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State budget cuts mean fewer services at technical college

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota lawmakers voted to cut $300 million from college and university spending as they craft a state budget while plugging a $5 billion deficit.

Opponents of the Republican-written bill said that some campuses are threatened and up to 1,500 higher education workers could lose their jobs if the bill becomes law.

Jim Johnson, president of Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical, said because over 80 percent of the college's budget goes to staffing, the cuts would definitely mean laying off employees.

"We will be looking at less staff, doing some layoffs, looking at how we can do things more efficiently," he said.

Bills passing the House and Senate Tuesday set a $2.5 billion two-year budget for state-run colleges and universities. That is down from $2.8 billion in the current budget.

The technical college would have to shave off about $1 million from its budget this year and another $1 million next year, Johnson said.

Because of fewer staff members, the college would have to share its staff with other campuses and institutions, he said. This would mean students would have less access to instructors.

The cuts would also mean fewer technology upgrades, fewer classes offered and larger class sizes, Johnson said.

"(That's) one of the bigger things that will impact students," Johnson said. "The ability of them to move through college in a timely manner - all because we will be (able to) offer less."

Senators passed their bill 37-27; representatives passed it 69-60. Republicans control both chambers.

Capping tuition

Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, said his higher education bill allows schools to make up a third of their lost money by raising tuitions.

However, both the House and Senate bills place a limit on how much colleges and universities may raise tuition, ranging from 2 percent to 5 percent.

Both bills increase funds for grants available to students attending public and private schools.

"We did preserve a lot for the students," Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, said.

However, Johnson said the tuition cap puts the technical college, which has campuses in Red Wing and Winona, in a hard place. He said in the past, the college has been able to make up for cuts in state money by raising tuition. Because of the cap, that wouldn't be possible, and the college would have to cut services more.

"Whenever you're looking at downsizing, you like to have as much flexibility," Johnson said. He said the cap on tuition would really "hamstring" the college.

Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, said the state budget cuts are the deepest he has seen to higher education.

The cuts come at a time when the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system serves 40,000 more students than a decade ago, with less state money than it received then. The University of Minnesota, with 12,000 more students, also would get less money than 10 years ago.

The two systems lose 13 percent of their funding under the House bill. The Senate bill cuts 14 percent from the University of Minnesota, while MnSCU loses 10 percent.

University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks was especially unhappy with the Senate bill, which cut more out of his budget than the House plan.

"The proposed cut rolls our state support back to levels not seen since before 1998," Bruininks said. "Think about that: This fall's incoming freshmen were just starting kindergarten the last time state funding was at the level proposed today."

Representatives added an amendment that would limit the MnSCU chancellor pay to that received by the governor, about $120,000. The pay is $360,000 annually.

Sarah Gorvin
Sarah Gorvin has been with the Republican Eagle for two years and covers education, business and crime and courts. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 2010 with a  journalism degree.