Brain-drain concerns

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The omnibus higher education finance conference committee report cuts much sharper than the budget proposed by Gov. Mark Dayton.

Sponsored by Rep. Bud Nornes (R-Fergus Falls) and Senate President Michelle Fischbach (R-Paynesville), HF1101*/ SF924 would reduce $411.1 million in funding from the forecast base, about an 11 percent reduction from current biennium spending. Dayton’s plan calls for a $170.9 million base reduction.

Checking in at nearly $2.51 billion, the bill would cut the University of Minnesota 18.9 percent from forecast base. The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system would be reduced by 14.3 percent from forecast base.

The Senate bill called for an 18.9 percent General Fund reduction to the university; the House, 17.7 percent; and the governor, 6 percent. The respective MnSCU percentages were 13.3 percent, 15.9 percent and 6 percent.

“It’s a good bill when you consider everything that we’re dealing with,” Nornes said before the House passed the bill 69-57 May 18. The Senate passed it 35-31 May 19, sending it to Dayton’s desk.

Officials from both systems note the proposed funding levels are comparable to 1998 while they are serving approximately 40,000 more students. They say the cuts would lead to hundreds of faculty layoffs, thousands of reduced course offerings, program closures, millions of dollars in lost research opportunities and would hurt Minnesota’s competitiveness in future years because of fewer qualified workers.

“If we’re going to keep raising tuition the way that we have over the last decade, we will have a Minnesota brain-drain. We’ll have more and more college students leaving Minnesota never to return,” said Rep. Terry Morrow (DFL-St. Peter).

“I cannot believe that we would want to go back to last century funding, last century research, last century education, when we need to compete in this century.”

However, the state grant program would see an additional $21.1 million, a 7.3 percent increase. The House proposed increasing base funding for the state grant program by $27.1 million; the Senate $7.2 million; and the governor kept state grant funding at base levels. The bill also provides stable funding for child care assistance grants to help students with children continue their education.

“The entire focus has been how we can help students,” Nornes said. “By granting an increase of funding to the state grant program … this allows students in every sector of higher education to receive needed aid to assist them in financing their education.”

In an effort to ensure students don’t bear the brunt of state reductions, MnSCU could not raise tuition by more than 3 percent per year at the two-year state colleges, and by no more than 5 percent in the first academic year and 4 percent in the second academic at the state universities. The annual increase in mandatory fees would be limited to 4 percent, unless a higher rate gets approved by student associations.

It is requested the university also adhere to the 5 percent/4 percent tuition increases and 4 percent fee increase. Because of its autonomy, the Legislature can only request the university do things.

“This bill doesn’t help students. It increases their cost; it reduces their access; it destroys their opportunities,” said Rep. Jeanne Poppe (DFL-Austin).

Other policy and finance provisions in the bill include:

  • 1 percent of fiscal year 2013 university and MnSCU funding is contingent on the meeting of specific criteria;
  • encouraging MnSCU and the university to offer a guaranteed tuition plan;
  • eliminating the matching grant program that is part of the Minnesota college savings plan;
  • lowering of the eligibility age for the senior citizen higher education program from 66 to 62;
  • prohibiting use of state or federal funds, for state programs, to support human cloning or for expenses incidental to human cloning; and
  • repealing the requirement that public institutions sell American-made clothing and apparel in their bookstores to the extent possible.

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