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President Kaler announces possible UMN tuition hike at State Capitol

Even if legislators fulfill the school’s entire $147.2 million dollar budget request, Kaler says tuition hikes could come regardless.
University President Eric Kaler speaks to a crowd of students during Support the U Day at the Minnesota Capitol on Wednesday, March 1, 2017.
Image by Carter Jones
University President Eric Kaler speaks to a crowd of students during Support the U Day at the Minnesota Capitol on Wednesday, March 1, 2017.

University of Minnesota resident and non-resident students could see tuition hikes this fall.

At a House higher education committee meeting Wednesday, University President Eric Kaler told legislators an increase may come even if the state fulfills the school’s $147.2 million biennial budget request. And with a surplus in the state budget announced Tuesday, some think full funding may be more likely.

Still, tuition could rise as much as two-and-a-half percent for resident students and 10 percent for non-resident students, Kaler said in an interview Wednesday.

The increase could come as early as this fall, he said, but students whose families make under $120,000 would likely see the increased costs mitigated with scholarships or other aid.

Kaler said the tuition hike is a result of the Legislature not granting the University all of its requested funding in past years.

At the meeting, where House higher education committee members reviewed the school’s budget request, Rep. Randy Jessup, R-Shoreview, said he was concerned that a 10 percent tuition increase could hurt retention with non-resident University students.

Kaler said at the meeting only 14 percent of students would have to pay the price, as the other 16 percent of non-residents come from tuition reciprocity states.

The question about retention “worries me to death,” Kaler said, adding he’s unsure how financially flexible the non-resident student population is.

“If we don’t invest, frankly, tuition will go up, quality will go down,” he said.

The University’s biennial budget request included an almost 12 percent boost in state funding for initiatives to retain faculty and staff, expand research, improve student retention and restore health training services, among others.

University representatives also fielded questions about its budget request from the Senate’s higher education committee Tuesday.

Students lobby legislators

Students from the University’s five campuses gathered at the State Capitol Wednesday to help regents and administrators lobby legislators for the University’s request.

At 12 p.m. Wednesday, as part of the annual Support the U Day, about 200 students, faculty, staff and alumni gathered in the capitol building’s rotunda to hear speakers like Kaler, Head Football Coach P.J. Fleck and Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon.

“Your voices really, really matter,” Kaler said.

He encouraged students to talk to their legislators to help build relationships.

After the rally, students were able to speak with legislators individually.

“I am here today to encourage my representatives to continue to support the [University] and continue to fund us,” said Scott Benz, a biochemistry junior at the Morris campus.

Budget forecast shows possibilities for U funding

University officials are optimistic about funding chances after Minnesota Management and Budget released the state’s latest budget update Tuesday — revealing a $1.65 billion surplus.

While some are hopeful this could mean more money for the University, others think school funding could take a backseat to other matters.

Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, said the additional funds make it more likely for the University to receive its $147.2 million budget request.

“To see [the budget has] grown a little bit more is all positive,” said Nornes, chair of the House higher education committee.

Dean Johnson, chair of the University’s Board of Regents, said the school is in a better position for funding than before, but the Legislature will still weigh between many priorities.

“We at the University are hopeful that strong consideration will be given to our budget request, which the Legislature will now digest, amend and investigate,” he said.

Both of the University area’s legislative representatives, Rep. Ilhan Omar, DFL-Minneapolis, and Sen. Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, released statements encouraging higher education funding.

With the new forecast, budget negotiations will get more serious, Nornes said.

Still, other priorities — like tax cuts and slowing the growth of a rising state budget — may compete with the University for the funding, he said.

“It just raises the competition I think that much more,” Nornes said.

Sen. Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, a member of the Senate higher education committee, said he doesn’t think the surplus will lead to more higher education funding.

Tax cuts and a transportation bill could also take away some of the extra funds, Cohen said.

But the increased budget could be at risk due to federal uncertainty, which Cohen said makes him want to invest some of the surplus into the state’s reserve fund.

The risks — detailed in the budget and economic forecast — included federal policy uncertainty, inflation and international trade.

At a press conference Tuesday, Gov. Mark Dayton said he was satisfied with the budget increase but urged legislators to be cautious of the potential federal risks.

With the surplus, Dayton said he may now consider putting some of the money into the state’s reserve fund to account for the risks.

“The uncertainty surrounding this budget forecast demand extreme caution and restraint from my administration, the legislature and various affected interest groups,” he said.

Natalie Rademacher contributed to this report

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