 4-percent tuition increase next year. That would be the lowest tuition increase in at least a decade. Tuition for some students at the U of M would increase by 2.5 percent next year. That number only applies to in-state, undergraduate students whose family income is below $150,000.
Republican legislators failed to get a tuition freeze included. Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, says the state doesn't have enough money to keep the increase lower.
"It's not going to be a zero increase, but hopefully it's going to be an affordable increase for students," Robling said.
MnSCU gets $151 million in new money. The University of Minnesota receives $173.5 million.
"We think it's a good bill. It's a little weaker in the second year of the biennium. It does put some challenges on the university with respect to tuition. But it really is a good bill for higher education after some pretty serious cuts a few years ago," said Richard Pfutzenreuter, the chief financial officer for the university of Minnesota.
This is the Legislature's second try with the higher education bill. Gov. Pawlenty vetoed the first version. He called it "uninspired and lacking reform." That bill shorted Pawlenty's ACHIEVE scholarship program for high school students who take tougher courses. This time around, legislators allowed $10 million for ACHIEVE, still far short of the governor's original request of nearly $80 million.
The governor also wanted to link state funding to performance. Toward that end, lawmakers provided a 1-percent bump for each of the state systems. To get the money, MnSCU would need to boost the number of science, technology and math students and those taking online courses. The U of M would have to maintain grant income from the National Science Foundation and increase financial support for students.
A spokesman for the governor says Pawlenty's signature is not a sure thing. He says the governor is weighing how well the bill delivers on meeting education performance goals, increases student readiness for college and stays within overall spending.