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Serving more with less

Published (7/15/2011)
By Mike Cook
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Gov. Mark Dayton gave the Legislature’s first attempt at an omnibus higher education finance bill a big “F.”

Sponsored by Rep. Bud Nornes (R-Fergus Falls) and Senate President Michelle Fischbach (R-Paynesville), the $2.51 billion higher education budget bill would have reduced $411.1 million in funding from the forecast base, about an 11 percent reduction from current biennium spending. Dayton’s plan called for a $170.9 million base reduction.

It would have cut the University of Minnesota 18.9 percent from its forecast base and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system by 14.3 percent, cuts Dayton deemed “too extreme.”

“The total appropriations leave both the University of Minnesota and MnSCU with substantially lower levels of state funding at the same time they are serving 50,000 more students,” Dayton wrote in his veto letter.

HF1101*/ SF924/CH50

Back to 1998 funding levels

The original Senate bill called for an 18.9 percent General Fund reduction to the university; the House, 17.7 percent; and the governor, 6 percent. The respective percentages for MnSCU were 13.3 percent, 15.9 percent and 6 percent.

One percent of fiscal year 2013 funding for MnSCU would have been contingent on meeting three of five specific criteria: increasing the enrollment of students of color by at least 10 percent compared to fiscal year 2010, increasing by 7 percent the number of credentials conferred versus fiscal year 2009; increasing by at least 15 percent compared to fiscal year 2010 the number of students taking online or blended courses or the number of online or blended sections; increasing persistence and completion rates for students entering in the fall of 2009 and 2010; or decreasing by at least 2 percent compared to calendar year 2009 energy consumption per square foot.

The university would have also had 1 percent of fiscal year 2013 funding held back until it met three of five criteria: increasing institutional financial aid so it is greater in fiscal year 2012 than it was in fiscal year 2010; producing at least 13,500 degrees on all campuses in fiscal year 2012; increasing four- and six-year graduation rates on the Twin Cities campus; maintaining research and development expenditures as reported to the National Science Foundation; or maintaining sponsored research so that fiscal year 2012 numbers are not below those of fiscal year 2010.

Officials from both systems noted that the proposed funding levels would be comparable to those from 1998. They said the cuts would lead to hundreds of faculty layoffs, thousands of reduced course offerings, program closures, millions of dollars in lost research opportunities and would hurt Minnesota’s competitiveness in future years because of fewer qualified workers.

Under the legislative plan, the state grant program would have seen an additional $21.1 million, a 7.3 percent increase. The House proposed increasing base funding for the state grant program by $27.1 million; the Senate $7.2 million and the governor kept state grant funding at base levels. The bill also would have provided stable funding for child care assistance grants that help students who have children to continue their education.

In an effort to ensure students would not bear the brunt of state monetary reductions, MnSCU could not have raised tuition by more than 3 percent per year at the two-year state colleges, and by no more than 5 percent in the first academic year and 4 percent in the second academic year at the state universities. Under the bill, the annual increase in mandatory fees would have been limited to 4 percent, unless a higher rate was approved by student associations.

The university was requested to adhere to the 5 percent/4 percent tuition increases and 4 percent fee increase. Because of its autonomy, the Legislature can only request the university to take actions that are not directly related to state appropriations.

“The proper entities to make final tuition decisions within our two state systems are the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents and MnSCU’s Board of Trustees,” Dayton wrote.

Prohibiting the use of state or federal funds for state programs to support human cloning or for expenses incidental to human cloning was something else the governor frowned upon.

“It is imperative for Minnesota’s bio-medical future that both the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic approve of any language affecting this vital area of research, which has the potential to bring thousands of jobs to Minnesota and save many thousands more lives,” Dayton wrote.

Other finance and policy provisions in the bill included:

• encouraging MnSCU and the university to offer a guaranteed tuition plan;

• eliminating the matching grant program that is part of the Minnesota College Savings Plan;

• lowering of the eligibility age for the senior citizen higher education program from 66 to 62; and

• repealing the requirement that public institutions sell American-made clothing and apparel in their bookstores to the extent possible.

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