The Free Press, Mankato, MN

June 2, 2013

Reform higher education

Why it matters: After freezing tuition for two years, higher education needs to streamline its operations

The Mankato Free Press

---- — For the first time in decades, the Minnesota Legislature mandated a tuition freeze at colleges. That’s a good first step in getting higher education to work more efficiently but there is more to be done.

This year, higher education received the largest percentage increase of the recently passed budget. The increased funding includes $102 million for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system, $79 million for the University of Minnesota and $75 million for the state’s tuition assistance program. The $250 million increase came with a two-year freeze on tuition for both the University of Minnesota and MnSCU.

DFL Rep. Gene Pelowski, who helped hammer out the deal, said “Tuition and debt have been the burdens of higher education in this state for the better part of a decade.” Minnesota ranks second in cost of tuition among other states. Colleges and universities have used large tuition increases in the past eight years to more than make up for cuts in state money. Pelowski has complained that too much of the increases helped pay for rising administrative salaries and creating bureaucracies.

Pelowski, who chairs the House Higher Education Committee, pointed out that salaries for top MnSCU administrators have risen significantly in recent years even in the face of declining state funding and tuition increases with some increasing by more than a third since 2006.

Pelowski is a tough critic of higher ed in this state one time comparing the Board of Regents “the House of Lords — they have nice titles, a nice place to meet and don’t do anything ...’’ He also said the buyout of basketball coach Tubby Smith for $2 million was “an obscenity.

But Pelowski also noted that higher education has faced repeated cuts in recent years. “We are investing; this is new money. This is catch up.” Now that funding has been tackled, it’s time to change the system.

There are new faces that can help lead formidable change: Former Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller is the director of the Office of Higher Education; the University of Minnesota has a new president in Eric Kaler and Steven Rosenstone is the new head of MnSCU.

These leaders have the opportunity to address relevance and affordability of higher education. We agree with Rosenstone when he said that addressing academic and financial changes is necessary to reform the system. “We need to look at everything. Nothing can be off the table.”

As a start, colleges and universities need to streamline their operations while adopting new teaching and learning methods. As cited by a recent Ernst & Young study, we’ve already seen dramatic transformations in media, retail, entertainment and other industries; higher education is next.