ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Column: GOP higher education bill would raise tuition, increase student debt

By District 28A Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona ST. PAUL -- In a time of surplus, Minnesota's Legislature should not underfund higher education. In early April the Minnesota House Republican Majority passed their higher education budget, which cam...

By District 28A Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona

ST. PAUL - In a time of surplus, Minnesota's Legislature should not underfund higher education. In early April the Minnesota House Republican Majority passed their higher education budget, which came in $169 million below what Gov. Dayton had requested. It also came $84 million under the Minnesota State Budget system request and $125 million under the University of Minnesota Budget System Request. Now, the Minnesota Republican House and Senate majorities released their joint budget number. Unfortunately, things have gotten worse for Minnesota’s students: $40 million worse.

Instead of working with the governor to stop tuition increases, the legislative majorities are now proposing nearly $200 million less for higher education than what Gov. Dayton had requested and $100 million under the Minnesota State request and $129 million under what the University of Minnesota requested.

If the Republican proposal became law, Winona State University would be underfunded by $4,649,000 and Minnesota State College SE $1,134,000 and find themselves in a very precarious position. Winona State alone would need to cut roughly 50 faculty members or 80 staff members. Both the short term health of WSU & MSCSE and the long-term viability of our state college and university system is at stake.

 

ADVERTISEMENT

The ongoing structural imbalance to MN State could be negative $169 million. This will result in cutting programs for teachers when there is a teacher shortage, cutting programs for nurses when there is a high demand for health care professionals and cutting programs for trained workers when Minnesota is need of trained workers in every field. This disinvestment will threaten Minnesota’s ability to meet the future workforce needs of our state.

Saint Mary's University will also be impacted by this lack of investment in Minnesota's State Grant Program. The governor’s higher education budget invested $62 million in additional funds for the State Grant Program, while the Republican investment is merely $18.5 million.

The president of the University of Minnesota said the Republican’s budget would increase tuition up to 5 percent each of the next two years for students at University of Minnesota campuses. There will be tuition increases for four year students attending Minnesota State universities. Underfunding education will lead to increasing tuition, which is putting a tax on the backs of students in Minnesota in a time of surplus.

The amount of student debt now outnumbers the amount of credit card debt in the nation. Minnesota students have suffered record tuition increases starting from the time that the legislature began cutting budgets during the great recession. Minnesota is now fourth and fifth in the nation in the amount of debt students carry and the number of students that carry debt, respectively. Minnesota should be proud of leading the nation in a lot of things, but student debt isn’t one of them.

 

The Republican majority’s education proposal not only underfunds higher education, but also has numerous unfunded mandates. When the House passed their bill, it had money to pay for freezing tuition for two-year students in the Minnesota State system. While the mandate to freeze tuition continues to be in the bill, there’s no money dedicated to pay for freezing their tuition. Mandates like that will increase costs for colleges and universities, resulting in programming cuts, layoffs and even higher tuition for students.

 

We have a budget surplus. The legislature shouldn’t increase costs for universities, increase tuition or continue to cripple students with record debt.  

ADVERTISEMENT

 

Pelowski caired the House Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee in 1987-88 and 2013-14.

 

Related Topics: EDUCATION
What To Read Next
We’ve jump-started projects across our state to replace outdated utilities systems, expand broadband, build electric vehicle charging stations, and rebuild roads and bridges.
Mikkel Pates reflects on his time as an ag journalist in a three-part series.