Minnesota Senate approves higher-ed legislative agreement

Your turn, House. (trainman74 via Flickr)

This afternoon, the state Senate passed 44-22 the higher-education bill approved by the conference committee last night.

The main news for most of the public: It freezes tuition for two years for undergraduates at both the University of Minnesota and state-run colleges and universities.

The bill made the freeze possible by spending more than $120 million for tuition relief at the U and MnSCU.

Republican opponents of the bill said it doesn’t do enough to force higher-education institutions to cut costs, and so didn’t want to feed the system that much money.

Senate minority leader David Hann (R-Eden Prairie) told lawmakers:

“There hasn’t been, to my understanding, to my knowledge, any serious effort on the part of higher education institutions to figure out: How do we reform what we’re doing and make higher education affordable?”

But Senate higher-ed Chairwoman Terri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka) said the bill does include some cost-cutting measures, as well as reporting and accountability measures for the two systems that make it a good investment.

“Now is the time to take a strong stand to reverse the trend of high tuition costs.”

Opponents also expressed the concern that the omnibus bill contained the so-called Dream Act. That language would enable students living in Minnesota illegally to get access to state financial aid as well as pay instate tuition.

Bonoff asked them not to reject the whole higher-ed bill just because it contained that one item. She said education is transformative, and that the bill’s benefits should be accessible to all.

“Anything we can do as a state to make sure each and every young person has the opportunity to transform in a moment — we owe it to our kids.”

The bill also prohibits executive bonuses at the U and MnSCU. And it funds a pilot program to give MnSCU students a greater share of state aid.

The bill includes funding for MnSCU faculty raises, but it slashed money for its workforce initiative. It gave no funding for its request for more internships, though Bonoff said both the tax and jobs bills have funding for similar measures. It contains $7.2 million for a matching program to buy training equipment — a third of what MnSCU asked for.

All in all, the legislation provides $250 million more in spending. If it’s passed by the House, MnSCU would come out ahead, getting $102 million instead of the $97 million that it asked for. (The bulk of that increase, however, would be for the tuition freeze.) The U would receive $78.5 million, less than the $92 million it requested. Its MNDRIVE research funding, however, would get just under $36 million, about what it requested.

The bill now faces a floor vote in the House, which could come later today or tomorrow.

Update: The House is debating it right now.