Faced with deficit, Ventura pitches 5 percent U funding cut

by Maggie Hessel-Mial

The University could face a 5 percent cut in expected state funding if legislators agree with Gov. Jesse Ventura’s answer to the state’s expected $1.95 billion deficit.

In a session originally slated to deal with capital requests for state building and road projects, legislators’ first priority is to re-balance the state’s operating budget, approved last June.

Legislators face tough decisions and must make cuts to almost all areas of government to adjust for the budget shortfall.

“The University was asked to bring forward 5 and 10 percent cut scenarios,” said Paul Aasen, director of policy management for the Office of the Governor. “We wanted to get a feel of what kind of service impact the cut would hold.”

Ventura’s recommendations for the operating budget included a 5 percent – $33 million – reduction for the University.

“Higher education was cut more than K-12 education but less than other areas of government,” he said. “Everyone will need to change to some degree.”

Thirty-three million dollars in cuts to an already tight University budget could hurt students.

University President Mark Yudof said he hopes the Legislature’s cut will be less than 5 percent.

“Any cut of this magnitude will hurt,” Yudof said.

University officials will first look into cutting administration and some programs before considering further tuition increases, said Board of Regents Chairwoman Maureen Reed.

Tuition went up 13.8 percent for the 2001-02 school year, and regents approved another 13 percent increase for 2002-03 – a number administrators and students hope doesn’t get any higher.

While no specific areas or programs have been decided, Yudof has suggested cuts in non-critical student services and a selective hiring freeze.

“I issued instructions to the deans that if they can manage without filling positions, they should,” Yudof said. “But we’re hoping to avoid that because it hurts students so badly.”

Regents will meet in February to hear ideas from University officials about where to cut.

“The board would want to make sure the cuts are in areas that do the least harm to the institution as a whole,” Reed said.

The University is not alone.

In a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article, Yudof said Minnesota is not alone in dealing with the rising costs of higher education.

There is a trend in the decline of state financial support for higher education, he said.

In 1980, Yudof said, students paid a third of their education’s instructional costs. In 2002, that number is up to 60 percent.

Tim Quinn, an Institute of Technology junior, said he has noticed the increase.

Quinn pays for most of his education through student loans. After this year’s tuition increase, he has seen more loans and has, at times, been living week to week to pay his bills.

A tuition increase above what is already expected for next year would only make his financial strain tougher.

“I may not notice it as much day to day,” Quinn said. “but I will see an impact in the long run in loans.”

Reed said higher education state financing has not kept up with inflation.

“It has been a long-term trend,” Reed said. “It’s not likely that we’ll wake up tomorrow with a Legislature that will be able to make a shift in that.”

Along with the recommendation to cut 5 percent, Ventura has also allocated $12.5 million more to the state’s financial aid system, Aasen said.

“(Ventura) believes that funding the individual student has a greater impact than funding the institution,” Aasen said. “He wants to force the institution to fight for the student Ö It puts more emphasis on the individual.”

This philosophy has left University officials concerned about where money will come from to run the institution.

“If you put the money into the students, it doesn’t pay the bills for the University,” Yudof said. “We need to pay professors so the good ones stay.”

The University, despite its recent financial struggles, is only fifth in the Big Ten in the cost of education.

“Minnesota seems to be not atypical,” Yudof said. “The same things seem to be happening across the country.”

Despite rising education costs, Quinn said he would continue at the University.

“I’ve been raised with the belief that college is worth it, no matter what the cost,” he said.

Building costs

Another issue on the agenda for the next legislative session is a capital investment bill, which includes many projects for the University.

The University requested $239.8 million from the state government. Ventura proposed $85 million.

While the numbers are only recommendations, University officials are concerned with the less-than-requested figures from the governor.

A laboratory science building at the Duluth campus received its full $25.5 million funding.

An $80 million request for system-wide improvements on existing buildings fell short at $35 million.

“We’re happy with what (Ventura) proposed to fund,” Yudof said. “But a lot of really necessary projects didn’t receive enough funding.”

Legislators say they are committed to funding projects for higher education.

“I count on there being more money for higher education than the governor’s budget,” said Rep. Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, and chairman of the Capital Investment Committee. “Higher education has always been a higher priority for me. We’re looking through and deciding which projects are good and which should be funded.”

Knoblach said while it might be impossible to fund all the projects now, some of the projects will be considered for the future.

Sen. Don Samuelson, DFL- Brainerd, said it is important to make sure higher education buildings are maintained.

Until lawmakers pass the capital investment bill and amendments to the operating budget, Yudof said, nothing is finalized.

“Last time we got a studio arts building even though Ventura had not recommended it,” he said. “Students should make their voices heard.”

Maggie Hessel-Mial covers the Legislature and welcomes comments at
[email protected]