The Free Press, Mankato, MN


October 3, 2012

U of M aims in the right direction

The University of Minnesota unveiled an unusual and somewhat innovative plan for its future a few weeks ago that deserves serious consideration by the Legislature and key stakeholders.

President Eric Kaler detailed plans for an outside-the-box approach to issues of state funding, tuition, accountability and leveraging university assets for economic development. He described it as a “bold request” that will help build Minnesota’s economy and provide a “foundation for a prosperous future.”

The proposal suggests the university has a responsibility to provide the state and its taxpayers with the highest return on investment it can achieve with increasingly scare state dollars. It also suggests the university is key to the state’s economic development and place in the global market.

While many higher education institutions, including Minnesota State, Mankato, and the state university system, have focused on partnering with business, it’s good to see the emphasis coming from the state’s primary research university.

Of course, the plan comes with a funding request that would increase the U’s funding from the Legislature by $91.6 million, or 8.4 percent over the current biennium to $1.18 billion. But Kaler proposed to link part of the funding increase — $14.2 million each year — to a plan to freeze university tuition at all its campuses for two years. That would save a Twin Cities campus student about $2,600 over four years.

The funding request would match the level of funding the U had in 2001, not including inflation. While that seems reasonable, the state will likely be facing another budget deficit (already is in deficit if one includes the school funding shift), and there will be much competition for scare taxpayer funds.

The U seems to acknowledge this as it ties more of its funding to specific goals and performance measures. There’s $11.5 million that would be released if the U increases graduation rates, awards more degrees, boosts financial aid and increases commercialization of its research and technology.

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