Students look back to move ahead
ST. PAUL -- Laura Duscher and Brittany Stanoch say they are Minnesota's future, so they suggest looking back to 1999.
A contradiction? Not for state college and university students. They want 1999 to be in Minnesotans' sights since they say that is the last time the state gave higher education institutions a decent funding increase.
"We care about affordable education," Duscher said during a state Capitol rally attended by several hundred students from across the state.
Stanoch, like Duscher a Bemidji State University nursing student, said the $30,000 debt she expects to build up by graduation is just too much. The pair held a bright yellow sign showing students' expected debts, as well as lower amounts owed in years past.
The budget rally by Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system students was smaller than usual Wednesday, due in part to an agreement among Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Democrats in charge of the House and Senate about the need to increase funding.
Dayton's $38 billion, two-year budget proposal includes $2.8 billion for higher education, a $250 million increase. Of the budget, $1.2 billion would go to MnSCU's 31 colleges and universities scattered around the state.
The governor, who met with pre-school children earlier in the day, received a loud noontime welcome and thank-you when he arrived to talk to the older students.
Later, he said his budget includes more money for all levels of education. "But even my budget does not begin to restore to where the budget was four years ago."
Higher education funding has gone up more slowly than other state spending, and was cut two years ago.
MnSCU Chancellor Steven Rosenstone told the students they need to press the funding issue with legislators.
"You and your families are partners," he said about higher education funding.
As students chanted, "MnSCU request, invest," Rosenstone said in an interview that the system and Dayton are "very close" in their budget proposals.
Unlike the University of Minnesota, MnSCU does not seek a tuition freeze. Rosenstone said while the U of M took a high-tuition option during lean years, charging up to $13,000 a year, MnSCU opted for lower rates.
Tuition charges at a two-year MnSCU colleges average $3,400, while four-year universities collect $7,300 on average.
MnSCU's budget plan would increase tuitions $145 at colleges and $205 at universities.
"Our students will do their part," Rosenstone said.
In its budget plan, MnSCU would trim administration costs $44 million, in a large part by leaving more decisions up to campus leaders instead of managing from the St. Paul state office. Eventually, some programs would close.
The U of M, meanwhile, is under the spotlight of a national news story indicating that it pays too much for administration. The university hired a consultant to study the situation and is to report preliminary findings to lawmakers next month.
Dayton said students need education to fill thousands of available Minnesota jobs.
"We can't afford not to spend more," he said.