MnSCU offers Legislature a deal for $97M

  • Article by: JENNA ROSS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 14, 2012 - 8:32 PM

College system vows to cut costs, cap tuition and match tech funds.

The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities will ask legislators for $97 million more over two years. In return, leaders pledge to boost enrollment, cut administration by $44 million and cap tuition increases at 3 percent.

Officials of the higher education system said the $1.2 billion budget request approved Wednesday makes unprecedented promises to match state funding with private money. For example, if it gets $21 million in state funding for equipment and technology, the system will raise an equal amount from businesses.

"We call not only on the Legislature to assist us in this endeavor, but also on the business community ... on the K-12 community and on our foundation community," said Laura King, chief financial officer. "We're calling on all our partners."

MnSCU's Board of Trustees unanimously approved the request for an 8.9 percent bump over the current biennium.

This is Chancellor Steven Rosenstone's first budget request as head of the system of 24 two-year colleges and seven state universities, which enrolls more than 420,000 students. Much of its language focuses on educating more people for "high-demand, high-growth professions."

It also echoes the request the University of Minnesota approved in October in its promise to cut costs, improve graduation rates and limit tuition increases. The U linked its request for an 8.4 percent increase to an undergraduate tuition freeze.

If funded, the MnSCU system would limit tuition increases to 3 percent -- or $145 a year for a full-time college student and $205 a year for a university student. That limit does not apply to fees or room and board. This year's tuition and fees at the system's two-year colleges average $5,355. At the universities, tuition and fees average $7,340.

Student leaders worry about what will happen if the system gets less than it's hoping for. In a letter to trustees, Steve Sabin, president of the Minnesota State College Student Association, said that students "appreciate the board's willingness to discuss tuition increase limits as part of the proposal."

"However," the letter says, "students are concerned that these tuition limits are the 'best case scenario,' and that the actual increase could be much larger if the Legislature does not fully fund the system's request."

The system is asking for $21 million over two years for "state-of-the-art equipment," an amount it promises to match. That goal builds on a 2012 pilot program for which colleges and universities nabbed $731,000 from businesses, foundations and vendors -- "more than matching the $457,000 state appropriation."

To get the $11 million of that slated for the second year of the biennium, the system must raise $7.5 million by April 2014, the request says. It proposes a similar match for funding thousands of internships and apprenticeships.

"The argument is not, 'You've cut our support, now give us money back,'" Rosenstone said. "But rather, '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.'"

The system also hopes to raise $20 million for scholarships, stepping up the work of its schools' foundations.

Community colleges have limited means to raise funds, said Jill Greenhalgh, executive director of the Century College Foundation. A private college might count dozens of staff members on its fundraising team. "Here we have three," she said. But the need for scholarships is great -- 57 percent of Century's students are eligible for Pell grants, which help needy families pay for college.

Filling the hole left by falling state funding is difficult, she said.

"Say we raise $1 million. If it's put in an endowment, it will only bring in $40,000 a year," she said. "It's a challenge with a capital 'C.' It's a good thing we're like the students we serve -- hardworking, hopeful and earnest."

Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168 • Twitter: @ByJenna

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