Thursday, May 13, 2010

Higher education conference committee meets; Budget discussion continues

The conference committee assigned to work through the differences in the higher education policy bill met publicly for the first time yesterday to discuss a provision in the bill that allows the Office of Higher Education to reserve up to five percent of the projected demand for state grant awards in fiscal year 2011 to manage the uncertainty of demand based on enrollment or income changes of students. After much discussion, an amendment was adopted that sets the level of remaining funds at $1.5 million that provides if the Office of Higher Education determines the remaining funds are less than that amount, they may in lieu of increasing the allowance, transfer all the remaining funds to the state work-study program.

After the state grant discussion and passage of the amendment, conferees passed the report. The bill now heads to the Senate and House floors for a vote, and if passed, will make its way to the governor. You may find the final conference committee report here.

Included in the bill is the language that increases the age of a senior citizen in statute from 62 to 66 to receive a tuition discount, and the provision from the Senate bill that requires colleges and universities to make a reasonable attempt to identify and purchase locally grown food.

The bill also includes the language from the House bill that requires the system along with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and representatives of industry groups and labor unions to study program requirements for certificates and diplomas awarded by the system to determine the feasibility of designing technical education programs to allow students to have more opportunities to earn credentials with lower credit requirements that could be combined into higher level certificates or diplomas.

Also included is the provision from the House bill that requires the Office of the Chancellor to streamline services provided through the office to reduce expenditures, better target the use of state resources and provide services at the most appropriate and efficient level so as not to duplicate any services provided at the institution level.

The bill includes the House language on post-retirement health insurance premium reimbursements; the requirement that the Board of Trustees is to establish a pilot project to develop partnerships and training and employment opportunities for surgical technologists at institutions that offer a surgical technologist program; and the language that states the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system and the University of Minnesota shall study nanotechnology research and education and report to the Legislature on ways nanotechnology is used responsibly and safely.

The final bill also includes the pilot project language that would establish up to eight institutions in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system to invest some campus reserves in a local bank.

The provision from the Senate bill that requires the Office of Higher Education to monitor the implementation of the Higher Education Opportunity Act as it relates to disclosure of textbook pricing and other information to students is also included in the final bill.

And finally, the bill includes a provision on credit transfer, which is somewhat of a hybrid between the language that was in the House bill and the language that was in the transfer conference committee report that was vetoed by the governor. The language requires the Board of Trustees to develop and implement a plan to improve credit transfers within the system. The Board may convene working groups of affected faculty, staff, students and administrators in the system to work on issues and barriers to credit transfer. The language also states the Board must provide systemwide transfer information on campus Web sites necessary to determine the transferability of course credits, and the information must be easily accessible and kept current.

Both the House and Senate are scheduled to meet in session today. The House is scheduled to convene at 11:00 a.m. and the Senate is scheduled to meet at 1:00 p.m.

As for a session-ending deal, the latest round of budget negotiations between legislative leaders and the governor have not produced an agreement. However House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, and House Minority Leader Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said yesterdays' meetings were positive. Leaders from both parties have indicated they are optimistic a deal can be reached before adjournment Monday.

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