Bill to freeze tuition gets cold shoulder

  • Article by: JENNA ROSS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 9, 2011 - 10:21 PM

The U and MnSCU say the bill is bad policy and will erode the quality of the education they provide.

A few state senators want to freeze tuition at Minnesota's public colleges and universities -- then limit tuition increases forever.

Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji, introduced a bill Wednesday that would freeze tuition for two years at the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) and University of Minnesota and keep all future increases below the annual percentage increase of the Consumer Price Index.

While the bill could affect MnSCU schools, the U has a separate constitutional status and would not have to comply.

The bill would force the two public higher ed systems "to make true structural reform to push revenue into the classrooms and reduce administrative overhead," Carlson said in a statement. It has the support of Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, chair of the Senate's higher education committee.

The two state education systems oppose the bill -- not because they don't want to keep tuition low. They do, they said. But they said a freeze would tie their hands in dealing with another round of potentially deep cuts to state funding, diminishing the quality of education they provide.

U President Robert Bruininks called it "a very bad bill" that could force the university to eliminate programs, reduce enrollment and cut need-based aid.

"It looks like this is an attempt to make college more affordable," he said by phone, "but it would leave us no alternative but to erode the resources we provide now for low- and middle-class students." The U has made significant cuts to deal with falling state funding, he said, but "it is reasonable for tuition to be part of the solution."

MnSCU voiced similar concerns.

"The Legislature gave the board the authority to set tuition in the first place because the trustees can look at the whole picture," said spokeswoman Melinda Voss. "They can balance the interests of the students and the state's need to prepare more graduates and all the things the board has to take into consideration."

The Minnesota State College Student Association does not support a tuition freeze. But it does support the Legislature setting a cap on tuition.

In fact, hours before the tuition freeze bill gets its first hearing Feb. 16, students will rally at the Capitol, wearing red hats that say "S.T.O.P" -- student tuition is overpriced.

"Tuition caps," if you will.

Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168

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