Some highlights of the ominibus higher-ed bill so far

Some agreement here. (MPR Photo / Hart Van Denburg)

Here’s a roundup of some of the main points in the legislation coming out of the state conference committee on higher education:

  • Higher target. The legislation calls for $250 million more in spending — a bit more than the governor’s original proposal of $240 million, and much higher than the House’s target of $150 million. It is, however, less than the Senate’s proposal of $263 million.
  • Tuition freezes. State lawmakers have agreed to fund a two-year tuition freeze for undergraduates at both the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system campuses. Although lawmakers supported a tuition freeze for students at the U, the Senate had proposed allowing MnSCU a maximum increase of 3 percent. But they agreed to provide $78 million in funding to enable MnSCU to keep tuition flat. That should save MnSCU students several hundred dollars a year on average.

MnSCU student leaders have normally been wary of mandates for a tuition freeze, because they fear it would only force the administration to cut programs to make up for the lost revenue.

But because the freeze would be the result of a legislative investment, Minnesota State University Student Association Chairwoman Moriah Miles said she was excited:

“The tuition freeze, with the way they have funded that and pursued that, is great for our students. They’re reaching our goal of keeping our debt low while also not cutting our campuses in any way that would harm students. .. And with the amount of student debt that students are carrying, it’s important that we pay attention to every dollar that is put on their backs.”

  • The Dream Act. Despite initial reluctance — or outright opposition — by House committee Chairman Gene Pelowski (DFL-Winona) to include the bill in the omnibus higher-ed legislation, Senate backers got it included. It would enable students living in Minnesota illegally to pay instate tuition at campuses such as the University of Minnesota, receive state financial aid as well as private scholarship money administered by public universities.

One of main people pushing for the act, Citizens League program assistant Juventino Meza, told me the hardest part should be behind him. Although such legislation has died in the legislature twice before, he says it has strong bipartisan backing and has the support of Gov. Mark Dayton.

He told me:

“I’m 100 percent confident.”

  • Bonuses. Executives at both MnSCU and the U would essentially not be able to earn performance-based pay.
  • Part-time students. I hear some details still needed to be worked out, but the bill is taking on the Senate’s proposal of a pilot project that would prorate the State Grant for part-time MnSCU students. That’s in answer to student claims that the State Grant formula discriminates against working part-time students.
  • MOOCs. Though this isn’t a surprise, lawmakers adopted Senate language exempting providers of Massive Open Online Courses from registering with the state if students pay less than $100 for them.

The conference committee is expected to work some other details and then adopt the higher-ed bill tonight.
It would then go to the Senate and House chambers for a floor vote.

  • Monte Bute

    Excellent summary, Alex.