ST. PAUL -- Only the rich will be able to send their children to college if Minnesota chops higher education funding too much, a student told a University of Minnesota student rally Wednesday.
Parents' dreams of sending children to college have "become a nightmare of excessive debt," Mike McBride of the University of Minnesota-Morris told about 200 other students rallying to preserve college funding.
The state Capitol rally featured speakers from each University of Minnesota campus, all urging policymakers to keep budget cuts to a minimum as the state faces what is expected to be a $7 billion budget deficit.
In an interview, University President Bob Bruininks said that federal stimulus money, signed into law last week, will help the university survive budget cuts.
The students, many of whom met with lawmakers, said they understand the state's budget situation.
"Budget cuts are going to happen," Alex Bush of the University of Minnesota-Duluth said.
About 35 Duluth students attended the rally.
Students say they fear deep cuts will affect their education -- and their pocketbook.
Aaron Booth of the Morris campus said he fears his tuition will rise 10 percent and his small campus will lose six professors if the cuts Gov. Tim Pawlenty proposes come about.
"I can't afford it," he said of higher tuition.
Also from the Morris campus, which sent 60 students to the rally, was Douglas Meyer, who said a good education will help the state's economy.
"We want to make sure young adults get jobs," he said. "We can help this economy out."
Added Jason Wittrock of Duluth: "Our economy needs schools."
One of the rally speakers, Marshall Johnson of the Crookston campus, said that he is concerned about the future of the university.
Johnson urged policymakers to pass a budget "that shows commitment to thrive."
Bruininks told students that their lobbying is important to the schools by letting lawmakers know the university "is absolutely essential to the future."
In a post-rally interview, Bruininks said that federal stimulus money will help public school budgets, but decisions about how that money will be spent are yet to be decided. Even with that money, the president said there will be university cuts.
"We are going to cut costs tenaciously," he said, adding there still probably is no way to avoid layoffs.
"We will have to eliminate some offices and programs as we go forward," Bruininks said. "We all need to step up and do our part."
While the head of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system could not rule out closing a college, Bruininks was not ready to go that far.
"I don't see any campus closures," he said.
"It will be absolutely inevitable that reductions will happen everywhere," he added.