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Tuitions Likely to Increase Under Higher Ed Funding Plan
By Tim Pugmire, Minnesota Public Radio
June 1, 2001

The legislative logjam at the Capitol moved ahead slightly Thursday as lawmakers finalized a higher education funding bill they'll put to a vote in a yet-to-be-scheduled special session.

House and Senate negotiators actually exceeded their spending target by carving out some additional revenue for colleges and universities, but higher education leaders say it's still not enough to prevent double-digit tuition increases.

THE HIGHER EDUCATION FUNDING BILL adopted by a working group of House and Senate provides a total of $110 million in new money for the University of Minnesota and $100 million to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System, also known as MnSCU. That's about half of what each higher education system requested but nearly double what Gov. Ventura's budget plan provided.

"I think all of us would have liked to have seen more money go into higher education because we have concerns about the increase in tuition and what we know are the needs in higher education," said Rep. Peggy Leppik, R-Golden Valley, who chairs the House Higher Education Committee. "But with the target were given, I think we managed to do very well." Lawmakers had a budget target of $176 million in new higher education spending but their final bill includes $196 million. The additional revenue come from a redistribution of unused money from the state grant program and the creation of a new endowment for the U of M's Academic Health Center. The endowment will be funded with $343 million from the latest installment of the state's tobacco lawsuit settlement, and is expected to generate nearly $20 million in the first two years, and about $17 million a year after that.

The bill also includes accountability measures that require the two systems to report back to the Legislature every two years on admissions, graduation rates and performance goals.

"Now the systems have to go back and look at the numbers that have been given them, whether they're going to raise tuition, is access going to change and are they going to change their quality. And I hope quality isn't going to have to suffer in this at all," said Sen. Deanna Wiener, D-Eagan, the chief Senate negotiator.

University of Minnesota officials were seeking more than $221 million in new funding this session. They proposed using the money to increase faculty salaries and improve undergraduate programs.

The university's chief financial officer, Richard Pfutzenreuter, says they can now only make a fraction of those planned investments. "We wanted to hire 28 new faculty in computer science. We'll probably be lucky to do half that. We wanted to hire 40 new faculty in undergraduate. We'll probably be lucky to do a quarter of that."

Pfutzenreuter says U of M faculty salaries will increase less than planned, and tuitions will increase on average between 11 and 12 percent each of the next two years. MnSCU officials say tuition on their campuses will increase an average of 10 percent each of the next two years.

Despite those added costs to students, outgoing MnSCU Chancellor Morrie Anderson says higher education in Minnesota will remain affordable. "Our tuitions have always been very reasonable, and even with a 10-percent increase, I think we still fall within the lines of reasonableness when we look at other institutions, both in the state and around the country," he said.

The full House and Senate must now approve the higher education when Gov. Ventura calls legislators back for a special session, which could come next week.