Should the state’s investment in public colleges and universities be greater or smaller?

Each Monday now through the election, we’ll pose a question on an issue that’s pertinent to the race for Minnesota governor. Today’s Question: Should the state’s investment in public colleges and universities be greater or smaller?

Democratic candidate Mark Dayton:

Something is seriously wrong, when Minnesotans cannot afford to send their own children to their state’s colleges and universities. We must increase our investments to keep higher education affordable for middle-income families.

Republican candidate Tom Emmer:

In the next few years, we need to make 50 years’ progress in education reform – we need a 21st century education model for a 21st century economy.

The challenge we face today isn’t about accounting or dollars spent – it’s a challenge to fundamentally change how we teach our kids to succeed in the modern world.

We have laid out an ambitious, detailed education reform agenda which focuses on three main pillars: improve teacher and school accountability, address teacher effectiveness, and facilitate innovation within our current system.

Independence Party candidate Tom Horner:

Spending more or less on higher education isn’t our first question. Next year Minnesota will have a new president of the university system, a new chancellor of MnSCU and a new governor. That’s our opportunity to examine our systems and put everything on the table. What do we need from our great two-year and four-year schools? How do we keep building a world-class research university? When we answer those questions we can decide the funding question.

  • Al

    Funding for higher ed should be greater. I hear a lot of talk about making this a business friendly state. Higher education is a big part of that, but some candidates are willing to drastically cut funding to higher education. I have heard from executives at my company that it is hard to recruit highly educated workers to come to Minnesota from elsewhere due to the climate, but those who grew up here generally want to stay. This makes it all the more important that we invest in the education of the Minnesotans who already live here.

    We had a higher level of funding for higher ed in the past. It baffles me when I hear now-wealthy graduates of the U of M and other Minnesota schools complain about paying to much in taxes (yes, I do hear it), while we cut funding to higher ed . They apparently forget (or never understood) the support they had from taxpayers before them to get to their positions of wealth. These wealthy alums want to keep more of their money that they earned all by themselves with no help from others.

  • Steve the Cynic

    The whole trouble with Minnesota is that people are over-educated. If we want to attract businesses to the state, we need to make sure that the available labor pool is docile and uninformed. Otherwise they get too uppity and start doing things like demanding a living wage or starting businesses of their own. We need more workers with strong backs and weak minds, otherwise the big multinational corporations will locate their operations where labor is cheaper.

    Seriously though, what kind of society do we want to live in?

  • Gary F

    The private sector and households across Minnesota and the nation have to re-think the way they do business in order to deal with the current economy, why not higher education?

  • Carrie

    If we want to keep businesses here we need to continue to have a well educated population. That is what generates job growth.

  • david

    Greater. Four out of five students who graduate from MNSCU schools end up staying in MN and working in MN. These are the taxpayers and job generators of the future. Yet, funding for the MNSCU schools have dropped over the past decade. Whereas MN used to cover about two-thirds of the costs of students, now it is less than half. The majority of costs are covered by students through tuition. As tuition rises, students make difficult choices about starting school or completing school. Look around the country… states with more graduates from higher education are the centers of economic growth and technological development.

  • Jessa

    Less spending!!! There is already huge opportunity for grants and scholarships in MN, and it’s throwing off the labor force. We need to let the cost even out with the market without throwing more artificial spending at it!!! Didn’t you people study basic economics in college?!?!?

  • Jamison

    Greater. Our State Colleges and Universities, and the UofM, constitute some of the best education out there in terms of cost and quality.

  • Neil Sorensen

    Funding for Minnesota’s colleges and universities should be massively increased. All Minnesotans deserve a free college or technical education of the most superior quality, which will feed our economy for generations to come. It would be by far the best investment of state revenue. Instead of having all the college and technical school graduates burdened with stifling debt, they would be able to go out into the world and invest in their futures rather than paying debt service for the first ten years or so of their productive lives.

