State officials discuss higher-ed issues on campus

Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said the state needs to increase funding for the University.

Lacey Crisp

University officials, professors and students met with state lawmakers Thursday to discuss higher education.

State Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, hosted the “listening session” at Coffman Union. The roundtable discussion with the Senate Higher Education Budget Division was the last of six campus visits for the committee. The group met with private and public institutions.

“We definitely need to look at stopping the budget cuts and increasing the funding for the University,” Pappas said.

Pappas said she takes these informal meetings into consideration when meeting with other state legislators.

The University is the third-most expensive school in the Big Ten, behind Pennsylvania State University and Michigan State University, said Peter Zetterberg, director of the Office of Institutional Research and Reporting.

Zetterberg, who spoke at the meeting, said Minnesota’s budget cuts to higher education have been more extreme than other states.

“Tuition has just about doubled in the past 10 years, which includes both undergraduate and graduate rates,” he said. “Appropriations for the University in 2004 was less than it was in 1978.”

The state appropriated approximately $625 million to the University in 1978 and approximately $550 million in 2004, Zetterberg reported.

He said that even with the substantial increases in tuition, more students are coming to the University and, more importantly, graduating.

He said the Twin Cities campus had a record amount of more than 10,000 degrees given to students last year.

“I know students don’t like paying tuition, but at least it hasn’t deterred them from coming here and getting a degree,” Zetterberg said.

Zetterberg said it is disheartening to hear arguments between the state and federal governments about higher-education funding because it is a blame game.

Craig Swan, University vice provost for undergraduate education, said the University needs more state funding to help students graduate in four years.

“Graduation rates are increasing,” Swan said. “They are not where they should be, though.”

Swan said the average student works approximately 20 hours a week. Many people at the meeting expressed concern about the number of hours students are working – on top of being full-time students – in order to pay tuition.

“We tried to protect students as much as we could from the budget cuts,” Swan said. “We froze salaries and cut some positions.”

Minnesota Student Association Vice President Amy Jo Pierce said the group would be OK with a 5.5 percent tuition increase for next year, but not another double-digit increase.

Pappas said she was surprised MSA approved another tuition increase.

Pierce said, “The state should play a part in the funding of the University.”

Dennis Schulstad, president of the University Alumni Association, said the state needs to invest in the University now to ensure its future.

“The University costs money, but it is an investment that pays high in dividends,” Schulstad said.

Schulstad said he takes pride in the University and wants to see it grow.

“The University of Minnesota is the engine that drives this state,” Schulstad said.