Tuition-reduction bill passes committee

by Jessica Burke

University students might get a tuition break next year, courtesy of the state Legislature.
The Higher Education Finance Division of the House Education Committee approved legislation Wednesday that will provide $10 million for tuition reductions and financial aid for higher education institutions across the state.
“I would prefer to have it all for tuition reduction,” said Rep. Myron Orfield, DFL-Minneapolis, who wrote the bill. “But I recognize sometimes you need to compromise to keep ideas going.”
If the full committee and the House approve the legislation, Orfield’s bill could give the University $1.5 million toward lowering tuition next year. It will be up to the Board of Regents to decide if just undergraduate students will get a tuition reduction or if graduate and professional students will benefit as well.
University officials and legislators said they do not know yet how much the appropriation would affect an average student’s tuition costs.
The bill originally requested $50 million from the state’s $864 million budget surplus. Half of the money would have gone to the University and the other half would have gone to the schools in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.
But House Speaker Irv Anderson, DFL-International Falls, set aside $10 million from the supplementary budget for the bill. There was no money allocated for the bill in the Senate.
Orfield wanted the entire sum to go for tuition reductions at public universities and colleges in Minnesota, but an amendment to the bill will take half of the $10 million for state financial aid.
“That isn’t what private colleges want, it isn’t what public colleges want, but I think it’s a fair compromise,” said Rep. Tony Kinkel, DFL-Park Rapids.
Kinkel, chairman of the Higher Education subcommittee, wrote the amendment.
Under the amendment, $5 million will go for tuition reductions at all public colleges and universities. The system of state colleges will get $3.5 million of that money.
The reason for giving a larger portion of funds to the system of state colleges is that there are more full-time students on average at the schools than at the University.
Low-income students at both private and public schools in Minnesota will benefit from the financial aid appropriations.
Kinkel’s amendment will provide grants for students whose families have annual gross incomes of less than $20,000. Dependent students and independent students with children will also be eligible for the grants.
Although the authors of the bill’s Senate version have had a difficult time getting a hearing on the legislation, Orfield said with the compromise the bill might spark more interest now.
The House Education Committee will vote on the bill today.