Recent stories, editorials and now editorial cartoons have tried to cast the Senate’s Omnibus Higher Education Funding bill as bad for the University. This is unfair and untrue.
The Senate bill provides $2.615 billion for higher education over the next two years. This includes an increase of $82.5 million in the University’s appropriation — 7.6 percent more than what the school received in the current biennium.
The University requested a massive increase in its state appropriation for the coming biennium — more than $198 million, or 18 percent over the previous biennium. Even in these flush times for the state, there was no way this entire request ever could have been fully funded. This past fall the voters of this state made clear they wanted huge tax rebates and permanent reductions in income and property taxes, not massive new government spending.
When putting together our budget this year, members of the Senate higher education committee had two goals: take care of the pressing needs of the University and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system; and help more students afford a college education.
The Senate bill takes care of the basic needs of the University in the coming year. We funded faculty and staff pay increases at 3 percent for each of the next two years, at a cost of $56 million. The University plans to increase tuition about 3 percent next year, and we have covered that increase with student financial aid. The Senate bill makes a significant investment for libraries and technology. We have added $9.1 million for building repairs on campus — more than what the University requested.
We have met the needs of students in our bill, too. In fact, the strength of the Senate bill is in funding for student financial aid. We are putting an extra $57 million into financial aid for students. Of this amount, $28.4 million will help needy students who attend college part-time to qualify for more financial aid.
The Senate is very concerned about the rising cost of attending college. While the existing financial aid formula helps the most needy students, more and more middle class students are being squeezed out of college. The increases provided in the Senate bill move the state forward to help more middle-class students qualify for financial assistance.
As the 1999 Legislative Session wraps up later this month, final budget decisions will be made. The University community should know that the Senate will work hard to protect the budget we have laid out and make any possible improvements we can.
The only way that our state can continue to have a vibrant, expanding economy is to put well-educated, well-trained people into our work force. The Senate bill provides significant new funds for the University and student financial aid to accomplish this task.
After all, the success of our state depends on the success of our students.
State Sen. Leroy Stumpf, DFL-Thief River Falls, is chair of the Senate Higher Education Budget Division. He can be contacted at: [email protected]