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Ridgewater College request not in bonding bill

A $14.3 million improvement project for Ridgewater College's Willmar campus was not included in the bonding bill passed in this week's special session of the Legislature.

The money would have let the college finish a remodeling, demolition and construction project that has been in the works for several years. The state provided funding for the first phase of the project.

"It's disappointing to me," Ridgewater President Douglas Allen said Wednesday afternoon. "I'm not saying my colleagues' projects aren't worthwhile, but this is a huge setback for us locally."

The lack of funding to complete the project leaves a growing agriculture program in cramped, outdated quarters and hinders the college's ability to grow, Allen said.

An added disappointment for him and others in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system is the 10 percent cut in state appropriations. The cut takes state support for its colleges back to 1999 levels, Allen said

When Gov. Mark Dayton introduced his bonding proposal last winter, Ridgewater's project was ranked fifth among projects in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. The project was also fifth on MnSCU's request, Allen said.

"It was on the governor's list, and they just skipped it," he said, but he doesn't know why.

While some of the higher-ranked projects were dropped, projects that were ranked 10, 12, 19, 21 and 29 were added to the final list, Allen said.

The list also seems focused on projects in urban areas and bypassed rural ones. While Ridgewater was dropped from the final project list, he said, lower-ranked projects at St. Cloud State, Normandale Community College and Metropolitan State University were added.

Allen said he wrote to local legislators about the bonding bill and his disappointment that Ridgewater did not receive funding for a project that would have improved facilities for the college's agriculture programs.

"Agriculture is the second largest industry in the state," he said. "We have a growing program."

The project was approved in a 2010 bonding bill, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Allen said the cut in funding was expected, and he'd planned for it in his fiscal year 2012 budget, which started July 1. Tuition will be going up 3 percent for Ridgewater students.

The college may still have to make some budget adjustments in the coming year, he said. In recent years the college has closed several programs, discontinued the campus newspaper and laid off some faculty and staff.

In 1999, tuition made up about 30 percent of the operating costs of state colleges, he said. In the coming year, tuition will pay about 57 percent of the operating costs.

"I just think it's bad policy to continue to disinvest in higher education," he said.

"The big thing for me, study after study links investment in higher education with economic growth and economic health," he said. "I think we all benefit from an educated population."

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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