At Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, demolition of condemned property will soon begin to make way for a new building containing eight technology-enhanced classrooms and several new offices, thanks to $5.9 million from the state bonding bill Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed into law this month.
At St. Cloud State University, however, a new integrated science and engineering building won’t start construction this year, after Pawlenty removed a $42.3 million line item in this year’s bonding bill for its construction.
And while Metro State President Sue Hammersmith said she believes that a DFL budget bill Pawlenty just signed into law that cuts Minnesota State Colleges and Universities funding by $10 million won’t have any immediate effect on her campus, St. Cloud State officials have already announced the eventual elimination of 26 academic programs, with the possibility of more casualties to come.
The two campuses have shown the greatest percent increase in enrollment among MnSCU’s four-year universities this spring, so what gives? Why is one preparing for a major course correction while another is steaming ahead through relatively untroubled waters?
Enrollment at the Twin Cities public university that’s not the University of Minnesota has increased 20 percent over the last three years and looks to continue climbing, Hammersmith said.
That growth is driven by adult students — the average student age is 32 years old — and transferring students — 95 percent come to Metro State from another college.
Most of the classes at the university’s Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses are offered at night, on weekends and online, Hammersmith said.
Money for the new classrooms was included in the Legislature’s 2008 bonding bill, but Pawlenty vetoed it, she said.
This year, students took a more hands-on approach to lobbying for the dollars.
“A student senate member who was seven months pregnant delivered 400 letters from other students in support to the Governor’s office,” Hammersmith said. “I like to think the student involvement made a difference.”
The eight classrooms will add to the 24 now at the St. Paul campus and allow the university to reduce its use of leased space, which is more expensive in the long run, she said.
Construction should be completed by 2011, Hammersmith said. And while the university is getting ready for potential cuts in its 2012 budget cycle because of a looming $5.8 billion state government deficit for legislators to tackle next year, she thinks the campus won’t have to make any changes for next year.
“We’re using federal economic stimulus dollars and increased revenues from our enrollment growth to get us by for now,” she said. “We’re not planning to close programs or do layoffs at this point.”
St. Cloud State
MnSCU’s largest campus, in contrast, is looking for ways to save $6 million in 2011.
After evaluating its less popular programs and majors, university officials decided they will phase out 26 of them, including the geology major, a master’s degree in physical education and others, said St. Cloud State Provost Devinder Malhotra.
Students currently enrolled in the programs will receive their degrees, but no new enrollments will take place, he said.
The reductions will come through attrition, layoffs in support staff and efficiencies in 2011, with faculty layoffs possible in 2012, Malhotra said.But Malhotra does not directly blame the Legislature or Pawlenty for the cuts.
“If higher education was adequately and appropriately funded, we would be able to offer greater flexibility and choice to our students,” he said. “But at the same time, academic structures often get frozen in time, and at times we need to undertake new programs, so we need to stop doing some things we’re doing now in order to reallocate resources to those new endeavors.”
St. Cloud State has begun new programs in all its colleges in recent years, including a new master’s degree in regulatory affairs, two new doctoral degree programs in education and more to come, he said.
One of the new endeavors St. Cloud State hoped to get started on was a collaborative, cross-disciplinary science and engineering venture with private businesses that could provide students with real-world projects to study and the university with contract revenue from technology, bioscience and medical companies around the country, said Steve Ludwig, St. Cloud State’s vice president for administrative affairs.
A new, integrated science and engineering building was going to be a key part of that, he said.
But at $42.3 million, it was the largest single MnSCU project contained in a final bonding bill that Pawlenty decided was about $300 million too large for its own good. So it came out with a stroke of the governor’s pen.
“We know our project was generally favorably looked upon,” Ludwig said. “But (Pawlenty) had to make some difficult decisions about the size of the bill.”
Pawlenty spokesperson Brian McClung did not respond to a request for comment concerning Pawlenty’s line-item veto of the St. Cloud State project, and his veto message does not indicate why it was eliminated.
While Pawlenty’s veto is a setback to the university’s efforts to refocus its science and engineering colleges on applied technologies and industry partnerships, Ludwig said officials will be patient and hope for better results in the next bonding bill, which could be two years away.