Minnesota State administration requests funding to maintain 'workforce engine'

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota State colleges and universities administrators say additional spending is needed to help the state keep pace with growing workforce needs.

ST. PAUL - Minnesota State colleges and universities administrators say additional spending is needed to help the state keep pace with growing workforce needs.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development projects that more than 70 percent of jobs in the state will require postsecondary education by 2020.

Laura King, chief finance officer with Minnesota State, said a requested $178 million in additional state funding over two years would help the state's "workforce engine" retain students and control rising tuition.

"We are a substantial provider of trained citizens into the economies all across Minnesota," she said. "Those citizens are increasingly diverse, the communities are growing increasingly diverse and our colleges and universities stand to provide a tremendous service to the communities in years ahead, but we need to be financially healthy to do that."

The additional funding would include $143 million in campus support to offset 3 percent inflationary costs each year. This portion of the funding would allow for a tuition freeze throughout the system, as well as a 1 percent tuition decrease at its community and technical colleges.


The added funding also would also include $25 million for technology updates and $10 million for student incentives like grants and scholarships.

With the additional funding, the system's total askings from state lawmakers and the governor for the next two years would reach about $1.5 billion.

The proposal is from Minnesota State officials. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton releases his budget proposal on Tuesday, Jan. 24, and the Republican-controlled Legislature will draw up its own spending plan later. Lawmakers likely will pass their budget in May, sending it to Dayton for his signature

Without the full proposed budget, Bemidji State University President Faith Hensrud said, the university would have to rely on funds that otherwise would be invested into programs that keep course offerings "relevant and viable" to evolving workforce expectations.

Bemidji State University would receive about $5.3 million of the proposed campus support.

"For us to have to dip into any reserve balances we have, it would make us more vulnerable as institutions than we are," Hensrud said. "It's not something you can sustain from year to year."

Incomplete funding, Hensrud said, also would force the university to evaluate where costs could be scaled back.

At BSU, Hensrud said, this would mean eliminating programs like Beaver Success Coaches, which pairs students with mentors and advisors to support students at risk of dropping out and help them graduate on time.


Colleges and universities throughout the system could need to cut programs or leave vacant faculty positions unfilled if they do not receive the funds they seek, Minnesota State officials said.

A budget deficit led Minnesota State University Moorhead to a round of cuts to programs and faculty in 2013.

MSUM President Anne Blackhurst said the cutback "hampers" the school's ability to meet the needs of the area's business community.

"Our biggest concern is meeting the needs of the region, and right now the number one need is a talented and highly educated workforce," Blackhurst said.

Although she said she believes lawmakers in the new Republican legislative majority understand the value of higher education, she is unsure where the budget request will rank among other concerns like health care.

"When all the legislators come together and consider all the competing needs in our state, it's always a question mark of how they will prioritize," she said. "I would say that's true whether there was a Republican majority or Democratic majority."

State Rep. Ben Lien, D-Moorhead, serves a district with both a Minnesota State university and community and technical college.

Although he said previously dwindling enrollment numbers at MSUM are starting to "level off," the university will still need funding to fill financial gaps.


"That makes it really tough when we have insufficient funding and cuts at the state level and they're not able to get the tuition dollars coming in because students aren't coming in and enrollment numbers aren't up," he said.

Lien is among state lawmakers who say it is too early in the session to speculate how the request for additional funding will fare new state Republican leadership.

House Higher Education Chairman Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, said serious decisions regarding higher education allocations will have to wait for the February economic and budget report. However, he said, he believes most representatives would see the new funding as a good investment.

"Between the University of Minnesota and (Minnesota State), it adds up to a pretty sizeable request," he said. "But we trust it's all needed. I don't think anybody comes here and asks for more than we need."

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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