  • Chris

    Cuts in higher ed is the same thing as increasing taxes on the middle class. Kids and/or parents are left paying for higher tuition. Call it what it is, not a cut just another shift.

  • Dianna ERICKSON

    The cost of higher education is insane. Parents have to take out a 2nd mortgage. Suggestion, decrease the military complex budget to start funding education properly.

  • Steve the Cynic

    Did Tom Emmer understand the question? His answer, posted above, seems to be a repetition of his rant about the public school system and does not address the question of higher education funding.

  • steve

    we should be funding greater the public universities-we have a tremendous needs to improve the education in mn not only in university but high school as well. If we can lessen the tremendous debt burden of students (which is a deterrent to learn) who are saddled with debt and without jobs, through funding maybe we turn this terrible economy around!

  • Michelle

    Without a doubt, it needs to be greater. A well-educated society is the way to economic growth, entrepreneurship, analytical thinking, and innovation. Investing in public universities seems to be a no-brainer in my opinion.

  • John

    A few observations regarding the candidate responses above.

    Sen. Dayton’s answer assumes that even if new money could be found, which it likely cannot, that the current systems would put it to efficient use (also a longshot).

    Rep. Emmer’s reply simply doesn’t answer the question.

    Mr. Horner says desired outcomes must be established prior to determining the funding level needed to reach them. Much like Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, Horner rightly recognizes the importance of having “an end in mind” through the establishment of outcomes.

    Based on this question alone, Mr. Horner supplied the strongest response.

  • Al

    Mr. Horner assumes that those in higher education are failing to consider how to best educate their students to meet the needs of the students and employers. Is that the subject of the question? Or does the question presented have to do with the who will bear the financial burder of higher education?

    While Mr. Horner’s response sticks to the subject of hgher ed, he still doesn’t answer the question. What are we to do? Shall we halt higher ed funding while Mr. Horner asks those at universities and colleges whether they have considered how to adequately prepare students? The answer seems rather insulting to the professionals in higher education.

  • Gordon in Two Harbors

    Isn’t it obvious that the only way for people to succeed in this highly complex, global economy is through high quality, post-secondary education? Our competitors in Asia and Europe sure seem to know that.

    Public investment in higher education must be increased, but efficiencies should be forced onto the system, and degree programs that don’t meet the demands of the labor market should be eliminated, or at least not publicly funded.

  • Amanda Clark

    One thing that we are missing in all of the candidates responses is the fact that the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system educates 64 percent of the state’s undergraduates, returning $10.87 to the state’s economy for every $1 of net state appropriation.

    It’s a simple dollars and cents argument for a good investment.

  • Mel

    Mr. Dayton is the only candidate to give a straight-forward response. The other two avoided the question.

  • Sue de Nim


    The kernel of legitimacy behind the radical free-market ideology being touted by Emmer and his Mad Hatter allies in the Tea Party is the idea that market forces reward hard work and punish laziness. Three factors prevent this from working in practice: (1) the accumulation of inherited wealth, (2) the ability of the super-rich to use their wealth to distort markets to their advantage, and (3) the advantage of educational enrichment that children of wealthy parents have over children of poor parents. Unless social structures are in place to level the playing field and mitigate against these factors, a free-market system will enevitably lead to an entrenched, hereditary plutocracy, which is toxic to the democratic ideals this country stands for. America is well on its way to reaching this outcome. That’s why it’s vitally important that we have (1) a reasonable inheritance tax, (2) sensible regulations on big businesses, and (3) a well-funded, high quality education system, pre-K through college.

  • Jamie

    I support higher education in the form of greater access to student aid -fund the student and the education, not the institution. (The hundreds of millions in construction bonds each year to Minnesota’s public institutions alone give one pause.)

    Here is the larger question: 30-40% of new college students requiring remedial classes-education that should have been covered in K-12.

    Addressing this large deficit in Minnesota’s education delivery will reap much greater rewards than any increase in higher education funding.

