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Minnesota bills cool to tuition freeze

ST. PAUL — Minnesota legislators are giving state-run colleges and universities a cool reception, but not the freeze they want.

Bills written by majority House Republicans and Democrats who control the Senate offer some tuition relief, but neither provides an across-the-board freeze.

Representatives of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities and University of Minnesota systems were reluctant to say how their boards would react to the proposals, but U of M President Eric Kaler was not happy with the lack of freeze funding.

“If a zero percent increase stands, we are left with no choice but to raise tuition,: Kaler said. “I don’t want to do that. An increase will impact all of our students, whether they’re enrolled at the Crookston, Duluth, Morris, Rochester or Twin Cities campus. At the same time, we have real costs and increases fueled by inflation, new technology, physical infrastructure maintenance and repairs and other external factors.”

University lobbyist Pierre Willette said that without tuition freeze funds, he would expect a “2 to 3 percent increase each year.”

MnSCU had no such estimate, but lobbyists testified that the system strongly supports its original request for enough money to freeze tuitions.

Chairwoman Terri Bonoff, D-Minnetonka, of the Senate higher education committee said there should be enough funds to keep tuition in check.

“I would look at this bill that actually would allow you to freeze tuition,” Bonoff said.

Bonoff’s Senate bill includes a provision from Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, D-Plummer, to freeze some two-year college tuitions.

In the House, the bill by Higher Education Chairman Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, MnSCU universities would be limited to a 3 percent tuition increase next year, while college tuitions would be frozen.

MnSCU university tuitions would be frozen for 2016-2017 school year would remain at next year’s levels. In 2016-2017, colleges would be forced to reduce tuitions 1 percent.

MnSCU schools include four-year colleges and universities and two-year technical and community colleges.

Committee members asked university and college officials to get specific reaction to their bills soon. The bills could receive full House and Senate votes early next week.

Bonoff said colleges and universities do not need more money than in her bill to keep tuitions static.

“There is a tremendous amount of community and market pressure for our universities to hold their costs,” Bonoff said.

Even without more money, she added, the schools can “find a way to freeze their tuitions.”

Bonoff’s bill includes more money than the schools now receive, which she said would enable them to keep tuitions in check, even if the funds are not dedicated to tuitions.

Kaler said surveys show nearly 70 percent of Minnesotans think the university does not get enough state money.

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.