Bruininks discusses budget, helping students find jobs

Special to the Daily Kari Petrie worked at the Daily from 2001 to 2005 as a reporter and associate editor. She covered the Board of Regents, University administration and the 2004 election. She has been the public safety reporter at the St. Cloud Times since 2005. She was named the Minnesota Associated PressâÄôs New Journalist of the Year in 2006.

As legislators wield an ax at every area of the stateâÄôs budget, higher education wonâÄôt go unscathed. Gov. Tim Pawlenty has proposed cutting $151 million from the University of Minnesota over the next two years and the state is facing a nearly $5 billion budget deficit. University President Bob Bruininks answered questions about what the cuts could mean to the University and students. LetâÄôs start out with discussing the stateâÄôs budget deficit. How do you think thatâÄôs going to affect the University? This budget will have a major impact on the University of Minnesota. But IâÄôm hopeful that with the federal stimulus package and some creative work by the executive and legislative branches of state government we can blunt some of the impact and lower the burden on families who send their students here and lower the burden on the budget here. I do believe the size of the deficit is so great that every aspect of government will take a hit and take a reduction in resources and I suspect that will happen here as well. What areas have you looked at in the UniversityâÄôs budget to cut back or make changes to? WeâÄôve continued to do what weâÄôve done for the last several years and make some painful decisions to reduce programs, consolidate programs and eliminate programs. We have a major effort underway to lower the cost of the University. Some of the good news has to do with the cost in construction and how we organize and conduct building and improvement projects at the University to avoid costs, cutting down energy costs, and working with the state of Minnesota and other institutions of higher education to form buying cooperatives to reduce costs on everything from scientific equipment to library collections. We obviously have done what other people in society have done to restructure benefits to lower health care costs. So weâÄôve had a very deliberate, conscious strategy over the past seven years to drive down the cost of operations at the University of Minnesota. Do you see any impact on tuition? If we get a big budget cut, I believe there will be some pressure on tuition. But the UniversityâÄôs Board of Regents and administration have made a commitment to do everything possible to find reductions elsewhere in the UniversityâÄôs budget, so tuition is more the last resort than the first resort. We have sent instructions to every unit in the University of Minnesota to reduce costs, and in the process to protect support for students. People are now modeling up to 8 percent budget reductions. TheyâÄôre assuming in their budget planning that we will nearly freeze all hiring. WeâÄôll have some exceptions, but we have something very close to a hiring freeze and have had for several months at the University. TheyâÄôre assuming weâÄôll have to solve two-thirds of this budget problem by cost reductions and deferred or cancelled investments. At best, 30 to 35 percent might come from increases in tuition. So our effort is to do everything possible to lighten the load on families and students. WeâÄôre also doing the best we can to provide more need-based aid for families in the middle-income range where the squeeze is the tightest right now. And weâÄôre working on ways to structure these programs so we can increase private support for students. So weâÄôre doing a lot of things we believe will keep the cost of education within reach and affordable. This is a very tough time to be raising prices in higher education, even in light of the significant budget declines. Are students starting to take fewer credits because they need to work more to make up for the cost of living increases? Are you worried about graduation rates at all? We have not seen that happening. In fact the trend lines are happening toward increasing credits because we have an incentive program where you can get free credits after 13. That has tended to keep credit loads at current levels and levels higher than they used to be. We have checked to see if students are dropping out more today than they were in previous times and that does not seem to be the case. The University is working very hard through its advisement and financial aid office to do everything possible to keep students in school and help them with any financial issues they may be facing âĦ I think we might see an increase in the number of people who want to attend our colleges and universities in Minnesota. That was my next question. Are you seeing an increase in the number of people who lost their jobs and are now deciding to go back to school? WeâÄôre seeing some modest increases in part-time enrollment. We are definitely seeing an increase in applications. At the Twin Cities campus we expect to see 33,000 applications. ThatâÄôs more than double the applications we used to receive for freshman admission about seven years ago. The size of the entering class is still going to be around 5,200-5,300. WeâÄôre going to try to increase the size of the class in some fields that are unique to the University of Minnesota, some of the engineering fields for example. I think the indicators show when the economy is tough, people look toward education as one of the answers to get themselves in a more competitive position. The economists that I regularly see publishing their opinions all say the best way to get ourselves out of recession is to invest in education. Invest in research and innovation and human capital, or the education of our people. What is the University doing to help students find jobs once they graduate? We have a number of things, we have a website (called Gold Pass) that allows employers to post the jobs they have available and for students to post their resumes. Essentially itâÄôs one of the best match-making services that I think you can find anywhere in higher education. We also have a variation of that for people who take jobs with the University of Minnesota and have members of their families that is also looking for work. The other thing we do relatively well is to give students the skills they need to compete for jobs in the current economy. We have strong leadership and internship programs. If you do that kind of internship, it makes you much more appealing to employers. More often than not, the place where people do internships is the place where they get their first job âĦ Mentorships and internships where people get real life experiences and learn what itâÄôs like to apply their skills is the best way you can prepare for the future.