• Article by: JENNA ROSS, Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 20, 2012 – 9:00 PM

MnSCU trustees vote to increase tuition and cut costs.

Tuition and fees will rise 3.6 percent at the state’s public two-year colleges and 4.5 percent at seven state universities under a Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) budget approved on Wednesday.

The $2 billion budget’s tuition increases, program closures and employee cuts will affect nearly 280,000 students enrolled in for-credit courses. In approving the budget, the Board of Trustees wondered how long the system can continue to raise tuition and cut costs. State funding of $545.4 million is the lowest since 1998.

“We have just been cutting, cutting, cutting,” said trustee Clarence Hightower. “Where do we go from here?”

Laura King, the public system’s vice chancellor and chief financial officer, said the cuts threaten the system’s ability to improve graduation rates. “The risk for us is doing really hard, creative work in a tight fiscal environment,” she said. “I think we are really at the cusp here.”

The 2012-13 budget raises tuition and fees at the two-year colleges an average of $187, bringing the annual bill to $5,355. At the system’s universities, they grow $314, to $7,340.

At Wednesday’s meeting, officials stressed that the tuition remains the “most affordable option in Minnesota,” King said.

While the percentage increase is slightly greater than that approved at the state’s other public higher education system, the University of Minnesota, “the dollars are significantly less because the base was less,” said trustee Dan McElroy, chair of the finance committee. Next year’s tuition and fees at the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus will be $13,309 — an increase of 3.5 percent, or $428.

King praised the MnSCU campuses’ efforts to “hold down, to the greatest extent possible, what we ask the students to contribute.”

One trustee of the 15, Jacob Englund, voted against the budget, out of concern for the swelling cost of higher education.

“The effect of modest price increases year on year that outpace increases in wages will eventually create an unsustainable model that does not align with the mission of MnSCU or my personal values,” Englund said on Wednesday by e-mail. He has voted against budgets for similar reasons before.

Winona State University will raise tuition and fees 3 percent, the lowest percentage increase of the seven universities, while Minnesota State University Moorhead is planning a 5.6 percent rise. Inver Hills Community College will raise tuition and fees 2.3 percent, the lowest of the 24 community and technical colleges, while Hennepin Technical College has a 5.7 percent increase.

Since the budget’s first reading in May, administrators made some small changes to fees. Moorhead reduced its fee request, for example.

Last year, the Legislature capped tuition increases at the two-year colleges at 4 percent for the coming school year. So when the average increase came in below that, students were “really happy to see that,” said Geoff Dittberner, president of the Minnesota State College Student Association.

About 279,300 students take courses for credit within the system, which encompasses 54 campuses across the state.

Tuition increases will add $27 million in revenue. The budget plans for a slight decline in enrollment after record increases in recent years. It also estimates a $28 million bump in employee compensation, based on a 1.7 percent pay raise — a number that’s far from final, as the system is still negotiating with unions.

The cost of educating a MnSCU student has fallen 10 percent since 2000, when adjusted for inflation, according to the budget. The cost of educating a student was $7,107 in 2011.

Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168

FY2013 Tuition Fees_PR Table JUNE Final