Gov. calls for tuition increase cap

Caps on tuition increase and moving some education online are priorities for Gov. Tim Pawlenty as the state tries to navigate an almost $5 billion budget deficit this legislative session. In PawlentyâÄôs annual State of the State address on Thursday, the Republican governor outlined his goals for his budget almost two weeks before he releases it on Jan. 27. âÄúWe should impose a firm cap on tuition increases at both [the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system] and the University of Minnesota,âÄù Pawlenty said. While higher education made up only a small part of his speech, Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said it would be a priority during this legislative session. In a statement, University President Bob Bruininks said tuition increase caps âÄúwill severely compromiseâÄù the University. âÄúWe urge policymakers to provide the âÄòUâÄô and other state-supported agencies with maximum flexibility in addressing these severe challenges,âÄù Bruininks said in the statement. âÄúEveryone is tightening their belts,âÄù McClung said. âÄúThe University is not immune to that.âÄù Members of the DFL leadership in the Legislature reacted coolly to PawlentyâÄôs goals. Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia and chairman of the House Higher Education and Workforce Development Finance and Policy Division Committee, said he would like to see tuition caps of some kind this session, but said the state needs to find sources of revenue first. Rukavina has sought to cap tuition increases in the past, including last session. âÄúWeâÄôre going to have to look at everything because times are absolutely terrible,âÄù he said. Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul and chairwoman of the Senate Higher Education Budget and Policy Division, also said the state would need to find a way to pay for any tuition cap by increasing the schoolsâÄô budgets. âÄúYouâÄôre really going to impact quality,âÄù she said. In December, the University Student Senate passed a resolution seeking to impose a tuition increase cap of 5.5 percent. McClung said Pawlenty considered that resolution when crafting his speech. Political science senior Ryan Kennedy , who co-authored that resolution, said he was encouraged by PawlentyâÄôs goal. âÄúItâÄôs nice to hear the governor going out with that idea,âÄù he said. The Board of RegentâÄôs current requested budget increase of $141.2 million comes with a yearly tuition increase of 4.5 percent beginning in 2010. McClung said PawlentyâÄôs goal of moving more classes online would be another possible way to cut back on tuition costs. âÄúWe are hopeful that in the long run, we could see some cost savings that would help hold down tuition,âÄù he said. Pawlenty has challenged the MnSCU system to deliver 25 percent of its credits online by 2015. The University does not share that goal, said Bob Rubinyi , project leader for the UniversityâÄôs Digital Campus. âÄúThe University of Minnesota really is positioned as one of the worldâÄôs top research universities,âÄù he said. âÄúI donâÄôt necessarily see that the University of Minnesota would be trying to achieve that type of objective here.âÄù The Digital Campus launched in November with the goal of centralizing the UniversityâÄôs online offerings. Studies indicate online enrollment is increasing nationwide âÄî a November 2008 study by the Sloan Consortium found a 12.9 percent increase in online enrollment in fall 2007 over the previous year. Still, some legislators are wary of PawlentyâÄôs goal. Pappas said she doesnâÄôt see the MnSCU system reaching the 25 percent number. âÄúIt has limited applications,âÄù she said. âÄúI donâÄôt see it getting to 25 percent.âÄù