What’s in the House higher-ed bill so far


Here are the highlights of the House committee’s higher-ed bill as it stands now:

Overview: The bill appropriates $2.7 billion for the biennium, an increase of $150 million. That’s quite a bit lower than the governor’s $240 million proposal (there may be an update on that), and the Senate’s $250 million proposal.

Institutions: The University of Minnesota would get a $61 million increase, or about two-thirds of its $92 million requested boost. The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system would get a $78 million increase, or about 80 percent of its $97 million request.

Tuition relief:  This is the overwhelming priority of committee Chairman Gene Pelowski (DFL-Winona), and $120 million of the $150 million proposed appropriation is going toward that. He wants no tuition increase for students this biennium, so has devoted $78 million to MnSCU and $42.6 million to the University of Minnesota. Tuition increases for both institutions had been hovering around 3 percent. Along with that, the bill has language that prohibits MnSCU from raising tuition this biennium. It tries to do the same with the U by prohibit the commissioner of management and budget from releasing funds to the U until the Board of Regents has certified that it has kept tuition flat. (I’m curious what regents will say about the U’s autonomy on that one.)

State Grant: The House allocates an $11 million increase over the biennium, compared to the governor’s proposal of $80 million. There are changes to the “tuition caps” and living expenses that determine the maximum amount students can get, but I’ll go into that later. There doesn’t appear to be any extra change to benefit part-time working students. Update: There does, however, appear to be a change to the grant formula, which would benefit independent students without children. I’m not sure how much more money they’ll get, and/or how many more would benefit. I’ll be talking to Office of Higher Education analyst Meredith Fergus about that one. The bill also leaves unchanged the maximum amount of money that the State Grant will cover for tuition and living expenses for students at four-year universities. It includes a small increase, however, to the amount of tuition it would cover for two-year students in the second year of the biennium.

MnDRIVE: The U’s research initiative gets $18 million, or half of what it asked for.

Bonuses: The bill has language that would not allow MnSCU to issue employe contracts that contain “a discretionary or mandatory bonus payment.” It would affect contracts created after enactment. Likewise, the bill prohibits the U from using “direct appropriations” to pay for “mandatory or discretionary bonus payment” in employment contracts with certain administrators. (I wonder whether the autonomy issue might be raised on that one as well.)

Missing: A high-profile bill NOT included is the “Minnesota DREAM (or Dream) Act,” which would allow students living illegally in the state to both receive State Grant money and be eligible for instate tuition at schools such as the U. Backers of the bill have proposed amending the state’s definition of a resident for purposes of tuition and financial aid. A resident would have to graduate a Minnesota high school after having attended for at least three years, and would have to meet a few other requirements. Pelowski, however, didn’t seem to want to meddle with the definition, calling residency/citizenship “a federal issue.” He also questioned Office of Higher Education estimates that the State Grant program could handle the students without any problem. He said, however, that the bill isn’t necessarily dead. (I’ll make some calls to see what the backers are saying.)

The House higher-ed committee is expected to go over the bill again on Monday.

The I’ll look more closely at it and give updates when I can. Please chime in if I’ve missed anything.