Bruininks calls for funds

by Brady Averill

University President Bob Bruininks dismissed a call for a change in how higher education is funded Thursday at a Senate committee meeting.

Bruininks spoke to nine senators about the University’s two-year budget request at a Senate Higher Education Budget Division meeting.

On Tuesday, Gov. Tim Pawlenty said during his State of the State address that funding for colleges and universities should be based on student enrollment.

Pawlenty cited a system used in Colorado that gives two-thirds of its higher education budget directly to students through tuition vouchers. The other third funds institutions’ core areas such as research.

Bruininks criticized the plan, saying Colorado was on the brink of a “disaster.”

Instead, Bruininks said he called for a 50-50 partnership with the state. During fiscal year 2005 and fiscal year 2006, the state and the University would each fund a total of $84 million.

Bruininks’ plan

The state’s financial role would help fund biosciences, attracting and retaining talented students, and strengthening technology and research, Bruininks said. The University’s contribution would help pay for faculty and staff compensation increases, operating costs and other academic investments.

“This is all about investing. It’s not just about covering basic costs,” he said.

Bruininks also said that if the budget proposal is accepted, tuition would increase 5.5 percent.

“I would love to hold it at this level. I would like it to be lower,” he said.

Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, said the committee understands the difficulties that tuition hikes place on students.

“But we’re dealing with our own budget issues in the state,” she said.

Bruininks said his proposal is “modest.”

He said the University needs funding to be on the cutting edge in research and to compete globally. Minnesota’s economy, culture and quality of life requires it, he said.

“Further cuts will erode the very foundation of the University of Minnesota,” Bruininks said.

Some legislators said they sympathize with the University’s funding woes.

Sen. Cal Larson, R-Fergus Falls, said he hopes the state’s revenue forecast is better in the future, which would alleviate the stress of making difficult budget decisions.

Larson said health and welfare costs are so high that it is affecting other areas such as funding for the University.

Rochester institution

Bruininks’ also discussed Pawlenty’s proposal to build a college campus in Rochester, Minn.

Bruininks said it would be a severe cost issue if the University were to open another campus. He estimated it would cost $300 million to $400 million to start a campus.

In other legislative news, the Senate Capital Investment Committee approved the state’s bonding bill, which includes the University’s bonding request, Bruininks said.