Students urge legislators to keep tuition rates down

Chris Vetter

University students from around the state hit the Capitol on Wednesday morning, urging legislators to help ease their financial woes.
“Right now, we feel you are the only ones who can help us,” said Sean OhmsWinnie, a graduate student in veterinary medicine on the St. Paul campus.
Members of the Student Legislative Coalition, which includes students from all four University campuses, told the Senate Higher Education Budget Division that funds in the University’s proposed budget are greatly needed to keep tuition down, adequately pay faculty members and upgrade campus technology.
The University is requesting about $580 million in state funds over the next two years, a 17 percent increase over the lastbiennium. OhmsWinnie said rising tuition is creating a desperate financial situation for students, and that legislators should cap tuition hikes at the rate of inflation, about 2.5 percent.
“My tuition in the past year has gone up 11 percent,” OhmsWinnie said.
Tuition costs force students to take out large student loans that will burden them for years after they enter the work force, OhmsWinnie said. He said he will have between $70,000 and $75,000 in loans when he graduates.
Although students said they want tuition hikes to decrease, they also want faculty salaries to increase to remain competitive with other top research institutions.
“We need to support our faculty any way we can,” OhmsWinnie said.
University President Nils Hasselmo, traditionally a proponent of increased faculty salaries, attended the meeting and noted that the University is 28th in pay for full professors and 27th for associate professors among the top 30 research institutions.
“We must move toward the median (in pay) or we are going to lose our most valuable assets, our professors,” Hasselmo said. Gov. Arne Carlson’s spending proposal for the University includes $40 million aimed specifically at recruiting and retaining top-notch professors.
But Carlson’s full proposal is about $100 million short of what the University is asking. Marvin Marshak, senior vice president for Academic Affairs, said the governor’s proposed budget is not enough money.
“We will not move very far if the only revenue coming to us comes through the governor’s budget,” Marshak said.
Students from around the state also told the committee about the needs of the smaller University campuses. Jason Kohler, the Morris campus student president, said most facilities on that campus are outdated. He urged the committee to appropriate $150 million in technology initiatives over the next four years to bring Morris up to speed in technology.
“Without adequate funding for technology, the quality of education at the University of Minnesota will diminish,” Kohler said.
Kohler said the Morris campus does not have enough modems and computer lines are always busy, making it almost impossible to get on the Internet.
Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Thief River Falls, said funding for the University is a priority, but the committee must also provide fair funding for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. He told committee members they have a tough task convincing colleagues to vote for higher appropriations.
“We do have a big challenge on our hands,” Stumpf said.
The committee had plans to hear the University’s budget proposal Wednesday, but decided to delay that until their next meeting on Tuesday.