MnSCU faces budget cuts, tuition increases

A budget bill passed by the Minnesota Legislature reduces funding to 2006 levels.

James Nord

Cuts passed Monday by the state Legislature are forcing the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system to once again trim their budgets. Under the budget billâÄôs provisions, roughly $10.4 million will be cut from MnSCU in addition to the $50 million unalloted by Gov. Tim Pawlenty in 2009. This brings state funding down to 2006 levels, the minimum amount necessary to qualify for federal aid. The University of Minnesota received a $36 million cut in the legislation, on top of a $50 million unallotment. This brings the University to 2006 funding levels as well. The MnSCU cuts come despite systemwide enrollment increases of about 13 percent since 2006 and 35 percent since 2000. âÄúWeâÄôre constantly being asked to do more with less,âÄù Jennifer Weil, state chairwoman of the Minnesota State University Student Association, said. The reductions were part of a measure to reduce the stateâÄôs roughly $1 billion budget deficit, expected to increase to about $5.4 billion for the next budget period. âÄúIâÄôm not happy when I have to cut,âÄù Senate Higher Education Committee chairwoman Sandra Pappas, DFL-St.Paul, said. âÄúI donâÄôt think we should be cutting higher education, but I have to be a responsible budget chair, and I have no alternative.âÄù To deal with the reductions in funding, a wide variety of cuts are being implemented across the 32 colleges and universities that make up MnSCU, as well as tuition increases. The cuts will come in the form of reduced student services, layoffs, early retirements and program closures or reductions, among other measures. Rod Henry, president of the Inter Faculty Organization, a group of MnSCU staff, said program cuts would come from those with lower enrollment and higher costs. He also said liberal arts and humanities would be hard-hit. Henry likened cuts in these areas to a âÄúbloodbathâÄù nationwide. âÄúTypes of programs that are being cut or slated for suspension are things like Russian studies,âÄù Henry said. âÄúRussia, as far as I know, is still around and still is a player in the world scene.âÄù Pappas said in some circumstances these cuts can be used to adapt to changing market trends. âÄúIt behooves MnSCU to have these two-year institutions that are nimble,âÄù Pappas said. However, cuts arenâÄôt confined to liberal arts or even to academics in general. At St. Cloud State University, academic areas will receive 4-percent cuts in 2011, compared to a larger 6-percent reduction in non-academic areas, Administrative Vice President Steve Ludwig said. Although each institution prepares its own budget, coordination with the central office in St. Paul is required, MnSCU spokeswoman Melinda Voss said. In addition to reductions, MnSCU is looking to exploit new forms of revenue and to streamline existing practices, MnSCU Chief Financial Officer Laura King said in an e-mail. For instance, about 6,000 employers pay MnSCU annually to train their employees, Voss said, which generates revenue. MnSCU will try to use technology effectively to increase efficiency, share services among campuses and solicit federal grants to balance budgets. Tuition increases will also be necessary, Weil said. In each year of the previous biennium, tuition increases were below 4 percent. In 2010-2011, increases will be limited to 5 percent each year, according to a MnSCU legislative report. Additionally, a lack of funding for the state grant program, coupled with increased enrollment, means less funding is available despite greater demand. âÄúWe have to spread the same amount of money over more students,âÄù Pappas said. âÄúEverybody gets less, so thatâÄôs really, really disappointing.âÄù In terms of state appropriations and tuition dollars, MnSCU will have roughly 8 percent less money available per student than it did in fiscal year 2000. âÄúThe most important thing is that they have a balanced budget and that they continue to serve the needs of the students and the region,âÄù Voss said.