Funding cut must not lead to tuition increase

Education is expensive. More and more, convincing the public that an investment in education – both higher and K-12 – is beneficial has become a difficult job.

The current economic downturn has compounded this problem. The state Legislature is faced with a nearly $2 billion deficit. This has prompted cuts in numerous state agencies, from nonprofits to the University. Last year, facing lower projected revenues, the Legislature funded only about half of the University’s biennial funding request. As a result, students have been burdened by a 13.8 percent increase in tuition.

The current projected deficit has also prompted Gov. Jesse Ventura to propose a 5 percent – or $33 million – reduction in the University’s state funding.

A cut of some level was to be expected since the state announced the shortfall. The governor’s office asked the University to prepare for a 5 percent or 10 percent cut. Having reviewed these data, Ventura is recommending to the Legislature the 5 percent reduction. With public school K-12 education throughout the state in dire financial straits, a 5 percent cut is palatable for the University and, in the context of these financial woes, the right thing to do.

That said, the University must not turn to students in its efforts to offset this reduction. Students have already been burdened with the 13.8 percent tuition increase this year, and the regents have approved a 13 percent increase for next year. This 13 percent jump must not rise.

In order to contain tuition increases the University has two main options. It can reduce costs, primarily through administrative cuts. Ventura has repeatedly voiced his support for this option. But the University can only cut so deep before the reductions will adversely affect the University’s execution of its mission.

Alternatively, the University can tap into Campaign Minnesota funding to offset the reduction. This would necessitate contacting donors for their approval of the reallocation. But in a fund with more than $1.3 billion, $33 million – less than 3 percent of the total fund – will not affect the future of the University as significantly as an additional tuition increase. And with the vast increases during the past several years of administrative personnel tasked with soliciting alumni donations, the workforce is undeniably there.

Ventura recognized that students should not be forced to bear the cost of this cut alone and committed an additional $12.5 million for student financial aid. But financial aid can only go so far. As President Mark Yudof noted, “If you put the money into the students, it doesn’t pay the bills for the University.”

The money needed for temporary relief is there, in the form of Campaign Minnesota donations. Administrators must act for the overall good of everyone at the institution-in fact, for the institution itself. It makes little sense to dehydrate when a vast reservoir lies under our noses.