The University of Minnesota is offering to freeze tuition for Minnesota residents for two more years as part of a proposed deal to restore its state funding to 2008 levels.
The proposal unveiled Thursday would extend the tuition freeze, which began in 2012, through the 2016-17 school year.
This time, though, it would apply to all Minnesota residents, not just undergraduates, including those in graduate and professional schools.
In exchange, the university is requesting $127 million — or 10.6 percent — in extra state funding over the next two years, to pay for the tuition plan and other initiatives.
President Eric Kaler said the proposal would boost the U's annual state funding to $684.6 million in 2017 — the same amount it received in 2008, the all-time high, before the recession triggered a series of cutbacks. The total request for the two-year "biennium" would be $1.325 billion.
The goal is to "try to get back to where we were before the substantial cuts began," said Kaler.
The budget request must be approved by the Board of Regents before it's submitted to the Legislature.
Two years ago, the U agreed to freeze tuition through the current school year in exchange for its first increase in state appropriations in five years.
The new plan would double the length of the tuition freeze. On the Twin Cities campus, tuition would remain at $12,060.
Under his proposal, Kaler said, "somebody who entered in 2012 would have paid the same tuition throughout her four years at the university, which I think is a good thing."
Tuition and taxpayers
State Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, who chairs the higher education committee, said she supports another tuition freeze and is pleased that the U wants to extend it to graduate students. But she's concerned about the cost to taxpayers. "The question I had for them is, 'OK, so you're not raising tuition; why do the costs increase so much that we have to buy that freeze?' " she said. "In general, we all want to do what we can to start bringing that price tag down."
Without the freeze, U officials said they would probably raise undergraduate tuition about 3 percent a year, citing increased expenses. They estimate that the new proposal would save incoming freshmen a total of $2,565 over four years on the Twin Cities campus, and slightly less on the other campuses, where tuition is lower. For graduate students, the savings would range from $1,600 for master's degree students to $5,000 for medical students.
Tuition, plus other plans
Overall, the U says that freezing tuition will cost an estimated $65 million, or about half the requested increase in state funding.
The U also is seeking an extra $34.5 million to expand training for health professionals, and $12.5 million for research to stimulate economic development in Minnesota's mining and other industries. For the first time, the U is asking for $15 million for basic maintenance work, such as roof and siding repairs, that are normally covered through bonding proposals. But in the past few years, those proposals — known as Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement requests — have floundered at the state Legislature, officials say.
"It just keeps getting whittled down and whittled down," said Todd Iverson, the interim director for government relations. "But it's absolutely critical to our continued excellence."
"So this is another approach," Kaler said.
Asked if he would still freeze tuition if the Legislature approves only part of the package, Kaler demurred. "It will be a new conversation," he said. "We might or might not have to raise tuition to make the whole thing work. We've got to see how it plays out."
He added that he's an optimist by nature. "We think we have a good story to tell," he said. "I'm eager to have those conversations with the governor and Legislature."