The higher-ed bill that the House will fight over


With debate on the Minnesota House higher education omnibus bill looming today, higher-ed committee Chairman Bud Nornes (R-Fergus Falls) painted a sobering, if not gloomy picture of what lies ahead.

“I can’t tell you anyone is happy about it,” he told reporters in the House gallery this morning, “but that’s what we have to deal with.”

Both the House and Senate floors are expected to debate their respective higher-ed bill. (You can check out the Senate bill I reported on here.)

The House bill would make the following main proposals:

  • Overall higher ed spending — cut 10.9 percent.
  • The University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system —  cut 13.1 percent.
  • State Office of Higher Ed administration: cut 15.4 percent


  • The State Grant program would see an increase of 9.4 percent.
  • The Work-Study Program and Postsecondary Child Grant Program would remain untouched.
  • Tuition:

    • State universities would face a tuition cap of 4 percent and two-year state colleges would have a cap of 2 percent. The U of M would be “expected” to increase tuition by no more than 5 percent.
    • Schools would be encouraged to offer a “stable tuition” program that would enable students to pay the same tuition through their college careers — four years at universities and two years at community and technical colleges.
    • The state would withhold one percent of the funding for both MnSCU and the U until the systems met benchmarks related to things such as graduation rates, diversity and institutional financial aid.

    Other items:

    • The House would reduce from 66 to 62 the age at which residents could participate in a reduced-rate college courses.
    • The state would study graduate education in the for-profit sector in an attempt to protect graduate students’ rights.
    • MnSCU would have to allow students to transfer credits from one MnSCU school to another on a 1:1 basis, at least as electives.
    • The bill would repeal requirements for college bookstores to sell apparel made in America, and for public employers (such as higher-ed institutions) from requiring the purchase of certain items from the United States.

    Nornes said he doesn’t expect or support any proposals to close campuses.

    With the tuition caps — something that students have been calling for this year — colleges and universities will be able to make up only about a third of the cuts through tuition increases, Nornes said.

    Although the U of M is not legally bound to obey the wishes of the legislature in such matters, Nornes said, “We have an understanding. The U has given us (its) word … that 5 percent will be the maximum” tuition increase.

    He defended the tuition caps, saying that without them students would be facing double-digit increases.

    He also said the credit transfer proposal was meant to solve problems that students have had in transferring between MnSCU institutions. He downplayed faculty concerns that it would hamper progress that MnSCU has already made in reforming the system.

    Democrats predicted the bill’s defeat.

    “These (K-12) and higher education bills are destined to crash,” said Rep. Mindy Greiling of Roseville told reporters. Greiling, who’s on the K-12 education committee, suggesting that Gov. Mark Dayton would veto them.

    Rep. Tom Rukavina (DFL-Virginia), who’s on the higher-ed committee, said the bill’s cuts are actually a few percentage points deeper than advertised, because they don’t take into account the loss of federal stimulus money, which is slated to run out.

    The funding cuts could also force tiny colleges such as Rainy River Community College in International Falls to close — something he’s mentioned in a previous committee hearing.

    “If the goal is to close some of the smaller campuses,” he said, ” … at least have the intestinal fortitude to come out and say it. Say International Falls shouldn’t have a community college.”

    The bill would roll back funding levels to those seen in 1998, he said, causing course cuts that could force students to stay in college longer because they can’t get the classes they need to graduate.

    “Who is going to train the next generation of workers?” he asked. Republicans “have got to pull their heads out of the sand — or wherever they have them. … This is a bogus bill. It’s the largest (higher-ed) cut in the history of Minnesota. … This approach is just plain nuts.”