Archived Story

Time to reverse course on higher education

Published 10:07am Monday, November 26, 2012 Updated 12:08pm Monday, November 26, 2012

If you ask Minnesota legislators how K-12 schools fared in the budget deal that ended the 2011 government shutdown, you’re like to hear a variety of answers.

Some will decry the funding shift, which delays state payments to schools and has forced some to seek the equivalent of “til payday” loans.

Other legislators say that schools did just fine, with many districts receiving substantial increases in per-pupil funding.

But when asked about funding for higher education, you’re likely to see legislators from both sides of the aisle take a deep breath, sigh and admit that the state’s colleges, universities and community colleges got hit too hard.

The numbers speak for themselves. The deal reached in July 2011 cut higher education funding by $351 million, which means that in fiscal year 2012-13, Minnesota is spending less on higher education than it did a decade ago.

And that’s in actual dollars, not adjusted for inflation — which would make the comparison even more lopsided.

Put another way, in 2000, the average full-time student attending a state college or university was responsible for about 26 percent of costs, with the state picking up the rest of the tab.

Today, students at state schools are on the hook for 60 percent of the cost of their education.

That’s not just a bad trend — it’s downright alarming, and for the sake of Minnesota’s workforce, it must be reversed.

In that context, we like the proposal the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system has put on the table as its first “offer” for the Legislature to consider in the budget discussions that will begin in January.

Chancellor Steven Rosenstone is seeking an increase of $97 million for the next two years, and in exchange MnSCU is promising to slash administrative costs by $44 million and cap tuition increases at 3 percent per year.

The administrative cuts are a nod to those who’ve long argued that the state’s colleges and universities are top-heavy, paying too much money to employees who have little, if any, contact with actual students. Also included in the budget request is a promise that if the state provides $21 million for technology and equipment upgrades, MnSCU will match that amount through its own fundraising efforts.

Granted, any state agency that seeks a funding increase of nearly 9 percent is likely to be somewhat disappointed in the outcome, but we hope this request falls on receptive ears.

If Minnesota is going to train people — young and old — for the workplace of tomorrow, then we need affordable programs, great teachers and up-to-date facilities and equipment.

The cuts of 2011 were too deep, and now it’s time to reverse course and start rebuilding our higher education system.

 

— Post-Bulletin of Rochester

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