Tuition freeze, DREAM Act pass both House and Senate

by Cody Nelson

An undergraduate tuition freeze and the DREAM Act may soon become realities at the University of Minnesota.

The state Senate and House both passed the higher education omnibus bill on Friday, which allocated $42.6 million to the University for the tuition freeze and funding to give undocumented students in-state benefits.

The bill also includes funding for a new University research initiative, MnDRIVE, with an appropriation of $35.65 million. A signature from Gov. Mark Dayton, which is due by Monday when the current legislative session ends, is the bill’s last step before taking effect.

The bill’s main goal is “to fill the jobs of tomorrow,” said  Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, who is the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee  chair.

The DREAM Act, officially called the Prosperity Act, was unanimously adopted by committee and will take effect July 1. Proponents say it will help address Minnesota’s achievement gap and workforce needs.

In an emotional testimony, Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, gave her support for the program at Wednesday’s committee meeting.

“This has been so very important to so many young people and this is what we are about in higher ed is providing education to young people,” she said. “It doesn’t matter where they were born; they come to the United States.”

The DREAM Act will cost $100,000 in a one-time appropriation from the Office of Higher Education general fund.

Some, including Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, had issues with the act’s inclusion in the omnibus bill at the Senate hearing Friday.

Westrom said he voted against the bill because the DREAM Act allows undocumented students to accumulate student debt but they can’t work to pay it back after graduation because of their immigration status.

“We all know how hard it is to pay college debt off,” he said. “Without employment, that becomes nearly an impossible task.”

Westrom and other lawmakers have said the issues tackled in the DREAM Act need to be handled at a federal level.

Though the state House didn’t pass the DREAM Act, legislative rules state it could be included in the bill’s final version because the Senate passed it, Bonoff said.

MnDRIVE, a University research initiative, was given more than $35 million in funding, just short of the full Senate’s proposed amount.

To receive the full funding, the University will have to complete three of five performance goals, like decreasing administrative spending by $15 million. The other goals include improving graduation rates, increasing undergraduate degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, and filing more invention disclosures.