Bruininks talks tuition, praises state support

Mitch Anderson

.The Minnesota Daily sat down with University President Bob Bruininks at Morrill Hall last Tuesday to discuss the budget, reciprocity and his recent trip to Iceland.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty just signed the higher ed bill into law. How do you feel about the budget that lawmakers have given the University?

First of all, I think that this has been a good legislative session for the University of Minnesota. We’re obviously disappointed in some of the results, but on the whole, I’d have to say the state Legislature gave a very strong level of support to the University of Minnesota – one of the strongest in literally decades.

That level of support is going to enable the University to come forward with proposals that will definitely reduce the cost, or at least restrain the increases in cost, for our students and their families.

We put some new reforms into our tuition policies that we think will help students lower the cost of their education and also, I think, accelerate their time to graduation. We think some of these proposals will also allow us to keep a very high level of access to Minnesota students and also encourage students from around the country and around the world to consider our campuses as really good places to come and study.

What specifically is the University doing about tuition?

The conference committee passed, I think, a strong bill. The bill was about $148 million in new money to the University over the next two years. That has allowed us to really reduce the cost-increases in tuition and also put some reform initiatives into our tuition practices that I think will really serve our students well.

Seventy-five percent of the students attending the campuses at the University of Minnesota will see their tuition go up about 2 percent a year. No student will pay more than 4.5 percent.

There will be tuition scholarships for middle-income students to buy down the increase from 4.5 to 2 percent in the first year, and from 7.5 to 5 percent in the second year for an average of 3.5 percent. We think that’s very positive.

Students from lower-income families that are eligible under the federal Pell program will not see any increase in their tuition because their tuition and fees are paid through the Founder’s Free Tuition Scholarship Initiative. The overall cost of attendance is going down from what it has been.

Are there any other reforms you are putting in place?

This is not as big an issue for the Twin Cities campus community, but some years ago we put a tuition banding policy in place that allows students to take all credits above 13 for no additional cost and that policy is being extended to all the other campuses across the University of Minnesota. On some of these campuses, the cost of attendance is actually going to go down, such is the case with University of Minnesota-Morris.

Will the cost of UMM be going down directly because of the tuition banding policy?

The students at Morris typically take more than 13 credits. In fact, they usually have the highest credit loads of any of our campuses. In the case of a Morris student, it’s going to substantially decrease the cost of attending Morris next year.

Could you have accomplished this without the funds the Legislature gave you?

I think it would’ve been impossible to provide these tuition scholarships for middle-income students without really strong state support and it would have been very difficult to extend banding to the coordinate campuses.

All in all, this was a very positive outcome. My main disappointment was the fact that the Capital Investment Bill was vetoed. The Capital Investment Bill included the remodeling of a major medical research laboratory on the Twin Cities campus, about $20 million of remodeling money to take care of basic building systems here at the University of Minnesota.

I’m hoping we have a special session where we consider the possibility of having a new capital bill, and that bill will include the proposals we put forward for the medical building, the remodeling of buildings across the University of Minnesota system and hopefully include a provision to pass the biomedical sciences long-term facilities authority.

Other than the Capital Investment Bill getting vetoed, was there anything else that you wish had been passed?

Well, I personally wish that the Dream Act had been approved. It was unanimously supported by the University Senate. I have a strong interest in the education and development of young people and I believe this was a relatively modest proposal to give young people who have graduated from Minnesota high schools, but may not have come here with the appropriate documentation, to attend these college and university campuses with the provision of in-state tuition rates.

As long as we’re talking about tuition, how do you feel about the status of the Wisconsin reciprocity agreement?

Well, the other proposal we’re going to take forward is to restructure the Wisconsin agreement. We’re still negotiating with the state of Wisconsin and I still retain some hope that we’ll work out the issues.

It is really important that we make a decision now because it’s only fair to students to give them a year’s notice.

What we’re proposing is that we maintain a really strong partnership with Wisconsin and permit Wisconsin students to attend the University of Minnesota, but to pay Minnesota rates.

Those rates today are approximately $1,500 more on average across our campuses than the rates in Wisconsin.

All this would do is, over a four-year period, it would move toward Wisconsin students paying Minnesota tuition rates to attend Minnesota campuses.

No student currently studying on a campus on the U of M from Wisconsin will be hit with a bigger tuition bill. It will be phased in over the next four years by asking each new freshman class to pay the Minnesota rate.

I’m just hopeful we’ll get this behind us and go forward to continue to recruit very talented people from the state of Wisconsin.

I saw the University awarded the prime minister of Iceland an honorary doctorate. Did you personally travel over there to do that?

Yes, I traveled to Iceland for a couple of days last week. We celebrated 25 years of partnership with the University of Iceland, and then we extended the agreement into areas such as nursing, public health and medicine.

At the same meeting, we awarded an honorary doctorate of law to Geir Haarde, who is the prime minister of Iceland and a graduate of the department of economics in the College of Liberal Arts here at the Twin Cities campus.

It was a wonderful opportunity to talk with colleagues at the University of Iceland about areas of mutual interest, to expand this partnership and also to recognize a very significant world leader who also happens to be a graduate of the University. It was a great trip.

So did you take any time out for sightseeing?

I did a little bit. There was a holiday weekend where we couldn’t get a meeting scheduled, so I got a chance to ride an Icelandic horse and visit a glacier. I enjoyed that.