Listening to State Rep. Tom Rukavina (DFL-Virginia) over the past few higher-ed budget hearings, you might think Rainy River Community College in International Falls was on the brink of closure.
He has said that proposed legislative cuts would slash more than $2,100 from the college, which has only about 342 students (full- and part-time).
House higher-ed committee Chairman Bud Nornes (R-Fergus Falls) maintained he doesn’t expect — or support — any proposals to close campuses, but Rukavina has suggested that the college is just too small to withstand the GOP’s cuts.
The day the House bill was passed, he said (and the quotes below are notes, not verbatim):
“It’s 110 miles to the nearest (college) from International Falls, and you’re cutting that campus.”
He told reporters:
“If the goal is to close some of the smaller campuses … at least have the intestinal fortitude to come out and say it. Say International Falls shouldn’t have a community college.”
And earlier during committee hearings, he let loose on Minnesota State College Student Association President Travis Johnson over the association’s insistence on a tuition cap lower than 5 percent — a level that Rukavina had said was necessary to give small colleges more funding:
Then you tell your constituents at Rainy River Community College that if they take (the corresponding funding cut), there’s not going to be a college in two years!
So what does Rainy River have to say about all of this?
Is Rukavina being overly dramatic, or is he on to something?
Provost Ken Simberg, who’s also provost for Hibbing Community College, told me he’s heard no talk of closure around the offices of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system.
They originally planned for a 10 percent cut and a 5 percent tuition hike, so things might change if the proposed 10.3-13.1 percent cut and tuition cap of 2-3 percent becomes reality.
“Both of these are problematic,” he told me, but “I’m not aware of any talk in the office of the chancellor about closing campuses. … The Board (of Trustees) is committed” to keeping campuses open.
He said he had no idea where Rukavina got the $2,100-per-student budget-cut number, but also couldn’t say how deep cuts would have to be for MnSCU officials to consider closure:
“We haven’t sat down and said, ‘This is the ceiling, this is what we can absorb.”
And have Rukavina’s warnings rippled throughout the campus?
“I wouldn’t call it widespread, but some employees and those in the community are asking, ‘What’s going on?'”
He’s apparently at MnSCU headquarters today, so we’ll see whether anything new comes out of it.