Friday, February 6, 2009

System reacts to Governor's budget

Yesterday at the Capitol

The Senate Higher Education Budget and Policy Division heard yesterday about the impact Gov. Pawlenty's proposed budget cuts would have on higher education. Susan Heegaard, executive director, Minnesota Office of Higher Education, testified on her last day about the cuts to the office as well as the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities and the University of Minnesota. Heegaard said the Governor's focus is on maintaining high priority areas for both systems with minimal impact to students. Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Cloud, asked Ms. Heegaard how cuts of this magnitude, $146 million to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system and $151 million to the University of Minnesota, could not affect students? Latz said that even if tuition increases are minimal, if class sections and students services are cut, students will see some impact.

President Bob Bruininks told committee members that the reduction of $151 million is disproportionate to the other cuts across state government, and added that for the first time in history, state revenue support for the University of Minnesota will be less than tuition revenue beginning in fiscal year 2010. Bruininks said the cuts suggest that higher education in Minnesota is not a priority.

Trustee Clarence Hightower with the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, said the Board of Trustees will follow three key principles as they thoughtfully make decisions regarding the proposed shortfall; decisions will be made in a way that best serve students, the economic development needs of the communities and state will be taken into account, and the Board will take a multi-year approach in order to position the system for long-term financial viability.

Chancellor Jim McCormick said higher education is one of the key's to the economic recovery of the state. McCormick went on to say that the state's colleges and universities are the places where laid-off workers will turn to learn new skills for new jobs, from short-term programs to associate, bachelor's and graduate degree programs. Laura King, Vice Chancellor, Finance and CFO, said despite the challenges being faced, the system is committed to strengthening partnerships and collaborations to increase productivity to meet the needs of students.

Chris Frederick, state chair of MSUSA told committee members that student debt has become a problem and asked that funding for higher education be a priority for lawmakers. Like Frederick, Jacob Littler, president of MSCSA, said that Minnesota State Colleges and Universities is the source of economic recovery, but will need support from the state.

At the Capitol:
Legislative schedules are available for the House and Senate.

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