Whenever there’s a budget crunch, politicians like to analogize tightening their belts. Once again, Minnesota politicians are asking the University to trim the fat. This seems logical, except the University is one of the tightest-run ships in public higher education.
As many Board of Regents candidates made clear this month during their confirmation, if there was fat to cut, it has been cut. Cutting cannot continue without affecting program quality. Wednesday afternoon, students from all four University campuses will descend upon the State Capitol to make this case during Maroon and Gold Day. University President Bob Bruininks presented a very reasonable budget, calling for a $42 million increase from the $185 million cut two years ago, and then the University would match the $42 million investment to maintain programs and hold tuition increases to 5.5 percent. While that doesn’t sound flashy, it’s leaps and bounds better than the 14 percent increases from each of the last two years.
But Gov. Tim Pawlenty proposes approximately $14 million less. The proposal denies the University funding that should be automatic through the enrollment adjustment. The University’s allocations hinge, in part, on the number of students it serves. Since that number is impossible to know in advance, the funding is based on an estimate, which historically has been reconciled at the end of the biennium. This is akin to paying a consistent monthly heating charge based on past averages and having the last bill fluctuate to reflect actual use.
The University paid back into the state’s general fund when enrollment dipped a few years ago. Now that the tables have turned, Pawlenty does not want to disburse the funds accordingly. A 1996 legislative auditor’s report indicated tuition rose three times faster than the consumer price index and attributed 90 percent of the hikes to decreases in state funding – not wasteful policies.
This trend cannot continue without more serious negative impacts on students and the education they receive. Think about these issues. There is still time to participate if you haven’t signed up. Register at www.supportTheU.umn.edu. Buses will leave Coffman Union and the St. Paul Student Center at 12:30 p.m. for the Capitol. See you Wednesday.
Emily Serafy Cox is the Minnesota Student Association legislative affairs chairwoman. Please send comments to [email protected]