Should Minnesota public colleges prioritize fixing or building?

I've just done a piece on an interesting discussion going around the legislature's higher-ed circles about what to do with the limited money that the state has for campus improvements to state-run colleges and universities (including the U).

The main issue:

  • Do we spend it on the huge backlog of maintenance and repair projects?

  • Or do we invest more in modernization and new facilities?

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  • What kind of balance do we strike considering the limited funding we have?

Invest too little in maintenance, and you could have an even more expensive (and messy) set of repairs on your hands. Invest too little in modernization, and in a few years you've got antiquated facilities.

(The key acronym you'll hear in discussions is HEAPR, or Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement. It's the state program to fund repairs and maintenance of campus facilities, and the question is how much to fund it. I don't use it in my piece because we try to avoid acronyms in reporting when we can.)

DFL Rep. Terry Morrow of St. Peter told me he's afraid that at the end of the debate, colleges won't get enough of either type of funding.

What didn't make it into the online version (but is at the end of my radio piece) is a suggestion by DFL Rep. Gene Pelowski of Winona:

Try to get private industry to fund modernization and construction of facilities that will be training the workers who end up on their payrolls.

After all, taxpayers are now subsidizing training that many industries used to do themselves.

That gets back to an issue I've reported on a number of times: How active a role should industry play in the training of its own workforce?