Officials warn double-digit tuition hikes are possible

Paul Sand

University President Robert Bruininks warned that a possible double-digit tuition increase might be necessary to counter Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s proposed reduction in University funding.

University officials estimated the reduction at $185 million based on the governor’s state budget proposal released Tuesday.

Pawlenty’s recommendation is the highest-ever reduction to the University’s budget and represents approximately 15 percent of the institution’s state appropriation. Pawlenty also reduced the University’s current fiscal year budget by $25 million Feb. 7.

Pawlenty’s 2004-05 budget proposal is the state’s first step as it begins to battle a $4.2 billion deficit.

While Bruininks offered no specifics on tuition increases, he said the “inevitable” increases are likely to be higher than desirable.

“It will simply not be business as usual at the University of Minnesota,” he said.

Bruininks said the University will work aggressively to reduce costs, including cutting or eliminating programs. He said he was not prepared to discuss specific program cuts.

“We don’t have a lot of fat here, but I believe every organization can work smarter,” he said.

Bruininks said to put the proposed reduction in perspective, the $185 million is equal to two years of combined state support for the College of Biological Sciences, the College of Liberal Arts, and the Institute of Technology.

“It is a very big number,” he said.

In addition to the reduction, Pawlenty’s plan would prohibit the University from increasing tuition rates by more than 15 percent in each of the next two fiscal years.

Bruininks said the University and Board of Regents needs flexibility in addressing the cut.

“I hope the legislators don’t tie the hands of the Board of Regents and the University (with the tuition cap),” he said.

Provost Christine Maziar said any conditions attached to the cut make it more difficult for the University.

“I would be very concerned if that flexibility would be removed; some of that pressure would put a greater strain on tuition,” she said.

Maziar said past patterns in biennium budget proposals, with the exception of former Gov. Jesse Ventura’s, show the Legislature comes within 95 percent of the initial proposal.

The University asked for a $96 million funding increase for 2004-05.

Eric Dyer, Minnesota Student Association vice president, said he does not want the University to be divided between students and administration but he is concerned about possible tuition increases.

“It’s a shame to go after one of the poorest demographics in the state,” he said.

Bruininks said University administration will make decisions regarding the cut over the next several months.

The Board of Regents will discuss future reductions at their March meeting. Regents are expected to adopt a new biennium budget plan in June, Bruininks said.

Paul Sand welcomes comments at [email protected]