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Walz proposes $149 million increase in higher education funding — with some program cuts

A view of the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus. House Photography file photo
A view of the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus. House Photography file photo

Big ticket items within Gov. Tim Walz’s higher education budget proposal include funding increases for the state’s public colleges and universities, as well as a program to help workers impacted by COVID-19.

The House Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee received a presentation on the postsecondary education portion of Walz’s COVID-19 Recovery Budget Wednesday.

Dennis Olson, commissioner of the Office of Higher Education, said the governor’s budget seeks to respond to the impacts of the pandemic in a way that provides support to those who have been most significantly impacted.

House Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee 02/17/21

“It strengthens and expands existing programs, as well as creating new initiatives that will help more Minnesotans access and complete a postsecondary education,” he said.

The proposal would provide $149.6 million in increased higher education funding for the 2022-23 biennium. The largest share would go to support the state’s public institutions’ operating and maintenance costs, with the Minnesota State system receiving, $63.5 million and the University of Minnesota receiving $46.5 million.

Noting there are significantly more students within the Minnesota State system, Rep. Marion O'Neill (R-Maple Lake) questioned why the University of Minnesota’s budget request was fully met, whereas the Minnesota State appropriation is less than half of its request. 

Olson indicated that new workforce reskilling grants would largely support students who are attending Minnesota State programs and aligns with a request the system made for scholarship program development.

Other 2022-23 appropriations would include:

  • $35 million workforce and reskilling grants;
  • $6.3 million for the State Grant Program;
  • $5.4 million for teacher candidate grant increases and modifications;
  • $2.43 million for secondary student learning and college preparation;
  • $1.3 million emergency assistance for students; and
  • $1 million for the direct admissions program.

To offset some of the increases, Olson said the proposal includes cuts to programs, such as a $6 million reduction for spinal cord and traumatic brain injury grants, $5 million for interstate tuition reciprocity and $750,000 for large animal veterinarian loan forgiveness.

Members had several questions and concerns pertaining to the direct admissions program and the proposed budget cuts — particularly in regard to the $6 million reduction for spinal cord and traumatic brain injury grants.

While the program is important and has been successful, Olson said, “It is not 100% mission aligned with our agency. We’re hoping to work with the committee, as with other stakeholders, to find a more appropriate home for that research grant.”

In response, Matthew Roderick, executive director of Unite to Fight Paralysis, implored the governor to reconsider and identified areas he believes the program is mission-aligned, “Particularly the one in the governor’s budget of retaining world-class faculty at the University of Minnesota and other institutions, that’s actually what this program is doing.”

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