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Ridgewater looking at higher tuition

WILLMAR -- Ridgewater College recently announced proposed tuition increases and budget cuts to help weather the state's financial problems.

Last week, the college leadership announced a proposed 3 percent tuition increase from last year's rate. The proposed increase was announced after consultation with the Student Senate.

Tuition rates and budget will be considered by the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Board of Trustees at their meeting later this month.

Ridgewater received a state appropriation of $12.7 million in fiscal year 2011, which ends on June 30. That was nearly $2 million less than in fiscal year 2006. Enrollment has increased during that time. The student count in fiscal year 2010 was about 6,000 students on the Willmar and Hutchinson campuses.

Tuition increases and budget cuts are being considered because of the state's projected budget deficit and discussions at the Legislature about cuts in higher education spending. The next two-year budget begins on July 1, but the Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton have not yet reached agreement on a new budget.

According to a news release from the college, budget cuts include the elimination of club soccer, co-ed varsity golf and the school newspaper. With the elimination of the newspaper came the suspension of related mass communications classes.

Employee hours have been reduced in several areas. A position in customized training was reduced from full-time to half-time. Two positions were eliminated -- a school nurse and an ITV scheduling and mail processing position. The college will use its remaining federal stimulus funds to provide for program equipment needs.

In addition to these cuts, four faculty positions were eliminated last fall.

"While a higher education bill has not been signed, all proposed versions, whether from the House or Senate or the governor, reduce funding in varying amounts for higher education," Ridgewater President Douglas Allen said in a news release from the college. "The college is making plans to submit proposed college budgets and tuition rates to the Board of Trustees, but we understand final decisions may need to be adjusted pending legislative action."

Allen emphasized that none of the job reductions has been related to performance, and the positions were valuable at the college.

"All the people impacted by these reductions have been dedicated and productive employees," he said. "We'll need to work hard to restructure services and do what we can to minimize the impact of these reductions, but make no mistake these cuts reduce services and take a personal toll on those involved. It is difficult and painful to be told after years of great service that your position is being eliminated due to budget reductions. We are doing everything in our power to assist those employees in dealing with their job loss."

The college is also waiting to see if a state bonding bill will be passed by the Legislature this year. A $14.3 million improvement project for the Willmar campus was included in Gov. Mark Dayton's proposal.

The project is the second phase of a demolition, addition and remodeling project for the campus. The first, smaller phase was approved in a 2008 bonding bill, and the second phase was in the 2010 bonding bill. However, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty used his line-item veto to shut down the second phase.