Official: Plan is ‘terrible mistake’

Editor’s Note: The following article is the final in the series that explores Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s proposal to change the way higher education is funded.

University officials said Wednesday that the University is far from supporting a Colorado-type system of state funding for higher education institutions.

Craig Swan, vice provost for undergraduate education, said the plan only has disadvantages for the University.

“It’s a terrible mistake for the state and the University,” he said.

Last month, Gov. Tim Pawlenty mentioned changing the way higher education is funded in his State of the State address. Pawlenty cited Colorado’s plan, which gives vouchers to students directly for colleges and universities.

Swan said that if the state were to give part of its higher education funding to students in the form of tuition stipends, the support for the University would go down by half of its appropriations bill.

He said that if this happened, the University would have difficulty maintaining class access and keeping the same investments in classes and libraries. Tuition would also have to go up, he said.

“It’s the only way schools will be able to hold onto that income source,” he said.

Richard Pfutzenreuter, the University’s chief financial officer, said that in a way, the

University already has a system in which money follows the student.

He said that when a state assigns a grant to a student for need-based aid, that money goes straight to the University to pay the tuition bill.

But Pfutzenreuter said that although the University has a form of it today for need-based students, he doesn’t see a Colorado-type system progressing in Minnesota.

“I don’t think it has much leg at the Capitol,” he said.

Some officials have suggested that if the system were in place, the University would need to market itself to increase enrollment and make up for lost appropriation money.

Last month, a report from Brown University said colleges and universities are already becoming more market-oriented and acting like businesses.

According to the report, colleges are spending money on facilities with little educational value, such as “state of the art computer labs, luxury dormitories and sparkling new gymnasiums” to attract the best students.

But the University of Minnesota already has the second-largest undergraduate enrollment in the nation, at nearly 51,000 students. This leaves little room for expanding the undergraduate population on the Twin Cities campus.

Peter Zetterberg, director of the Office of Institutional

Research and Reporting, said one possible scenario has resident students receiving $2,000 vouchers toward their tuition.

“Colorado is only doing it because the state has tied itself up in knots financially because of the taxpayer bill of rights and some other constitutional provisions,” Zetterberg said.

Donna Peterson, University of Minnesota associate vice president for government relations, said the state’s Higher Education Services Office has backed off Pawlenty’s suggestion of a Colorado-type system. The office would like to do a review of how education is funded in other states, including Colorado.

“You see these different ideas come and go,” Peterson said. “Someone always assumes there might be a better idea around the corner.”

She said the University still needs to attract students, but the University offers programs that are very expensive and cannot be funded solely with tuition money.

“No matter what system you call it, you have to have a product that somebody wants to come spend their money on,” Peterson said. “There has to be a quality education here to get students to come.”