MnSCU makes plans to cope with possible government shutdown

MnSCU's offices in St. Paul
Officials with the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system say they're determined to offer classes to their students in the event of a state government shutdown.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

Officials with the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system say they're determined to offer classes to their students in the event of a state government shutdown.

But that will depend on whether MnSCU has access to tuition revenue and reserve funds, money that's controlled by the state.

If not, MnSCU itself will close, putting thousands of employees out of work and locking tens of thousands of students out of their classrooms.

The threat of a July 1 state government shutdown is growing closer because Repbulican lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton still haven't agreed on a budget.

For MnSCU chancellor James McCormick, the first priority for the systems 32 campuses should be to operate normally, even if state government shuts down.

"We will do everything we can, because we are a student first organization, to meet the expectations and the needs of students," McCormick said. "It has quite serious implications if we don't stay open, for many of these students."

McCormick spoke to the MnSCU board of trustees today during an emergency meeting called to discuss the implications of a state shutdown.

Even the threat of a shutdown has implications, said Richard Davenport, president of Minnesota State University at Mankato.

Davenport told the board students are being scared away.

"We know by personal accounts on all the campuses that we're losing students today to our neighboring states, like Wisconsin, North Dakota and Iowa," Davenport said. "We're concerned about that because when we lose those students, those students will probably not come back across the border."

If the state government shuts downs, it doesn't automatically mean MnSCU will close its doors.

MnSCU officials say even without state aid, they could use revenue from tuition and reserve funds to operate normally through the rest of the summer and into the fall term if necessary.

The problem is that the state acts as a bank for MnSCU and holds that money in a special account.

MnSCU officials want the state to give them access to that money in the event of a state shutdown, said, Laura King, the system's chief financial officer. The state hasn't responded to that request.

"We're awaiting an answer from Minnesota Management and Budget and the governor, and we're hopeful when we get an answer it'll be positive," King said.

MnSCU didn't have to deal with this in 2005, since higher education was funded and not part of the state's partial shutdown that year.

If there is a shutdown and MnSCU can't get to its cash, then colleges and universities would close.

With that in mind, MnSCU plans to send out 6,000 layoff notices to employees on Friday, more than a third of the workforce. It's a warning for non-faculty employees that they could be laid off if MnSCU shuts down.

MnSCU could declare a financial emergency later in the month as well, that would allow them to lay off tenured faculty, without the nine-month notices stipulated in their contracts.

But workers would challenge such a move, said Don Larsson, who heads up a union representing MnSCU faculty across the state.

"This is something we have to talk about and it has to be answered by the lawyers," Larsson said. "Our contract as written doesn't have provisions that specifically allow for this kind of emergency layoff situation."

How students are affected by a potential MnSCU shutdown depends entirely on how long it might last.

It would mean missed classes for the 67,000 students signed up for summer courses, whether on-line or in a classroom. It also could play havoc with the registration and financial aid for the 100,000 students preparing to attend MnSCU colleges in the fall.

That concerns students like Jaycob Martin of Eagan, who is taking classes this summer at Dakota County Technical College.

"I'm worried about whether or not I'm going to be able to continue with classes - whether or not my classes will be shut down, whether my school will be shut down," said Martin, 30. "Am I going to be able to graduate on time?"

Martin is supposed to graduate in December with a degree in multimedia and web design.

At the end of their emergency meeting today, the MnSCU board of trustees passed a motion declaring the system will do what it can to stay open during a shutdown. A resolution to stay open is one thing, but even MnSCU officials still aren't certain if that's possible.

EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the number of MnSCU students signed up for summer courses as 47,000. The current figure is correct.

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