A significant funding increase for the Minnesota State and University of Minnesota systems is a step closer to reality.
On Wednesday, the House passed the omnibus higher education finance bill by a 69-58 party-line vote.
HF2073, as amended, would appropriate $4.16 billion to the state’s public colleges, universities and financial aid programs in the next biennium, an 18.5% increase over current funding levels. The bill now heads to the Senate.
Sponsored by Rep. Gene Pelowski, Jr. (DFL-Winona), the bill would appropriate $1.91 billion to the Minnesota State system, $1.57 billion to the University of Minnesota, and $669.4 million to the Office of Higher Education, which administers the state's financial aid programs. The bill would also send $3.6 million to the Mayo Foundation for its medical school.
“HF2073 makes the largest investment in higher education in my 37 years in the House of Representatives,” Pelowski said. “And it’s at a particularly good time. We have, over the past decade, abused tuition to the point where we have used the students as banks. And every year, we have decided that we can have 3.5% or more in tuition increases. And we’ve reached a point where the students and parents have said that it’s enough."
He continued: “This bill will freeze tuition in the [Minnesota] State system for two years and we’ll pay for it. And this bill provides $48 million to the University of Minnesota over the biennium to deal with one-time funding issues.”
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Higher education is the third-largest portion of the state’s budget behind K-12 education and health and human services.
One amendment was adopted that would increase the base appropriation for safety and security measures on University of Minnesota campuses.
Three other proposed amendments proved unsuccessful in garnering enough votes. One would have commissioned an Office of Higher Education study on enrollment projections in the state’s public postsecondary institutions, while another would have limited the University of Minnesota president’s financial compensation to 350% of the governor’s salary.
Pelowski argued information from such a study is already available, while the compensation issue is best addressed in committee, not a floor amendment.
Also unsuccessful was an amendment designed to institute and fund grant programs for aspiring teachers of color and those pursuing a career in law enforcement. Pelowski said such funding is already in the bill in other forms.
[MORE: Learn more about the bill]
While Rep. Marion O'Neill (R-Maple Lake) praised the bill’s financial aid programs for students who have been in foster care, student living expenses and workforce training scholarships, as well as its grants to Tribal colleges, others from her party said it doesn’t sufficiently address declining enrollments.
“Continuing to increase the spending without acknowledging and adjusting for the declining enrollment is not fiscally responsible,” added House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth (R-Cold Spring).
But Rep. Dan Wolgamott (DFL-St. Cloud) disagreed.
“Years of disinvestment in our colleges and universities have resulted in declining enrollments,” he said. “I’m confident that, with this bill, we will change the game for our students.”
The House also approved a Pelowski-sponsored Office of Higher Education technical and policy bill, HF1126, by a 127-0 vote.