State colleges fight for budget dollars

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 2, 2001

Friday, February 02, 2001

With double-digit increases possible, along with potential program cuts and staff layoffs, MnSCU representatives are fighting against Gov. Jesse Ventura’s proposed budget.

Ventura’s two-year budget proposal included just $47 million of the $255.6 million Minnesota State Colleges and Universities requested for the biennium. That puts the 35 learning institutions at serious risk, including Riverland Community College, according to Gary Rhodes, Riverland president.

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"I find it appalling that the governor would come back with a budget that isn’t at all realistic and is completely out of touch with the needs of the people," Rhodes said. "We were so caught off guard by what he proposed. We didn’t anticipate it."

Statewide, MnSCU representatives are meeting with media and citizens to discuss the budget cuts and how it will affect the entire state, not only the colleges and universities.

The amount budgeted is only 18 percent of what the group requested.

"That addresses about one-fourth of inflationary costs, if inflation is at 3 percent," Rhodes said.

Under Ventura’s proposed budget, Riverland would receive $665,386 of its requested $4 million increase in state funding.

Such a drastic gap in the requested funding to the amount the MnSCU will receive will bring the institutions to a "survive-and-maintain mentality rather than thrive and compete," Rhodes said.

The increase in requested funds was to make up for the money lost over the last decade as state funding decreased.

According to Rhodes, MnSCU had 6.4 percent of the state’s budget in 1990. That dropped to 4.6 percent in the last 10 years. Under Ventura’s proposed budget, MnSCU will receive 3.8 percent of the state’s budget.

"Before, we were thinking of a 3 percent tuition increase, to keep up with inflation," Rhodes said. "Now, we’re considering an 11 percent increase. That’s 22 percent over the biennium."

In other words, what would have been an extra $68 in tuition could be an additional $258 tacked onto a student’s tuition bill. If the tuition increase was 20 percent to account for the budget shortfall, the additional cost could be between $450 and $500 per year.

In addition to the 11 percent tuition increase, the college also may cut programs or enact enrollment caps, hiring freezes and construction freezes.

"We might also have to do a four-and-a-half-day week to cut heating and utility costs," Rhodes said. That could mean fewer classes held on Saturdays, which accommodate students who work full time during the week.

"This will certainly impact the service we offer to students," Rhodes said.

But it also has an impact on the entire state of Minnesota, he said.

According to figures Rhodes offered, 50 percent of the work force are MnSCU graduates, and that includes 86 percent of nurses, 56 percent of those employed in the information and technology field and 90 percent of police officers. Plus, 80 percent of MnSCU graduates stay in the state.

"Every dollar of state spending on MnSCU generates $5.75 for the state’s economy in higher productivity and higher taxes paid," Rhodes said.

Plus, the institutions involved in MnSCU have been responding to community needs to fill gaps in the labor force shortage.

While MnSCU Chancellor Morris J. Anderson meets regularly with Ventura, Rhodes doesn’t feel the governor will change his mind about the proposed two-year budget. He is optimistic that MnSCU "is not locked into this $47 million."

"The resolution will not come from Gov. Ventura," Rhodes said. "But our legislators are listing to their constituents, and that’s where the change is going to come from."

It’s important for individuals to contact their legislators to share concerns about the budget, he added.

Students also are sharing their concerns. A busload of Riverland students will join other MnSCU students at the capital on Valentine’s Day to rally for more state funds for MnSCU.