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State may freeze tuition at two-year colleges

Students at Minnesota’s community and technical colleges could see an even better tuition deal than the one they’ve received over the past two years.

Under a proposed $1.93 billion budget by the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, tuition at the two-year schools, which averages about $4,800 a year, would remain frozen this coming academic year. The plan would then cut it by 1 percent the following year.

Those tuition breaks, part of a budget that trustees are scheduled to vote on Wednesday, would benefit 69 percent of the system’s students, according to MnSCU data.

“We’re thrilled about it,” said Kayley Schoonmaker, president of the association that represents students at MnSCU’s two-year colleges.

Student leaders have been pushing lawmakers to fund a second two-year tuition freeze, she said, and “it really means a whole lot to us that the Legislature is sending such a strong message about the importance of affordability.”

The association says MnSCU’s students pay the third-highest tuition and fees among community and technical college students in the nation, and Schoonmaker said she thinks that message “has finally started to sink in” among legislators.

The situation at state universities is a little different. Tuition there would rise 3.4 percent next year — an average of $233 — to just over $7,000, but it would stay at that level the following year.

Tuition for full-time graduate students would increase next year by an average of $265, or 3.7 percent, and remain flat the next year.

Cara Luebke, state chair of the Minnesota State University Student Association, said her members have been pushing for a tuition freeze. They’re happy the plan would freeze it the second year and understood the need for an initial price hike.

“It’s hard to see tuition increase,” she said. “But we understand that the quality of our services and some of the amazing programs on campus. We want to keep those.”

The tuition decisions come at a time of declining enrollment that has caused financial problems for some campuses and a $44 million loss for the system last year.

MnSCU officials say a strong job market and smaller high school graduating classes have rolled enrollment back to pre-recession levels.

They say they expect enrollment this coming year to decrease by 1.8 percent to the equivalent of about 136,000 full-time students. They project a decline in college enrollment of 2.5 percent, and a loss of university enrollment of 0.7 percent. The proposed $1.93 billion system budget represents a 1 percent increase over last year.

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