This year’s tuition is 13.8 percent higher than last, and studies show the majority of students will be here for more than four years – making the toll on student finances even more difficult to bear. Yet this added strain stems not from poor discretion of funds by the University, but from the public’s failure to recognize that the benefits of higher education extend beyond the individual student and improve the greater community of Minnesota and the nation.
Unfortunately, Gov. Jesse Ventura and many in the Legislature reflect this shifting attitude. They are representatives of a national trend away from public funding for higher education. Land-grant universities are losing their place as an essential public good and are merely seen as a step for career-minded individuals. However, University President Mark Yudof contends that, as a research facility, the University benefits the nation. Not only do technological and medical advances made during research help the country, but the University also creates a supply of skilled intelligent workers ready to enter the state economy.
Far from denying this, Ventura will be one of the first to affirm it. He and Yudof were focused on the same end result throughout the legislative budget debacle: intelligent, prepared citizens emerging from this institution and leading productive lives that contribute to the community. The rift lies between their perspectives. A self-proclaimed man of the people, Ventura put his money where his mouth is – or, rather, where the people’s mouths are. Like a mother robin feeding her young, Ventura gave the people of Minnesota what they were clamoring for: their money.
It is foolish, then, to cast the blame for the tuition hike onto the Governor’s shoulders. An elected official with any concept of self-preservation will not ignore what the loudest voices outside his or her window are yelling. Right now, those voices belong to an ever-aging population.
And that population’s opinion is influenced by what media tell them goes on in these hallowed halls. During just the last six months, University coverage not dealing with the budget has been dominated by horror stories about campus drinking, a woman’s alleged rape by two football players and a series of anomalies contributing to a 51-percent graduation rate. After being exposed to this, can the public realistically be blamed for not wanting to fund this place? Yudof made an admirable effort earlier this year, going across the state to drum up the people’s support in preparation for the then-upcoming budget battle. But one man can do little to turn this tide.
The public needs to be aware of the University’s mission and progress if they are ever going to support it financially. People of the University community, it’s your job to make them aware.