The Free Press, Mankato, MN


November 17, 2012

Our View: Higher ed funding needs to be reworked

Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) is planning to present a $1.2 billion budget — a 9 percent increase over the current biennium — to the Legislature but it also offered a deal.

MnSCU said it will boost enrollment, cut administration by $44 million and cap tuition increases at 3 percent. It also said it will get funds elsewhere — including the K-12 community — to match state funding.

Chancellor Steven Rosenstone said: “Here’s what the investment by the people of Minnesota will deliver for Minnesota. And here’s how we’re going to leverage that investment with some work on our own part.”

While that approach is admirable, the success of finding others to match state funding isn’t really the report card taxpayers need.

The logical questions are: If you are cutting $44 million out of operations, why do you need an additional $97 million over the next two years? Why does MnSCU need a 3 percent tuition increase when the University of Minnesota has promised to freeze tuition? Taxpayers should be getting a clearer picture of just where university funding is going and why.

Without a doubt, the cost of a college education is getting out of hand. Student debt has reached a record $1 trillion. The Economist magazine recently reported the average cost of college per student has risen by three times the rate of inflation since 1983. That’s faster than rising health care costs.

The cost of tuition alone has soared from 23 percent of median annual earnings in 2001 to 38 percent in 2010. This leaves the opportunity for a degree further out of the reach of students who either can’t afford it or have to take out exorbitant loan packages on the hope a job will exist at the end of schooling.

We recently reported that two of MnSCU’s campuses — including Mankato — have the highest student debt load in the state and are among the highest in the nation, even with tuition substantially lower than the U of M.

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