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Release: Minnesota House Advances Higher Education Budget

Monday, April 19, 2021

St. Paul, MN. Today, the Minnesota House of Representatives advanced the higher education budget bill on a vote of 74-59.The legislation continues the House DFL’s commitment to students by proposing strong ongoing investments to Minnesota’s public colleges and universities. 

“In an unprecedented year of a global pandemic, it is no secret our students have been hit especially hard,” said Rep. Connie Bernardy (DFL-New Brighton), chair of the House Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee. “Together we crafted a higher education budget that serves students and families, both now and into the future. We all deserve the opportunity to achieve our dreams and provide economic security for ourselves and our families. We’re investing in Minnesotans, so everyone can thrive and emerge stronger post-pandemic.” 

The higher education budget holds tuition flat at Minnesota State and increases funding to the State Grant Program, impacting over 75,000 students and expanding access to over 3,000 grant applicants. 

Significantly, the higher education budget contains several equity provisions to ensure all Minnesotans have the opportunity to prosper. It prioritizes financial support for people of color and American Indians studying to become teachers, which is an important tool in helping to close the opportunity gap in Minnesota. The bill also contains updates to align the American Indian Scholarship program with other Office of Higher Education scholarship programs that will qualify students for summer term awards and help them graduate faster with less debt. Another provision within the budget requires the Office of Higher Education to report on the transfer movement of students who withdraw from enrollment without completing a degree or credential program. This will provide critical data to help understand the challenges Minnesota students face when transferring or struggling to finish their degree.

“This pandemic has been difficult for everyone, but our students are among the hardest hit,” said House Speaker Melissa Hortman. “Our students deserve the education and job training they need to get jobs with wages and benefits that will support their families. The House DFL budget takes steps to close gaps and ensure our institutions are ready to prepare our students for the workforce of today and the future.” 

In response to student testimony about their challenges this year and the need for more direct support for student health and wellness, the bill makes new ongoing investments in mental health resources and aims to address food-insecurity on our college campuses by incorporating the Hunger Free Campus Act. There are also ongoing investments included in the Z-Degree program to help reduce the cost of textbooks and course materials for students. 

“All Minnesotans deserve access to quality, affordable higher education, especially in a time when the global pandemic has completely altered the way learning takes place,” said Rep. Shelly Christensen (DFL – Stillwater), vice chair of the House Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee. “Our budget reaches out to those who face barriers to higher education, and assists those who are struggling on our college campuses. A comprehensive, world-renowned higher education system is one of the many ways Minnesota can bounce back from this pandemic and lead.”

The higher education budget also contains one-time funding for a pilot project between Winona State and Minnesota State College Southeast to develop more career and technical teachers that are desperately needed in Minnesota’s high schools. The new Direct Admissions Minnesota program is funded in the budget, and will focus on removing barriers for low-income and students of color entering college by increasing enrollment opportunities. 

“For decades, Minnesota college tuition has gone up because the Legislature cared more about tax cuts for the rich and well-connected than it did about students,” said Majority Leader Ryan Winkler. “Current tuition levels, which are out of reach for far too many, reflect how we have stepped away from public education. The ability to earn a degree from a state college or university cannot remain a privilege for only those who can afford it.” 

The bill language is available here. The spreadsheet can be found here. A video recording of today’s floor debate is available on the House Public Information YouTube channel.