Bill cuts funding for higher education by 10%

University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus
The University of Minnesota's Twin Cities campus.
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

In the next two years the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system will each receive a little over a billion dollars in state aid, 10 percent less than they received in the previous two years.

But the colleges will see more money than they would have under a Republican-backed proposal that Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed in the spring. After Dayton and Republican Legislative leaders agreed to a budget framework to end a state government shutdown, a special session of the Minnesota Legislature was called to order Tuesday.

Among the bills Dayton and legislative leaders have agreed to is one that funds higher education. The $2.6 billion dollar bill cuts funding by 8.8 percent over current levels.

Besides specifying funding levels, the bill caps tuition for some students, and requires colleges to meet certain performance goals to earn all of their state funds.

The bill adds $60 million dollars to the Republican proposal. It directs $50 million to the University of Minnesota and $10 million to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

The extra money won't make much of a difference, MnSCU spokesperson Linda Kohl said.

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"If you take that divide it into our 31 institutions, it's not a whole lot of money for any one institution," Kohl said. "Sure, it's better than not having it."

Kohl says presidents at MnSCU colleges over the last year have prepared for funding cuts, having laid off employees and ending programs.

At the U of M, administrators set their current budget on funding outlined in the Republican proposal, something they considered the "worst case scenario."

They promised to use a portion of any additional money above those levels to lower the cost of tuition for students. The U of M administration expects to increase tuition an average of 5 percent in the fall.

But any tuition relief will be put off for next year, U of M President Eric Kaler said.

"It's difficult for us to get the budgetary machinery up and done in time for the fall. so it will be something we'll roll out later in the biennium," Kaler said.

One change meets Kaler's approval: earlier versions of the bill banned human cloning in Minnesota, something university officials feared would put an end to stem cell research at the school. That restriction has been removed.

The new version also contains provisions aimed to stabilize the rising cost of tuition. One measure recommends public colleges consider a plan to charge students the same amount of tuition each year while earning a two or four-year degree.

The bill also caps tuition increases at 4 percent for students at Minnesota's two-year colleges for the 2012-2013 school year.

"It's going to provide predictability to students and families when they're planning on how they're going to pay for their education," said Geoff Dittberner, president of the Minnesota State College Students Association, pleased by that measure.

The bill lays out performance goals for the state's two public college systems. The goals differ between the U of M and MnSCU, but generally deal with increasing diversity, graduation rates, online classes and financial aid. One percent of each of the systems' funding next year would be dependent on meeting those benchmarks.

Officials at both the U of M and MnSCU expect to meet those goals without difficulty.