  • brian

    State appropriations for the University of Minnesota and MNSCU have been decreasing (as a percentage of the budgets of these institutions) for decades. Currently the University receives approximately 25% of its budget from state appropriations and approximately an equal amount from tuition payments. Over the last few decades tuition has increased to the point where it is no longer possible for many qualified, low income students to get a college education. Young people are our most important resource. We need to invest in them and we need to begin increasing the percentage of public higher education budgets that are paid with state appropriations so that we fully develop our most important resource.

  • Alli

    Every year education has been cut. Contrary to what the republican and independent candidates have to say, it is about money. You can’t give quality education without an investment.

    Minnesota Colleges and Universities are doing a great job of educating Minnesotans.

    – The system educates 64 percent of the state’s undergraduates.

    – More than 75 percent of graduates stay in Minnesota to work or continue their education.

    – The system returns $10.87 to the state’s economy for every $1 of net state appropriation.

    – More than 88 percent of system graduates get jobs related to their field of study.

  • Tim

    When Minnesota was assembling the public two-year college system, it was seen as an investment in the economic future of Minnesota and the citizens. To even think about cutting funding to higher education during an economic downturn is absurd! This downturn will end and we will need highly trained workers with state-of-the-art skills to move the economy of Minnesota forward.

    We need leadership that perceives public higher education as an investment in our state, our people and their future!

  • Lance

    From what I can find online, the 2009 current fund operating budget for the entire U of M system (all over the state) is $2,936,450,274 and they professed to have 67,364 students enrolled for that period. That works out to $43,590 per student. Then, I looked for a private college in the Minneapolis area and found Augsburg, right next door to the downtown campus – tuition, room and board total approximately $37,371 for a full time student in a median priced dorm. So I have to ask myself, where is the University of Minnesota system spending that other $6,000+ per student (totaling over $400 million/yr) and is it being spent effectively? Are my tax dollars subsidizing some waste there? It sure seems like it.

  • Karen

    While Emmer spouts rhetoric about innovation and accountability, other states will exceed Minnesota in offering affordable education. We will lag behind in re-employing our workforce while would-be students struggle to pay for tuition. We will lose quality educators to other states, insulted by poor accountability measures and lack of state investment in education. And what kind of innovation are we talking about here — one that requires no investment? Again, it’s rhetoric. Dollar for dollar, education will provide an excellent return on our investment, and should be the number one funding priority.

  • Candace Johnson

    I have spent my entire career working in Minnesota. I work in an educational setting and I truly believe in our Minnesota schools at all levels. What better investment can a parent or a “community” make than in the preparation and education of the children in their care? I am much happier paying taxes to support education than I am paying taxes to support prisons. Perhaps spending more on education would result in the need for fewer prisons. Perhaps limiting the resources for education will generate a greater need for more prisons.

  • Lance

    Education has not been cut every year. That is patently ridiculous. Education spending is almost never “cut” unless you define a cut as: a smaller increase than you originally wanted. In that case, I’ve experience a wage ‘cut’ every year of my working life.

  • Jim

    Higher education spending should be greater for these reasons:

    (1) The cost of a higher education at state schools has increased for students in direct proportion to the decrease in state support. State support has decreased through lower appropriations and by unallotments by the governor.

    (2) The future viability of the state depends on an educated workforce. As many have pointed out, the great majority of our state college graduates remain in the state to work, start businesses, and pay taxes.

    (3) While it might be nice to do the kind of forward-thinking that candidate Horner suggests, the process he’s describing could take years and higher education has critical needs today. However, it could make sense to tie any increased funding to performance measures or expected outcomes to maintain the funding.

  • Joanna

    More.My high school student started the year with 40 students in a chemistry class that only had room for 20 at a time to do labs. Her Chinese class had 37 students, and all her other classes are at similar numbers. That is way too many for any teacher, no matter how great, to truly meet the needs of all the students in a class when that teacher has multiple sections to teach. Simply reducing class size by re-hiring additional teachers will already have a huge, positive impact on the quality of attention the teachers can give to their students.

