The Minnesota State system is considering a 3 percent increase this fall as it faces a steep drop in college and university enrollment due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Student confirmations have picked up lately but fall enrollment still is 17 percent behind where it was at this point last year. Summer enrollment is flat.
Trustees asked last month whether the system should freeze tuition, following the University of Minnesota’s example. Chancellor Devinder Malhotra said he would consider it.
But on Wednesday, system leaders presented a series of budget scenarios that would result in deficits, even with a 3 percent increase in tuition and flat enrollment. Trustees will vote on the budget next month.
Bill Maki, vice president for finance and facilities, warned trustees against giving up revenue amid worries about the state’s ability to help pay for college in future years. Students cover about half the system’s revenues with the Legislature covering the rest, and the latest forecast calls for a $2.4 million shortfall in the state’s two-year budget.
Maki said it’s possible lawmakers will take back some of the higher education money they’ve already appropriated as they wrestle with declining state revenues related to the pandemic. That’s because colleges can look to tuition to offset reductions in state support.
“There’s no doubt we are at risk,” Maki said.
Minnesota State also was passed over for $43 million in education relief funds, which Gov. Tim Walz said should be spent mainly on K-12 summer school and technology for students learning from home.
The Legislature had largely paid for several years of tuition freezes but stopped that practice last year, instead allowing Minnesota State’s 30 colleges and seven universities to raise tuition by up to 3 percent this year and next.
Bernie Omann, government relations director for the system, said it’s likely that state and federal grants for college students will continue to grow, helping to offset the tuition increase.
Historically, he said, federal Pell grants for low-income students have increased during economic recessions.
“They don’t seem to be constrained at all on budgetary issues,” Omann said of Congress.
Malhotra said Wednesday that all 37 schools “will be open in fall.” Exactly how that will work remains to be seen, however, and at least some remote instruction may be necessary depending on the virus’s spread.
“We need to be prepared to be the spark that ignites our economy,” Malhotra said.