David Schultz, a Hamline law professor and political analyst, believes colleges and universities might prove to be a higher priority for the Democrats who now control the state government.
Schultz's prognosis came this week, as the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system approved its request for $97 million more in state funding over the biennium. The University of Minnesota approved its budget request in October.
Here, a few snippets of Schultz's comments, edited for length and clarity:
"There's a potential for more money going into higher education. I think both about Gov. Dayton wanting to commit more money in education across the board, in K-12 and higher ed, and about the DFL, who seem to be more supportive, generally, of higher ed."
Even with a budget shortfall?
"One could see that higher education might be viewed more promisingly perhaps than other priorities in the state. I would think that, for example, if you put MnSCU next to local government aid, I could see higher education making out betting than local cities."
What should the two higher ed systems' strategy be?
Right now, Schultz said, the two appear to be competing for dollars. "It would make sense for them to develop a cooperative set of strategies... I think about Rudy Perpich, when he was governor, pushing the idea of the 'brainpower state.' Maybe the pitch from higher education should be: By funding higher ed... you're creating the next generation of workers. It's a great economic development tool."
Is that a different strategy than the one you might use with a Republican-led government?
"With the DFL in control, maybe the strategy should be a combination of talking about economic development and about tuition. Clearly, every parent, every student I know is concerned about the cost of college. A populist, middle class argument might be that more support for higher education means less money out of the middle class."
Hasn't higher ed been making the economic development argument for years?
"For the last 10 to 15 years, higher education has been looked at as an expense... They need to say, 'We're not a burden. This is an investment in the state.' The University of Minnesota has those great billboards, those 'Discover' billboards. But I think they could bring it closer to home. This is about the business that relocates in your neighborhood. About the company that's starting up... Now is an opportunity to have an audience that is receptive, but to give them the arguments and the language they can use to justify their budget choices."