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Students walked pass Northrop Auditorium on the University of Minnesota campus.

Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

House asks U big questions on budget

  • January 30, 2013 - 6:35 PM

The chairman of the House Higher Education Committee is sick of pretty PowerPoint presentations. This session, Rep. Gene Pelowski has promised, the state's higher education systems are going to delve into the details.

He's requested a long list of data. Funding measured by campus, program, student. Breakdowns of administrative costs. A dive into student fees.

But at the committee's first hearing Monday, lawmakers weren't afraid to ask the big questions, either.

Why has tuition risen -- not just at the University of Minnesota, but everywhere?

Richard Pfutzenreuter, the U's chief financial officer, listed stagnant state money, growing costs, "society's view that it's a private good." Pushed again, he added: "I think, to be honest, it's been there because higher ed could increase tuition. It was there to raise. It was money that universities needed, and they raised it."

Pelowski then asked: Did the U "ever raise tuition higher than it needed?"

Pfutzenreuter reviewed the budget process, in which officials find a "solution" to the year's budget "challenge" of rising costs and falling state funding. Over the past three years, tuition increases have made up about a third of the "solution."

"The next question probably is, 'Well, did you goose the challenge to raise more tuition?'" Pfutzenreuter said. Yes, the U raised tuition to help provide a wage increase or boost programs. "We raised it to spend it to meet a budget priority of the president of the university."

The U's 74-slide presentation notes $228 million in cost-cutting since 2006. Examples include laying off staff, cutting graduate programs and leaving faculty spots open.

Pelowski wanted more specifics, focused on one campus.

The U has "no problem ... showing us how successful it's been in any given area," he said. "Where it appears to have great difficulty is showing us where it's had to make tough choices.

"I'm going to forgo the rah-rah for awhile. I'd like to look at the 'Oh my, this hurts.'"

Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168

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