Increase public support to keep U affordable

Soon after announcing this year’s 13.8 percent tuition increase, University President Mark Yudof said he would, in an effort to compensate for the hike, look to increase the amount of financial aid available to students. Two days ago, the Minnesota Higher Education Services Office quashed a big part of that possibility with its proposal to eliminate grants for between 3,400 and 9,300 students next year.

Those proposed cuts are the result of Gov. Jesse Ventura’s request that state agencies look for ways to eliminate 5 percent to 10 percent of their budgets in light of a $2 billion state revenue shortfall – a shortfall for which the state would have been better prepared had it not frivolously mismanaged funds. Now University students could be facing a possible 15 percent to 20 percent tuition hike next year, in part because the state government squandered what was once a surplus by handing out tax rebates.

The University Foundation, which has successfully executed Campaign Minnesota and has more than $1 billion in its coffers, needs to get back on the phone and call some of its donors. The purpose of these calls should be to get their permission to reallocate Campaign Minnesota funds from long-term investments, such as endowments, to immediate tuition relief.

If things are as bad as we’ve been told, the current financial situation for University students – that of drastically increased tuition and drastically decreased financial aid – warrants such relief now. Obviously, the Campaign Minnesota funds would not have to be completely depleted to sufficiently ease the tuition increase and though it might put the fundraising effort off schedule, the benefits to the University community outweigh the setbacks.

Unfortunately, the relief will be temporary. Until the rest of the state – including the Legislature and, especially, the governor – realize the University’s integral role in Minnesota economics, culture and identity, these problems will continue returning. Yudof tried to get that across last summer during his whirlwind tour of state to drum up public support for the University’s budget request.

Since they didn’t heed his message, the duty falls to legislators. Every legislator who professed support for the University, lauded the benefits of higher education and applauded the positive effects graduates have had on Minnesota must do so again. But this time, they need to do it outside Minnesota House and Senate chambers. Legislators who honestly support the University must explain to their constituents the benefits of having this institution in their state. This is a public university. Without public support, it cannot survive.

And without public support, Ventura will be able to continue shortchanging Minnesota students. Tax rebates are not always the best way to appropriate state funds. People pay taxes for a reason. If a person buys a car for $20,000, he or she should not be given an engineless chassis and a check for $3,000. The same holds true for government.

Concrete steps must be taken now to alleviate the burden on students and to ensure those burdens do not arise again. If the situation does not change, the benefits of attending this University might soon cease to outweigh the costs. The budget shortfall is a serious problem for Minnesota. A student shortfall, however, would be a crisis.