Final higher ed bill includes insurance waiver expansion, U mining program

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A conference committee passed a handful of provisions relating to higher education policy Wednesday night, with implications for the University of Minnesota.

Because the versions of the House and Senate higher education omnibus bills were slightly different, a conference committee met in order to strike a compromise between the two. The bill will now return to both chambers before it reaches Gov. Mark Dayton’s desk.

This session’s bill has many provisions for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system but also has important pieces for the University, including the creation of a new mining program and changes in health insurance waivers.

A provision originally included in the House version of the bill would add a member of the Minnesota Student Legislative Coalition to the Student Advisory Council, which makes recommendations to the state Office of Higher Education.

The conference committee passed their version Wednesday that did not include the provision for the MSLC.

“I feel like the committee didn’t give it the full consideration it deserved,” MSLC director Chris Tastad said. “It’s the kind of thing that’s for the betterment of students, for the betterment of how the OHE operates. It seemed to be the right direction in establishing the MSLC. It’s something that we’ll continue to fight for.”

The bill would bring a mining program to the University. The program was once a central component of the state’s only land-grant university that even had its own school — the School of Mines and Metallurgy.

Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, first introduced the bill last session, but the House’s higher education committee didn’t hear the bill until February. Rukavina, a northern Minnesota legislator, put forth the bill because he believes mining is a big asset to the state and the University needs to reinvest in an area that it once reigned supreme.

Robert Jones, senior vice president for academic administration at the University, testified about the possibility of adding the program earlier in the session after talking with Rukavina. Jason Rohloff, special assistant to the president for government relations, said the University is “supportive of the provision” but that the school must first consider multiple components of the potential program before anything can be implemented.

Before anything official can happen, Rohloff said the University must examine student demand for a degree program, if the University can implement a quality degree program with the right faculty and if the program could be sustainable for years to come.

The previous mining program at the University was eventually phased out after mining in the state began to decrease.

Currently, there are few other universities around the nation that offer degree programs in mining.

The student health care provision would expand the number of waivers the University would be required to grant for student health care plans.

Currently, a University student is required to have a health care plan, and if they don’t, they must purchase health care from the University.

Under the new provision, the University would be required to “grant a waiver from its required student health insurance plan coverage if the student requests the waiver and the student has health plan coverage from another source.”

Members of Boynton Health Service testified that the reason for not granting waivers for some plans is because they are not adequate.

Carl Anderson, chief operating officer for Boynton, said if some private health care plans don’t cover enough services, others will end up paying the difference.

Sen. Michelle Fischbach, the chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, said she expected the chambers to vote on the final bill Friday.