College officials expect deep cuts in higher education funding

Minnesota State University Mankato
Minnesota State University campus in Mankato.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

The future of the state's higher education budget is on the agenda at a hearing Tuesday at the Capitol, and College officials fear deep cuts in state funding in the next three years.

Warren Sandmann knows the talk of tough budgets for Minnesota colleges isn't something that's going to go away soon. Sandmann is associate vice president of academic affairs at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

"This current budget situation is not just essentially a hiccup. This is the new reality," Sandmann said.

The new reality for colleges in Minnesota is less money from the state. Lawmakers are likely to cut higher education funding in the next fiscal year by tens of millions of dollars, to make up for a $1.2 billion budget shortfall. In the following years, the base funding for higher education is expected to be cut even more.

To deal with that uncertain budget future, MSU Mankato has developed a list of academic programs that may be cut over the next few years. Aviation, computer science and some undergraduate music programs top the list. Sandmann says now it's up to those programs to argue for their future.

"They're being asked to essentially argue on behalf of their programs in terms of the program quality, the program mission, and the program importance to the state of Minnesota," Sandmann said.

At Mankato State alone, Sandmann said the college will need to cut anywhere from $12 to $20 million in FY 2012 and 2013.

"This current budget situation is not just essentially a hiccup. This is the new reality."

Officials at St. Cloud State University expect similar budget troubles, and they're also considering which programs might be cut to save money. SCSU President Earl Potter isn't ready to identify specific programs that could face cuts, but he said deans at the college are putting together a list of potential options.

"We will work through open campus conversations about what the picture is shaping up to look like, and we'll come to final decisions in March," Potter said.

That's the same process Minnesota State University Moorhead went through last year. Three programs that weren't bringing in enough revenue to support their costs are being phased out now. They include a master's in community counseling, a program in public health services, and a three-year Bachelor of Science degree.

Jean Hollaar, the planning and budget officer at Moorhead State, said those adjustments, along with dozens of early retirements at the school, helped put them in a better position to face future budget challenges.

"We're certainly not there. We're certainly not prepared with a balanced budget for 2012," Hollaar said. "There's a lot of these strategies and things we've been doing over the last year and a half that need to come together, but we're well on our path to being able to do it. And we still really do believe we'll do it without laying off our employees."

Linda Baer, senior vice chancellor for academic and student affairs for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, knows students, lawmakers and the public will be upset if programs begin to disappear.

"We're coming to the place where we just can't do it all and these are very difficult situations all the way around," Baer said. "It's difficult for faculty who will be laid off because of program closures, but we're trying to make the best of difficult situations."

Leaders at the University of Minnesota have said recently they'll also be taking a close look at which academic programs should stay, and which ones should go, in the coming months.

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