    To answer Lance’s question above, about the relative costs of the U of MN vs. a 4-year liberal arts private school: the U of MN does not just educate undergraduates. It educates nurses, doctors, dentists, lawyers, vets, and many other graduate and professional students the social sciences, the humanities, the sciences and engineering, the arts. It also is the only “Research I” level school in the state; that is to say that a portion of the money we invest in the the U supports research as well as classroom education. Simply dividing the total budget by number of students is not a correct metric for measuring the value of these other activities that ONLY the U of MN provides.

  • Greg Hruby

    education is a necessary expense – so we’ve been told by the conservatives and liberals. the “state” instutions have a lot of additional programs and expenses that private colleges and universities do not. HARD RESEARCH is the number one “excess” cost. Geology, Architecture, IT-Computing, Mechanical Engineering, Biomedical, .. and those are the big showy ones. … making college education affordable for Minnesota families might be the way to leverage the investment k-12 education and build the “smart-economy” here.

  • DanMN

    Wish Emmer would give a few details instead of vague sound bites. The private schools are publicly subsidized, where do you think students get loans and grants for their overpriced tuition?? Stop putting state money into the private system. Like ever bureaucracy the state schools put a huge emphasis on administration and policies that hinder rather that support teachers. Put the money were it counts- hold the system “accountable” to give the money to the people trained to spend it teaching, not on the latest governors political darling program. Stop putting money into this and that useless new degree program and initiative like nanotech and training inexperienced people who will never be hired to install insulation (without some legislative requirement they must be hired because they are “disadvantaged” rather than based on skills) when we have too many experienced tradespeople needing jobs. When “accountability” is set up by politicians we get programs like “no child left behind” and “race to the top” People like Emmer make it sound like educators and educational institutions pull random ideas out of a hat. Spend money on the two year Technical colleges that actually get students jobs- and give it to existing proven programs that are in demand, not fantasy initiatives.

  • scott


  • Gregory Wright

    If we do not increase our committement to public higher education we will all be sending our high school graduates to Mississippi, Alabama or West Virginia who have now suprpassed Minnesota in per capita contributions to Public Higher Education.

  • Clark Johnson

    Higher education needs new and increased investment to better position Minnesota for the future. It’s clear from the candidates’ comments that Mark Dayton is the only one who understands this. Emmer and Horner suggest that the magic of reform will somehow better serve our students. It appears to me that what they mean by reform is asking higher education to do more with less.

  • Jennifer

    I currently work in the MNScu system. Over the past few years we have seen cut after cut. Awesome employees laid off, employees hours reduced meaning a pay cut, cuts in insurance, budget cuts that prevent building programs for students, cut in aid to students, cut in benefits to employees, and NO wage increases due to budget cuts.

    While many people think that Minnesota State Employees are paid top wages for their services this is simply not true. Many State Employees could make much more in wages in the private sector, but we are a devoted workforce which provides some of the best services in the country. Our wages have not increase with the increase in taxes and inflation. Each contract year we have to fight to keep benefits for our employees, we work harder for less.

    As a staff member at a Community College our main concern is the students attending our Colleges and Universities. We work with less staff, less funding, fewer hours, and we provide our students with the best services possible during their time with us. Our other main concern is making sure our students receive a HIGH QUALITY EDUCATION that will carry them onward and upward in society. Education is the key to creating a better Minnesota!

    It is not all about the money, it is an investment in the future of our children and our children’s children. An investment in Minnesota that stays in Minnesota to further build our state, provide jobs, create new jobs, and education creates a work force that meets the demands of the 21st century.

  • Naomi Nagy

    It seems that Minnesota is also doing a great job in educating non-Minnesotans. Why do the state universities continue to afford in-state tuition rates to children of alumni who no longer live in the state? I am in favor of intenational students as this brings diversity to campus, but why extend benefits to students whose own parents no longer live here and who weren’t brought up here? Maybe someon can answer that for me. Thank you.