Minnesota cannot afford reciprocity reform

Ideally, the people of this country would realize the necessity of higher education – both economically and culturally – and would want to subsidize it enough to make it free or, at least, universally affordable.

Clearly, we do not live in an ideal world, but that fact does not warrant the abandonment of efforts to better the situation.

And stepping further back from Minnesota’s commitment to higher education by leveling reciprocity for students from Wisconsin (“House considers limiting Wisconsin tuition reciprocity,” Feb. 14) does just that. As the University of Minnesota, this institution plays a central role in not only educating the people of Minnesota, but also giving those from around the country and, indeed, the world something with which to identify this state. Moreover, the University serves to attract talent, insight and ingenuity, and those who learn at the University and stay in the state bolster this economy like nothing else can. In short, without the University, Minnesota’s economy will falter drastically.

For that practical purpose alone, the University must bring in people from other states; Minnesota residents don’t need to be enticed to come and contribute to Minnesota’s economy. Putting roadblocks in front of people who want to cross the border is foolishly counterproductive because it will exacerbate the fiscal problem it seeks to ease. The millions of dollars it would take away from the state’s economy would be far more than the $5 million or $6 million this plan promises to save the University.

We recognize the seeming unfairness inherent in a situation where students from another state pay less to attend the University than native students. At first glance, it hardly seems fair to raise local students’ tuition 14 percent or more without transferring some of the burden to those from the Badger State. Tuition hikes are unfortunate, and they hurt those whom the higher education system exists to benefit.

But broadening the scope of these increases to encompass even more students does little more than make a bad situation worse. And the only thing the people of this state would get in return is the superficial and hardly comforting knowledge that their problems have been shared with others.

Students from Wisconsin should not pay less to attend the University than Minnesotans, but only because Minnesotans should not be paying this much in tuition.

In the end, the only solution is for the people of Minnesota to recognize the need for, and renew their commitment to, higher education. Legislators and other government officials must be made aware of this and must be told that decreased access – for anyone – does nothing to improve Minnesota’s plight. If the current trend is not reversed, being smart enough to go to college will entail being smart enough to go someplace else.