Minnesota Legislature considers UMN proposal to freeze tuition

Bills in the state House and Senate would fund the University’s recurring request while Dayton recommended a one-time allotment.

The Minnesota State Capitol as seen on May 13, 2015.

Bridget Bennett

The Minnesota State Capitol as seen on May 13, 2015.

Madeline Deninger

The University of Minnesota presented its supplemental budget request to the House and Senate higher education committees this week, which officials claim will prevent tuition increases for undergraduate resident students.

Addressing the House higher education committee on Tuesday, University President Eric Kaler said the school’s $10 million supplemental budget request will keep undergraduate resident tuition stable going into the 2018-2019 academic year. 

“Affordability has been on of my top priorities as president of the University, and the Board of Regents and I have worked hard to keep tuition costs down,” Kaler said. 

The Board of Regents approved the supplemental budget request earlier this month, which calls for a $10 million recurring increase to the University’s annual budget. Gov. Mark Dayton recommended the full $10 million in his supplemental budget proposal, but his recommendation is for a one-time allocation in 2019. 

Over the past six years, undergraduate resident tuition at the University has increased by a total of 1 percent, most recently increasing by $254 in September.

Bills heard at the House and Senate committee meetings call for the annual $10 million in recurring funds, which the University said would offset a cost increase of $200 to $250 for undergraduate resident students next year. 

“These numbers can have a significant meaning for students,” said Rep. Regina Barr, R-Inver Grove Heights, main author of the House bill.  “Our goal with this bill is to make our University a more affordable and accessible place for Minnesota students across the state.”

As written, the University’s plan to keep tuition flat hinges on the recurring funds. Kaler said if the $10 million is a one-time allotment, the Board of Regents will have to reconsider how to keep tuition costs down in coming years. 

Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, chair of the House higher education committee, said the University’s request for a long-term supplemental investment likely won’t happen this year. He said the one-time $10 million supplemental allocation is a “reasonable” request, as it would go toward keeping tuition affordable.

“I’m in full support of getting that … first part done,” Nornes said. 

University Regent Steve Sviggum said the request for recurring funds is fair, but a final decision will require cooperation from the University, Legislature and governor. 

He said a one-time allocation could provide base support for the board’s tuition goals.

At Thursday’s Senate higher education meeting, Brian Burnett, University senior vice president for finance and operations, said the University will use the recurring investment to pay for ongoing expenses like employee salaries and utilities. 

“It’s not a great budgeting practice to put recurring costs on nonrecurring revenues,” he said.