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University of Minn. offers tuition freeze

ST. PAUL — University of Minnesota students could save more than $2,000 each during their college careers if the state provides money to freeze tuitions, school officials are telling state legislators.

The freeze on undergraduate tuition, which carries a price tag of $42.6 million over the next two years, is estimated to have the potential to save incoming freshmen $2,500 at the Twin Cities, Morris, Duluth and Rochester campuses and $2,100 in Crookston over four years, university officials say.

A decline in state money in recent years has been a major factor in the increase of students’ tuition, Richard Pfutzenreuter, the university’s chief financial officer, told a Senate higher education committee Thursday. University officials said that needs to change so that low- and middle-income students still can attend the school.

“The twin issues of access and affordability is always on our minds,” Provost Karen Hanson said.

The school’s budget request from the state is nearly $1.2 billion for the next two years. The state’s budget overall is expected to be about $35 billion.

Besides the tuition freeze, university officials say $92 million in new funds would allow the university to invest in research, aim to meet goals such as pushing for timely graduation and make other improvements.

The university’s request also includes a plan to forgive loans for health care professionals such as pharmacists, doctors and veterinarians who agree to work in an underserved area of Minnesota. That would cost about $1.5 million starting in 2015.

Student debt is an issue the university wants to address more broadly, Pfutzenreuter said.

The budget request comes at a time when the university is facing criticism after a Wall Street Journal article said the organization has bloated administration costs, and when the state faces a deficit roughly the same amount as the school’s proposal.

University President Eric Kaler said he has been tackling administrative costs since he started work at the university about 18 months ago. The university will provide a report analyzing its administrative staffing and costs to lawmakers in March.

The budget outlined by the University of Minnesota includes a plan to shift $28 million in 2014 and 2015 from administrative costs to fund “high priority activities.”

The school is asking lawmakers for money to start new programs as well. Its budget request includes $36 million to create MnDRIVE, Minnesota Discovery, Research and InnoVation Economy, which would focus on four key areas: advancing industry and conserving the environment, treating brain condition, stabilizing the global food supply and supporting robotics work.

University officials said they will aim to keep meeting goals set by the Legislature. In the past, a final portion of the state’s allocation has been withheld until benchmarks are met.

The financial requests go beyond operations. The University of Minnesota has outlined $173 million in requests for a state public works funding bill. This typically is a year set aside for crafting the state budget, but legislators have indicated they might consider a bonding bill this year. The plan includes a $125 million request for a range of repairs, upgrades and new buildings.

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