Regents to seek freeze extension

U leaders will ask lawmakers for a funding boost to lengthen the current tuition freeze.

by Tyler Gieseke

University of Minnesota officials are planning to ask the state Legislature for a boost in funding next session, which they say could extend the school’s already-active tuition freeze.

Securing state funding to prolong the freeze beyond the 2014-15 school year is one of the Board of Regents’ priorities for the year, Chair Richard Beeson said. Regents will also home in on other goals throughout the year, like continuing cuts on administrative spending and improving the Academic Health Center.

A three-day retreat in St. Cloud early last month served as a drawing board for regents and President Eric Kaler to develop the goals. The retreat, which regents attend annually and occurs at different locations across the state, featured meetings with business leaders and University administrators, regents said.

“There were strong conversations [at the retreat],” Beeson said. “It’s going to be a busy and important year.”

Regents agreed that securing enough state funding to keep tuition increases down and potentially hold rates flat for students paying undergraduate in-state tuition is a top priority going forward.

In 2013, the state Legislature granted Kaler’s request to increase funding so the University could freeze undergraduate in-state tuition until fall 2015. Beeson said he expects the president’s next proposal for legislators to consider, which the board will review in September, to include another request for increased state funding to freeze tuition for the same group of students.

Beeson said he is optimistic that University leaders will garner the funds.

“We believe that, through the leadership of President Kaler … the [University’s] partnership with the state is as good as we’ve seen it in many years,” Board Vice Chair Dean Johnson said.

Although some students say maintaining the halt on tuition increases for students is a good place to start cutting down on costs, many graduate and professional students argue they should also receive the benefits of stagnant tuition, Student Senate Chair Valkyrie Jensen said.

In June, the board signed onto a tuition freeze for veterinary and first-year Medical School students for the coming academic year, and some students are working to maintain the fixed rate in 2015-16.

Besides fighting tuition increases, regents said they will focus on reallocating resources in the coming year toward University programs that are performing well.

Beeson said the reorganizing could mean adjusting or cutting programs with low demand. Although specific programs haven’t been identified yet, he said, senior administrators will make the final decisions.

Beeson said the board will also continue working on past priorities.

In September, the board will examine a draft of the University’s strategic plan — a project that has taken a year to complete and that Johnson said will provide a refined “road map” for the University.

They plan to vote on the plan in October.

The board will also support more administrative spending cuts, Beeson said, as part of the plan Kaler announced in September to cut $90 million in administrative overhead by 2019. The University has already budgeted for more than $30 million in cuts.

Improving the Academic Health Center also ranks high on the regents’ to-do list.

Johnson said amping up health science programs is important as the University strives to offer a health care system that’s nationally competitive.

And state leaders agree. Gov. Mark Dayton formed a panel last week to outline ways to improve the University’s Medical School and boost its rankings.

Come fall, the regents will be ready to act on their plans, like curbing tuition costs and improving University programs, Beeson said.

“We’re energized about getting back to work in September and starting that process,” he said.