University budget cuts will ‘drain’ the state

GBy Sen. Lawrence J. Pogemiller gov. Tim Pawlenty’s recently released budget proposal contains a 15 percent decrease for the University. This is a deep cut that will severely impact our University’s ability to provide high-quality services for students and to invest adequately in its critical research functions.

The governor’s budget laudably increases funding to student aid to help offset tuition costs. This is certainly necessary to protect some students from the maximum 15 percent tuition increase his proposal would allow.

The University needs adequate funding to offer an excellent education for students. The governor’s cuts will cause a retrenchment of service, access and choice for students at a time when the demand is higher, and the need greater, than ever.

The last several years have witnessed erosion in our commitment to funding higher education. In 1992, higher education funding as a portion of state general fund expenditures was 13.1 percent. Our commitment has gradually decreased; funding will be 9.35 percent of state general fund expenditures. The governor’s proposal not only moves us toward a high-tuition, high-aid university, but chokes off the University’s ability to be competitive, draw research dollars and attract and retain faculty.

Our higher education system and the students who benefit from it are fundamental to restoring and maintaining economic strength in our state. The need for well-educated workers does not change when the economy suffers. In fact, the need becomes greater. Well-prepared, broadly educated workers and an innovative, competitive University are essential to achieving and maintaining our state’s economic health. We need to invest more, not less, to attract and retain the best faculty and students to our state.

Surrounding states have, in recent years, experienced a “brain drain” – the out-migration of students and workers to areas where there are greater opportunities to advance educationally and professionally. Minnesota has seen a “brain gain” – retaining and attracting students and highly educated workers who recognize its opportunities for educational and career advancement. Our strong land grant University is an essential component to our status as a “brain gain” state. Failure to properly invest in it is shortsighted. Minnesota cannot afford to become a “brain drain” state.

In the last decade, the University, with the help of students and taxpayers, has strengthened its undergraduate education and become even more of a powerhouse in its research functions. It has secured private endowments and vastly improved its infrastructure. Our state cannot afford to turn its back now. Doing so will only further devastate our economic climate. In my view, a proposal by the governor for investment, not retrenchment, would have been a wiser choice for the University and for Minnesota.

Lawrence J. Pogemiller is a Democratic Minnesota state senator representing District 59 in Minneapolis. Send

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