Emmer: Have it rough and you'll get creative

Earlier I posted a summary of comments made by Republican candidate for governor Tom Emmer when he was talking about higher education yesterday during a question-and-answer session at the Humphrey Institute.

Here are some edited snippets (not verbatim) that didn’t make the Capitol View report.

(I was hoping for an explanation/justification/strategy behind his plan to reportedly cut $300 million — he says $400 million here — from higher education in the next biennium. He raises his own question about whether the cuts show a lack of support for higher ed — and then doesn’t really answer it.)

Q: Do you have a plan to stop the erosion of funding, or do you think further cutbacks in state spending on the U of M is just part of the future?

A: I did have $400 million less in higher education in my budget. And is that because I don’t support it? Absolutely not. I’m going to be honest with you about where the targets should be. The solution for the long term is creating jobs in our private economy. If you want to support great institutions like the University of Minnesota and our MnSCU system, you’ve got to have a vibrant, growing economy. We need to grow the revenue that pays for the things we believe in.

I have put all the numbers out there. Based on the plans that the other candidates have put out, the numbers don’t add up. And they are going to have to put deeper cuts into higher education — or other things that they’re not talking about — in order to make those plans work. At least we’re putting them out there so you see where we’re at today. This is more than anyone has done, I’m told, who has run for this office.

There may be things that we don’t know, and so there may be some adjustments we need to make to these numbers. But the idea is to live within your means.

In the future, I see great things for our university system. In times of challenge like these, when you don’t have money just flowing in, it causes people to start to innovate, look at better ways to do things, and greater efficiencies will be realized. Those things are going to happen in the university system and state government.

And yes, in the future you figure out what needs to be supported, you set your priorities and it should be funded. And if there’s a real need, and there’s evidence that the outcomes are there, then it should be funded.

Q: Do you see a specific role for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system?

A: I do, but I don’t want to go too far with it. We’re very fortunate to have MnSCU.

Every one of these institutions offers a complete menu of offerings. We should talk about more specialization. We should talk about more partnership arrangements like Fergus Falls has with Moorhead, where you can actually go into Fergus Falls and take courses that are offered through Moorhead. That’s the type of future.

And we should consider online offerings as well, as I’m doing with some of my own kids right now. We need to have more online offerings through our MnSCU system (to) serve the population that may not be the traditional college population that can actually sit in a classroom two or three nights a week.

For completeness, here’s the stuff that made Capitol View:

When a student question asked “How would you assist students so they don’t graduate from college with $50,000 in debt?”, Emmer responded that he understood the frustration since he did the math with seven kids but …

“I’m reminded that I paid my own way. I paid my own my way through college and did it myself. A lot of you are doing the same thing. It took me until my early thirties to pay off the loans that I did have to take for law school. Partly it’s your responsibility. I will tell you that right up front. You need to take control of your destiny. You need to be responsible for it.”

Emmer added that he would like to see students be guaranteed a fixed tuition from a university for the four years that the student goes to that school. He also added that he would like to see a better marketplace to find lower interest rates to pay school.