Cuts to higher ed are painful, but finding money is an uphill battle

Published 10:56 am Monday, June 20, 2011

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

The stalemate on the higher education budget comes down to a familiar theme:


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The higher education finance bill cut $411 million from the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. That equates to a 19 percent reduction for the former and a 14 percent reduction to the latter — well above the governor’s proposal of 6 percent cut each.

During a statewide tour of several MnSCU institutions last week, including Minnesota State University on Thursday, DFL lawmakers asked about the impacts of higher education cuts.

During MSU’s stop, they heard from Barb Carson, chair of sociology and corrections, who said her department has been forced to hold classes at a nearby movie theater and that students might have to take an 8-11 p.m. night class next semester because of a faculty shortage.

They also heard from James Grabowska, chair of the world languages department, who said he’s lost a quarter of his faculty and that some programs have only a single instructor. Likewise, John Knox, dean of the College of Science, Engineering and Technology, said his college has dropped from 180-plus staff three years ago, to less than 150 today.

MSU President Richard Davenport told lawmakers that “we’ll be battling uphill” and that the full impact of funding cuts won’t be fully realized for many years.

“This is really a money issue,” said Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter and member of the higher education committee. “Do we accept a historically large cut, or does the governor hold out for more revenue?”

Therein lies the rub.

Morrow, who has taken to calling the higher education finance proposal a statewide “brain drain,” said it’s unacceptable for higher education institutions to be forced to revert to funding levels below any in the previous decade while also taking on more students.

Rep. Kathy Brynaert, DFL-Mankato, said the cuts to higher education were the most “indefensible” of the session because those institutions provide the “nexus for job creation.”

Yet, GOP lawmakers insist the cuts are necessary when the state has a $5 billion deficit.

“These are things that are important in the long-term to restrain growth and spending,” said Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie and assistant majority leader, expressing views about the GOP’s general budgeting philosophy strategy, but not higher education in particular.