Committee votes down tuition freeze

by Nick Wicker

University of Minnesota leaders made their eleventh-hour pleas to state lawmakers Wednesday, requesting funds to hold tuition flat for some students over the next two years.
After lengthy debate, legislators in the House’s higher education committee passed a bill that would provide no extra funding for the University’s requested tuition freeze.
The House bill starkly contrasts a separate proposal in the Senate that partially funds the University’s request to freeze tuition for resident undergraduate, graduate and professional students. It also offers state dollars to the Medical School and to further research on Alzheimer’s and other dementia diseases. The Senate
measure passed through committee on Tuesday.
Under the House bill, the University will not be able to save students from a 3 percent increase in tuition next year, University President Eric Kaler said at the meeting Wednesday.
He said that hike would amount to an additional $2,100 to $2,600 over the course of four years.
Kaler also said at the meeting the University has worked hard to make administrativecuts and has followed the performance measures the Legislature tied to the school’s funding last year.
The school has made $39 million in cuts to administrative functions in the past two years, and Kaler said he plans reduce administrative spending by $90 million over six years.
“We do believe we have done our part,” he said Wednesday. “I think this proposal is a step backwards in the partnership between the Legislature and the University.”
The House bill would provide $105 million to tuition relief for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities schools in the next two fiscal years, which some lawmakers said is necessary.
Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe, said though a tuition freeze for the University wasn’t included in the House bill, the state is still showing support for its students.
Gruenhagen said a new tax bill is also being voted on this session, which would help students who are in debt.
Still, some legislators argued that with a nearly $2 billion surplus, the state should be able to allocate additional resources to the University.
“We’re going to see increases in tuition and increases in debt in a time of a surplus,” Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, said at the meeting.
The House bill is expected to get a second hearing as early as Friday, he said.
Pelowski said at the meeting though the House bill is not ideal, he hopes it will get resolved when both the House and the Senate combine their higher education bills at a conference committee.
Lawmakers will have until the end of the session on May 18 to finalize the University’s budget.