By the fall of 2016, students at Minnesota's two-year colleges will pay less in tuition than they do now, thanks to legislation passed this weekend.

It's the first time in memory, officials say, that the Minnesota Legislature has mandated a tuition cut at state colleges.

At the same time, lawmakers left open the possibility that tuition will go up at all four-year state universities, such as Metropolitan State and St. Cloud State, as well as the University of Minnesota.

Officials say they're still trying to sort out the ripple effects of the legislation, which authorized some — but not all — of the funds that the schools had sought to be able to freeze tuition for state residents for two more years.

But as the details start to emerge, the clear winners appear to be students at the state's 24 community and technical colleges, which received even more than their leaders requested.

The legislation, finalized late last week, freezes tuition at the two-year colleges this fall, and reduces it by 1 percent the following year. The average cost per college credit, which has been $161 since 2013, would drop to $159 next year.

"We're thrilled," said Kayley Schoonmaker, 21, president of the Minnesota State College Student Association. "It's very important to us. College affordability is our top priority."

Both the U and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system had asked the Legislature for funds to extend a two-year tuition freeze, which began in 2013, through 2017.

In the final bill the governor has yet to sign, MnSCU would get $100 million of the $142 million it requested. The U would receive $53 million of the $148 million it requested, with $30 million earmarked for the medical school.

On Wednesday, MnSCU Chancellor Steven Rosenstone thanked the Legislature for its generosity, but said it's too early to know how the shortfall will affect tuition rates at the system's seven universities.

He said he's begun discussions with faculty, students and staff, and will make his recommendation to the board of trustees in June.

A decision on tuition rates also is expected at the University of Minnesota in June.

Schoonmaker, who graduated last week from Itasca Community College, welcomed the extra attention on two-year colleges.

"I think people are starting to realize that these are the places that touch every corner of the state," she said. "They're very important and anybody can go."

At the same time, Schoonmaker, who is transferring to Bemidji State this fall, hopes that MnSCU will consider freezing or cutting tuition at its four-year schools. "Our association feels strongly that the board should send a message about affordability," she said.

Maura Lerner • 612-673-7384