House higher-ed legislators press MnSCU officials

Pols getting animated

Legislators got a little animated during the House higher-ed committee’s meeting this afternoon. Several pressed Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) officials on several budget-related issues.

Here are the highlights — and what got them going:

  • Enrollment. Rep. Gene Pelowski (DFL-Winona) warned MnSCU) system CFO Laura King that enrollment increases caused by people seeking more education as a way to ride out a sagging economy won’t last forever, and that MnSCU shouldn’t count on income from their tuition.

“You should be anticipating two cuts – from the government budget and enrollment. It would appear you could not sustain this enrollment. At some point, there simply aren’t these people to go into this MnSCU institution. The system is going to take a hit. … What are the consequences? Are you really prepared at the campus level?

  • Hiring. Pelowski also questioned why MnSCU has hired personnel even after laying off dozens. King said strategic hiring still goes on for critical areas, although the total headcount isn’t higher than it was before the layoffs. Pelowski pressed her:

How can you hire? … You can’t go under the normal course of business.

Rep. Jeanne Poppe (DFL-Austin) said she’d like to see a comparison of the number of employees at the point of the layoffs and the number of employees now. (I’d like to see that as well.)

  • Space. Rep. King Banaian (R-St. Cloud), who’s also an economics professor at St. Cloud State University, said budget cuts can be counterproductive if they require class sizes for which colleges have no space:

(Administrators) are telling us they need rooms for 90 people. I could count the number of those size rooms on two hands. You simply don’t have the physical space to put them in anymore.

  • Faculty cuts. Rep. Tom Rukavina (DFL-Virginia) looked at a Minnesota State University – Mankato document that projected more than 77 faculty cuts (about 50 of which are adjunct positions) and about 29 cuts to staff and administration under a 15 percent cut scenario:

I want to know why teachers are taking a bigger hit than the vice presidents and everyone else involved. Without teachers, there’s no reason for anybody else to be there. If faculty isn’t there, why would anyone go to school?

Mankato President Richard Davenport stressed that Mankato produces successful students because of personnel in student support services, to which Rukavina replied:

“Well, if there are no teachers, why send the kids to classrooms and feed them? Send them home!