House bill caps tuition

Published 1:50 pm Saturday, April 25, 2009

A bright spot appeared for Minnesota colleges and universities Wednesday with the passage of the House Higher Education omnibus bill.

The bill directs the University of Minnesota (U of M) and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) to use federal recovery dollars to hold down tuition; preserves funding for critical student services; bolsters the state grant program; and creates a new middle-income college scholarship for Minnesota students.

Tuition would be capped at 2 percent the next two years for the MnSCU system, while U of M hikes would be capped at $300 a year.

Email newsletter signup

Rep. Jeanne Poppe (DFL-Austin), a member of the Higher Education Committee and counselor at Riverland Community College, said this bill reduces funding at the administrative level, but is still a “short-term opportunity.”

“The money that’s spent by the students and the state is used for education for the students and not just the administration,” Poppe said Thursday. “The students have been paying the bulk to our state government.

“I’m pleased with the bill as it stands now,” she said.

Poppe, a proponent of capping tuition as more and more families can longer afford to send their children to college, said higher education is now “inaccessible.”

Even community colleges in Minnesota are among the highest-priced in the country, she said.

“We are leaving behind a generation of students,” Poppe said. “Higher education is one of those areas I think is critical to the economic stability of our state.”

In the past, students have paid 30 percent of their college costs, while the state picked up the other 70 percent.

Now, Poppe said, it’s much closer to a 50/50 split.

“The subsidy the state provides to higher education has been reduced significantly,” she said. “We’ve got less dollars on the table to begin with. You either add to lose dollars on the table or take away.”

Both the House and Senate have their version of the higher ed bill. A conference committee will be named, and will debate what will be accepted for language and spending. The bill will then come before the House and Senate for approval, followed by the governor.

Poppe believes the governor will likely sign the bill; however, she is concerned he will not raise taxes.

The House has proposed a $1.5 billion tax increase to fill the $6.4 billion deficit, while the Senate has proposed a $2.2 billion increase. Gov. Tim Pawlenty wants to use $1 billion in bonding dollars to fill the budget gap, what Poppe calls a “not very fiscally-sound way.”

“We’re putting our rent on the credit card,” she said. “If that doesn’t get figured out … it’s kind of the cart before the horse. It’s frustrating.

“We are in such a crisis situation,” Poppe said. “We are trying to figure out every way to come out of this.”

Poppe said at this point, she believes it is going to be “very difficult” to have the session wrapped up by the May 18 deadline.