Hopes for tuition freeze renewed

by Logan Wroge

A bill that would partially fund a tuition freeze at the University of Minnesota is one step closer to approval from the full Legislature.
Senators passed a higher education bill on Monday that offers the University money to fund part of a tuition freeze for resident undergraduate, graduate and professional students. The proposal also offers funding to improve the Medical School and promote research of Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related diseases.
The Democratic-Farmer-Labor- controlled Senate passed the bill 40 to 21, which would offer $87 million to the University.
The bill also included measures that hold the University accountable for how it uses state funds.
Included on the Senate bill are five performance benchmarks the University is required to reach in order to receive part of its funding. The metrics are tied to 5 percent of the institution’s budget for 2017.
The standards include increasing the graduation rate for students of color, graduating more science, technology, engineering and math students, and further reducing administrative costs.
In the previous biennium, the University was only required to complete three of the five measures tied to 5 percent of its state funding this year.
Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, said legislators changed the performance measures this year so it wouldn’t be “all or nothing.” With each goal attained, the University would receive a higher portion of funding.
“The Minnesota Senate is saying it’s not enough to just provide our resources,” Bonoff said at a meeting Monday. “We are taking strong actions to make sure and
ensure we get the results that are so very important to moving this state forward.”
The bill was also amended to require the University to submit a report to the Legislature by next February on how it allocates funding to its five campuses.
Lawmakers say this will provide more transparency of how the institution uses state dollars.
Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, introduced the amendment because he said people in his district were concerned about the equity of the University’s funds distribution, particularly to the Duluth campus.
In addition to accountability measures, senators have made it a priority this session to focus on college affordability, reducing workforce shortages and increasing degree completion.
The Senate bill would also offer free tuition for qualified Minnesota high school students to attend community or technical colleges in the state. It would only include fields that are in high demand, which would be determined by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. 
Some lawmakers said this would help fill voids in technical fields.
A separate higher education bill in the House, which has a Republican majority, had a hearing Monday. The bill will go to the full House floor to be voted on in the coming weeks.
Both the Senate and the House will have to finalize a budget for the University before the session ends May 18