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Geoff Ditterner, vice president of the St. Paul College Student Association, rallies a crowd Wednesday at the Capitol, in protest of rising tuition rates. Students marched from Saint Paul College to the Capitol as a precede to a bill introduced later in the day to address the skyrocketing costs higher-education students face. AP Photo/The Minnesota Daily, Erin Westover

Students take rally for tuition hike cap to Capitol steps

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ST. PAUL -- College students rallied Wednesday in front of the state Capitol to chants of "one, two, three four, stomp tuition to the floor" and "we ain't going to take it," asking legislators to keep tuition in check.

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"Past budget deficits have hit higher education hard," said Travis Johnson, who represents 100,000 two-year school students in the Minnesota State College Student Association

The Lake Superior College in Duluth student said Minnesota two-year college tuitions are the third highest in the country.

Andrew Spaeth, a Bemidji State University student, said that "students have borne their fair share."

Hundreds of MnSCU students rallied on the Capitol steps. They told legislators to limit increases and some later testified on behalf of a bill by Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji, to freeze tuitions. Spaeth and Johnson said they would not demand a total freeze, just a limit on increases.

Many of the rallying students wore red stocking caps labeled "tuition," a reference to the tuition cap they seek.

Carlson briefly donned one of the caps, and told students: "We have to stop balancing the budget on the backs of students."

In an interview, Carlson said that he would accept attempts to change his bill from a total freeze to a limit on how much tuitions may rise.

The senator called for cuts in MnSCU and University of Minnesota administration to save money.

While Republicans often say colleges should become more efficient, Spaeth said they already are doing that. As proof, he said MnSCU schools serve 40,000 more students now than in 2001, but operate with about the same state funding as then.

Although a committee heard his bill Wednesday, a freeze or cap proposal will not be decided until lawmakers adopt a higher education budget later in the spring.

Democrat Gov. Mark Dayton's budget proposal, released Tuesday, would cut higher education spending $171 million, leaving about $2.7 billion for the next two years. Republicans who control the Legislature have yet to announce their budget plan.

Despite the cut, Spaeth and Johnson said Dayton did the best he could. That was the same as University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks said.

"The governor's proposed funding level for the university means we will be able to hold any tuition increase for Minnesota students for the upcoming academic year at a very modest amount necessary to cover inflation," Bruininks said.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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