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Omnibus higher ed bill gets $200K boost for student mental health, committee approval

The omnibus higher education bill cleared its first hurdle Wednesday when it was approved by the House Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee on a 13-4 vote. It now heads to the House Ways and Means Committee.

Prior to approval, a handful of amendments were adopted, including an amendment from the bill’s sponsor Rep. Connie Bernardy (DFL-New Brighton), which aims to bolster funding for student mental health services.

The amendment reallocated $273,000 from the Office of Higher Education agency administrative budget, in turn, transferring $200,000 to the Minnesota State operations and maintenance appropriation to be used for mental health services for students. The remaining $73,000 would go to support Hunger Free Campus Grants.

Rep. Tony Albright (R-Prior Lake) successfully offered an amendment that would modify a proposed career and technical educator pilot project to be tested by Winona State University and Minnesota State College Southeast. 

The amendment would allow each institution to offer an additional area of study or certification — not specifically outlined in the bill — based on a workforce shortage for full-time employment that is unique to the institution's specific region. A verbal amendment was made prior to its adoption, removing changes to credit requirements.

Rep. Marion O'Neill (R-Maple Lake) expressed strong opposition to a measure that would appropriate $1 million to create and implement a direct admission pilot program. It would automatically offer eligible public high school seniors conditional admission to Minnesota State colleges and universities.

She unsuccessfully offered an amendment to remove the pilot program from the bill and reallocate those funds, and then some, to additional mental health services at Minnesota State campuses and to concurrent enrollment programs.

“I have had concerns since we first heard about the direct admissions program, the deeper I got into it – the more I read about it, the more I learned about it — the less I liked it,” she said. “I just think that we’re adding another layer of government that is completely unnecessary.”

O’Neill said she opposes the bill particularly due to that component, but also due to the requirement that Minnesota State must freeze undergraduate tuition for the 2021-22 and the 2022-23 academic years at both state colleges and state universities.

The companion, SF975, was approved by the Senate Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee Tuesday and awaits action by the Senate Finance Committee. Sen. David Tomassoni (I-Chisholm) is the sponsor.

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