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Students from around Minnesota rally Wednesday in Minnesota's Capitol, hoping to convince lawmakers to not cut higher education funding too much. Tribune photo by Don Davis

Students want funding not to 'suck'

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ST. PAUL -- Minnesota college students delivered a simple message to legislators: Don't forget us.

But their delivery was a bit more colorful than many people who lobby lawmakers.

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"This sucks," recent Bemidji State University graduate Cody Nelson told a Wednesday Capitol rally. "We are sucking away the future of this state."

About 250 students crisscrossed the Capitol complex Wednesday, attempting to convince lawmakers as they try to fill a massive budget deficit that they should keep any higher education cuts to a minimum. Students said 2003 cuts from state colleges and universities still are being felt.

Jacob Littler of Virginia, Minn., said that the increasing cost of college education in recent years "far exceeds the affect of inflation."

Littler, president of the Minnesota State College Student Association, said community and technical college students he represents pay the country's second highest tuition.

"We must not forget the greater benefits a college education offers society as a whole," said Littler, who attends Mesabi Range Community and Technical College and other state schools.

Littler and other students said they understand that colleges and universities will be part of widespread budget cuts needed to balance the state budget, but they fear large cuts will lead to tuition increases so big that they drive students to other states.

"We are just looking to make sure it is not all on our backs this time," said Chris Frederick, Minnesota State University Student Association chairman and student at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

Students said they are easy targets because colleges and universities are among the few state agencies with a non-tax source of funding -- tuition.

Jennifer Weil, a Minnesota State University Moorhead senior, said that legislators have a tough job balancing the budget, but they need to "look at the future."

If adequate funding does not continue, she added, "we are going to run into this again."

"If you cut us off at the knees, there is no way we will be able to stimulate the economy," Weil said about students.

Ryan Schwingler, a Bemidji State University senior, said lawmakers told him these are "tough times."

"Human services and higher education are going to be butting heads," he added, since money will be scarce.

"We feel that supporting higher education is more of a long-term solution," Schwingler said.

Jacob Kutz, a Ridgewater College student in Willmar, said his job Wednesday was to let legislators know that "keeping higher education on the priority list" is important.

"The governor thinks we are an easy target," he added.

Employers need workers with education and experience, which colleges can provide, Kutz said.

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