The hit to higher education is big -- $100 million split between the two public systems -- but there is time to brace for it.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced plans Tuesday to cut $50 million from the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) and $50 million from the University of Minnesota in the second year of the 2010-11 biennium.

That would be a cut of 7.5 percent to MnSCU's appropriation and of 7.4 percent to the university's.

At a news conference, Pawlenty pointed out that under rules for federal stimulus dollars -- which are being used to hold down Minnesota undergrads' tuition -- he could have cut more.

The University of Minnesota had built its budget assuming Pawlenty would reduce its 2011 appropriation by $73 million.

"I was just telling someone, well, the front end of the car got taken off, but at least the whole car isn't destroyed," vice president and CFO Richard Pfutzenreuter said of the $50 million announcement.

U President Robert Bruininks' budget for the 2010 year contains $96 million in cuts, including 1,240 jobs -- about 5.5 percent of the U's total workforce.

Reductions went even deeper in preliminary plans for 2011.

A smaller-than-expected cut for that year might mean that the U would raise tuition less than planned, cut fewer positions or add back academic programs: "All three of those areas are in play," Pfutzenreuter said.

But a lot depends on what happens at the Legislature in the meantime.

MnSCU's Board of Trustees will be discussing its budget for the coming year at meetings this week. The board also plans to talk about how Pawlenty's $50 million cut might change things for 2011.

"The impact of the unallotment would occur in 2011, so the colleges and universities will have a year to plan," MnSCU spokeswoman Melinda Voss said by e-mail.

Students at MnSCU schools had been preparing for a larger reduction, said Tyler Smith, a Normandale College student and president-elect of the Minnesota State College Student Association, which represents MnSCU's 25 community and technical colleges.

But "we're still disappointed about the continued cuts to higher education," he said. Cuts add to the probability of big tuition increases in the future and "decreased quality today."

Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168