Bruininks to senators: Pawlenty’s budget won’t hurt students

University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks told a Senate higher education committee on Thursday that the University would seek to minimize the impact on students in solving its upcoming budget problems. Bruininks reiterated his promise that he would not use tuition increases to make up for the cut in University funding, and said he hopes to keep any possible tuition increase less than 10 percent. Gov. Tim Pawlenty has proposed a $151 million cut in University funding over the next two years. âÄúIt suggests that higher education in Minnesota is simply not a priority,âÄù Bruininks said of PawlentyâÄôs recommendation. In the 2010 fiscal year, tuition revenue will amount to more money for the University than state support, Bruininks said. Tuition and fees at the University have increased 57.4 percent since 2003, according to the Midwestern Higher Education Compact. In the past two years, state funding for higher education has increased more than 12 percent. Tuition was planned to increase 4.5 percent each of the next two years as part of a $141.2 million budget request to the Legislature, which Bruininks acknowledged is now, âÄúdead on arrival.âÄù Tuition will now likely increase anywhere between that number and still less than 10 percent, Bruininks said. âÄúIâÄôm not going to be coy, weâÄôre not going into the double digits,âÄù he said. âÄúI donâÄôt think itâÄôs the right time.âÄù Next week, academic and support programs at the University will receive their budget instructions relating to the cut and the $20 million unallotment from the governor in early January, Bruininks said. âÄúWeâÄôre trying to minimize the impact of these state reductions on our colleagues and our students,âÄù he said. It would take a tuition increase of 18 percent in 2010 or the cutting of 1,500 jobs to make up revenue from PawlentyâÄôs budget reduction recommendation and an estimated $55 million in extra costs the University faces next year, Bruininks said. âÄúNeither of these options is acceptable, and we wonâÄôt pursue any of these separately,âÄù he said. Susan Heegaard , director of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education , said PawlentyâÄôs budget recommendation was meant to dissuade schools from passing budget problems to students, despite a total cut of $312 million to higher education statewide. âÄúItâÄôs really difficult to protect students entirely from budget cuts of this magnitude,âÄù she said. In a charged exchange, Republican and DFL senators grappled with the governorâÄôs proposed cut. Sen. Ron Latz , DFL-St. Louis Park, questioned the governorâÄôs budget, saying students will feel the effects of it whether itâÄôs through tuition hikes or decreased academic options. âÄúIsnâÄôt the underlying assumption in the governorâÄôs budget that the students are going to have to bear a significant chunk of these cuts?âÄù he said. âÄúI think this budget falls short of our stateâÄôs commitment to the University and MnSCU and I think weâÄôve got to find some other way to more adequately fund higher education institutions.âÄù Sen. Paul Koering , R-Fort Ripley, responded by saying the cut was deep, but necessary. âÄúSure, IâÄôd like to make sure all of the schools are funded,âÄù he said. âÄúWhere are we going to get the money? âĦ This is very unpleasant, but it has to happen. ThatâÄôs just the way it is.âÄù