Editorial: Post-recession, state funding for higher ed lags. This is unacceptable.

Funding education is integral to the future of our state.

Daily Editorial Board

In Monday’s edition of the Minnesota Daily, reporter Ryan Faircloth explored the fact that funding for the University of Minnesota and Minnesota higher education at-large has not bounced back since the Great Recession of 2008, and in fact data shows that each subsequent recession has further constricted funding for higher education in the state.

Brian Burnett, the University of Minnesota’s senior vice president for finance and operations explained the situation to the Minnesota Daily: “You’re watching a change in who’s the primary provider of funds for the education of the students at the University of Minnesota … And it’s changing from the state to the parents and students.”

What’s more, University of Minnesota tuition has risen about 40 percent since 2007. And according to data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, state funding per student for all Minnesota higher education institutions has dropped 15 percent since the Great Recession (when adjusted for inflation).

This shift is entirely unacceptable. Have students and their parents become more financially able to support the burden of higher education in recent years? No, most incomes, and especially middle class incomes, haven’t risen even by the rate of inflation. (The median household income in the U.S. is still 8 percent lower than it was in 2008.)

This simply cannot be allowed to continue at any rate, especially the dire one the current legislature has set, with Larry Pogemiller, commissioner of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, echoing these sentiments in the same Minnesota Daily report: “The House currently provides less than half and the Senate less than a third of the postsecondary investment the governor deems appropriate and necessary. If we don’t invest … close to the governor’s level, tuition will go up and quality will go down.”

Tuition will certainly have to increase, but any such increase within the realm of reason may not be able to match the current funding shortfalls for this school, for this community, and for the students already in the process of getting their degree who may be attending a very different university than the one they applied to.

University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler said that if the current level of funding becomes law, there will be program cuts.

“We will not be able to sustain the totality of our efforts at the proposed funding levels,” he wrote in a recent statement on the matter.

What is happening here? We have a budget surplus in this state of $1.65 billion, and we cannot meet the demands of higher education even to the point of keeping it at its current level of quality and affordability? That’s shameful.

We urge the State Legislature to fully fund the University’s request. Anything less is an offensive, ill-conceived affront to higher education in our home. If that doesn’t happen, we will seriously be jeopardizing the future of education in our state.