Why not to cut Regents Scholarship funding

On a 2008 Minnesota Higher Education report, the state received an “F” in affordability.

I am writing to express my disappointment with the University of MinnesotaâÄôs response to the budget crisis. The proposal to cut funding for the Regents Scholarship is a prime example of a shortsighted response that would harm the University in the long run. The purpose of this proposal, of course, is to âÄúsave money,âÄù as the UniversityâÄôs administration would have you believe. What does it really save? Almost nothing. The University says the cost of providing free classes is 8.5 million dollars. This is analogous to an airline claiming that the cost of allowing their employees to fly free when there is an available seat on a plane is equal to the cost of full fare tickets for each employee; or for a restaurant to give employees left-over food and calculate the cost at the menu price. To pay for this employee benefit the University moves money from one University of Minnesota account into other University of Minnesota accounts. Who does it hurt? Almost everyone. First and foremost, it hurts the employees, most of who are at the bottom of the University of Minnesota pay scale, who came to work at the University in order to get a degree. For most, this change in policy means that they will not continue their education. When a paycheck barely covers food and rent, adding tuition payments is not a possibility. It hurts the University of Minnesota (and, therefore, our students). We will lose ambitious, bright employees who benefit this institution immeasurably. One of the arguments for cutting this benefit is that so many of the employees leave the University within a year after obtaining a degree. What they are not saying, however, is that these employees wouldnâÄôt be here at all without the opportunity to further their education or that the overall number of years they remain employed at the University while working toward their degrees is greater than the average years people spend in the same job. It will also cost the University high-quality, cost efficient professional development. IâÄôve worked in professional development at the University for more than 30 years and know that many departments and programs regularly use the Regents Scholarship as cost effective, quality professional development for their staff. Since the departmental and program funding is being cut, it is very unlikely that the units would be able to pay the 25 percent tuition, and the result of this proposal to cut Regents Scholarship funding will be less effective staff. This small monetary savings will cause a large decrease in quality. And finally, it hurts the state. Cutting this benefit will result in fewer citizens with degrees and will lessen their ability to contribute to the state financially and otherwise. So, why do it? My best guess is appearances. The University of Minnesota administrators are not stupid; they know that cutting this important benefit does not really save much money. TheyâÄôve also proven over the years that they truly care about their employees. Is this a show of making sacrifices? Is this a way of letting the citizens of the state know that our employees arenâÄôt getting anything that every other citizen isnâÄôt getting? The costs of this decision to the University would include not only losing quality employees and quality professional development opportunities, but also a loss of time, energy and ingenuity that could be spent solving one of the most serious problems of our time: affordable higher education. On a 2008 Minnesota Higher Education report, the state received an âÄúFâÄù grade in affordability. We are looked to by the state as a resource for solving the stateâÄôs most important issues. Is this how we model creative, constructive problem-solving? The proposal to cut the Regents Scholarship is only one of many examples of shortsighted decisions and proposals made recently that are resulting from our panic to cut costs. I think this pattern will continue unless we change the questions we are asking. Instead of asking the question âÄúWhat can we cut from our budget?âÄù we should be asking questions like, âÄúHow can we do things in a substantially different way that is more cost-effective without sacrificing quality?âÄù Or we could ask, âÄúHow can we maximize our use of the resources available to us at the University, like the Regents Scholarship?âÄù Instead of asking what will be cheaper today, we need to ask what will ultimately result in a more affordable quality education. Do not cut funding for the Regents Scholarship. We can do better. Connie D. Tzenis is a University employee. Please send comments to [email protected]