Tuition rates will drop 1 percent at Minnesota’s two-year public colleges next year, thanks to legislation passed in 2015. But the price cut, along with a tuition freeze at seven state universities, is putting many campuses in a financial bind, officials say.
As a result, they’re making contingency plans to cut programs and staff, especially if the Legislature turns down the system’s request for an extra $21 million.
This week, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) revealed a preview of next year’s budget, which includes the new tuition rates. On average, full-time students will pay $4,767 at community and technical colleges — $48 less than this year — while their counterparts at state universities will pay $7,016, the same as this year.
Both rates were mandated under a 2015 state law.
Tim St. Claire, a 22-year-old physics major at Century College, said the tuition cut is “good news to us,” even if the dollar amount is small. “When you look at the cost of higher education, the fact that it hasn’t been going up is important,” said St. Claire, president of the Minnesota State College Student Association.
This is the fourth year in a row that Minnesota’s public two-year colleges have either frozen or cut tuition. Even so, St. Claire said, “our students pay the third highest tuition and fees in the country. No matter how you spin it, that’s a lot.”
At the same time, many of the system’s colleges and universities “are struggling to balance their budgets,” Vice Chancellor Laura King, the chief financial officer, told the board of trustees this week. Recently, Minnesota State University Mankato announced that it is bracing for a “retrenchment,” which could result in faculty and other layoffs.
Other MnSCU schools also have foreshadowed possible cutbacks, including potential staff reductions and program closures at Anoka Technical College; $1.6 million in cuts — the equivalent of 20 faculty positions — at Bemidji State University; and a reduction in specialized programs for 7,000 “underprepared” students at St. Paul College.
King said the system has requested an additional $21 million in state funding to preserve essential programs and services. This week, Gov. Mark Dayton included that amount in his list of “must haves” to the Legislature, which is in final negotiations on a funding package.
“It would substantially aid in balancing budgets and preserving services that we know are so important to student success,” King said.
MnSCU, which operates 54 campuses, is now slated to receive $673 million in state funds next year.
St. Claire, for one, hopes legislators will chip in the extra funds. Otherwise, he said, “it’s our students that are going to be paying the bill ultimately.”