State to review reciprocity policies

by Brady Averill

One day after state senators began considering changes to Minnesota reciprocity agreements, a State House committee is doing the same.

Rep. Joe Opatz, DFL-St. Cloud, the House Higher Education Finance Committee vice chairman, said he has introduced dozens of bills during the last few years to change Minnesota’s reciprocity program. A bill he proposed Wednesday to his committee is a “relatively soft proposal,” compared to past bills, he said.

The bill would require the Minnesota Higher Education Services Office to report annually on its tuition reciprocity program. It also requires HESO to review payment provisions with South Dakota and renegotiate the Wisconsin agreement with the goal of lessening the tuition gap between Minnesota students and Wisconsin students.

Joel Alter, a project manager who reviewed Minnesota’s reciprocity program for the Office of the Legislative Auditor, said the program is unique and offers important opportunities for Minnesota students. It also helps attract talented students from states with which Minnesota has agreements, he said.

But, Alter said, there are concerns about the reciprocity program.

The first is the tuition disparity between Minnesota residents and Wisconsin students attending the University, he said.

Wisconsin students who attend University campuses pay lower tuition than Minnesota students because they pay a rate similar to an institution in their home state.

Also, since 1988, neither Minnesota nor South Dakota have paid each other for marginal costs the institutions accrue from additional students.

Because of that, South Dakota might owe Minnesota money, Alter said.

But HESO officials said they aren’t sure and cautioned how Minnesota should approach the problem.

Mark Misukanis, HESO director of fiscal policy and research, said, “It’s not that they may or may not owe us money. It’s something we don’t know.”

Tricia Grimes, HESO policy and research analyst, said that if South Dakota is forced to pay, it might withdraw from its agreement. She also said Minnesota residents could potentially go to South Dakota schools without having to pay out-of-state tuition, which would be a financial incentive to go there.

“That is the kind of dance that goes on between states,” she said.

A component of the bill would require HESO to report annually on the reciprocity program.

HESO generates some reports now on the program, but people there are happy to do more, Misukanis said.

Rep. Jerry Dempsey, R-Red Wing, said he questioned the need for Opatz’ bill.

“Why do we need another piece of legislation?” he said.

He said HESO should be able to fix any problems in the reciprocity agreements.

“Forget the laws, and do the job,” he said.

Alter said HESO is within its authority to fix reciprocity agreements.

Opatz said the reason for his bill is that there has long been frustration with the program and nothing has been done to solve its problems.

HESO officials said they are having conference calls with Wisconsin and South Dakota to discuss reciprocity agreements.