Minnesota is fortunate to be home to two of the nation’s pre-eminent public higher education systems in the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (Minnesota State). As we lead these systems, we see firsthand how an investment in higher education is a winning proposition for the state of Minnesota.
It’s an investment in more than 417,000 of our students across our 59 campuses, providing the workforce-ready graduates and dynamic leaders our state and communities need. They join the more than 800,000 Minnesotans who are Minnesota State or U graduates and whose degrees, over the course of their careers, contribute half a trillion dollars in additional earnings impact to the state economy. It’s an investment in our world-class faculty, researchers and staff who transform our state and our society through their instruction, their support for students, and their groundbreaking research that impacts the state’s continuing social and economic vibrancy. It’s an investment in our two systems’ nearly $17 billion combined annual economic impact. And it’s an investment in the state’s facilities and infrastructure, which allows the colleges and universities to use their separate operating dollars to do as intended with those funds: enhance our students’ experience, and to make our institutions more affordable and accessible for all Minnesotans.
In the upcoming session, the Legislature has the opportunity to expand higher education’s impact on the state through some important strategic investments. Our message is simple: Our colleges and universities need world-class facilities that match Minnesota’s need for world-class talent and the aspirations of our students. Shared investment in our students’ extraordinary education yields shared dividends at the highest levels. Robust state support is the best way to make that possible.
Our top priority is to restore existing facilities by undertaking renovation and improvement projects across the nearly 60 million square feet our two systems manage statewide. By investing in existing buildings, we can inject more functionality and new life into classrooms, research labs and student counseling centers. This will enhance the student experience and improve safety, security and accessibility for the hundreds of thousands of people who use our buildings each day.
Higher education asset preservation is among the most cost-effective and practical uses for bonding dollars. Improving our buildings’ health and safety systems keeps them up to code. Energy efficiency and utility upgrades reduce energy and upkeep costs. State preservation dollars support local contractors in every corner of Minnesota, providing high-paying private sector jobs from Crookston to Winona. Indeed, by serving as stewards and ensuring the longevity of these buildings, costly teardown and replacement projects can be prevented in the years ahead.
There has never been a more opportune time to invest in asset preservation — or a more critical one. State funding for capital projects has lagged behind for years. In fact, four of the last 10 sessions, the Legislature has not appropriated any funds to preserve these state assets. This has led to a daunting maintenance backlog on our campuses: the 10-year need at the U and within the Minnesota State system totals $7.1 billion.
Unfortunately, this backlog will increase the longer these aging facilities go without funding, adding to the financial pressure on the state’s public colleges and universities, and ultimately, on our students. It doesn’t have to be this way. By fulfilling the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State capital requests this session, the state will set Minnesota’s public colleges and universities on a sustainable budgetary path for the future, for the benefit of all Minnesotans.
As public institutions, we rely on a strong, active partnership with lawmakers and we’re grateful for the support we have received in the past from Gov. Tim Walz and the Legislature. This session, let’s think strategically about how to improve our state and its future, and the role of higher education in securing it.
Joan T.A. Gabel is president of the University of Minnesota. Devinder Malhotra is chancellor of Minnesota State.