Minnesota higher education system wants $350 million, tuition freeze
If a Minnesota State Colleges and Universities budget request were approved by lawmakers, tuition would be frozen for students at the state's 33 public colleges and universities.
MOORHEAD — As Minnesota lawmakers mull how to spend a historic budget surplus, the system overseeing the state’s 33 public colleges and universities wants a freeze on student tuition to be part of the equation.
The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system has put together its largest ever budget request to the Legislature, including about $75 million for a tuition freeze.
Chancellor Devinder Malhotra and Board of Trustees Chair Roger Moe outlined the total $350 million request for fiscal years 2024-25 during a meeting with The Forum’s editorial board on Monday, Jan. 9. Anne Blackhurst, president of Minnesota State University Moorhead, and Carrie Brimhall, president of Minnesota State Community and Technical College, were also in attendance.
Previously, the system’s largest legislative request was for about $242 million, four years ago.
The request comes as Minnesota eyes a record budget surplus estimated at $17.6 billion, according to state projections released in December.
Moe said the request was compiled before the latest surplus projection announcement and before the November election, when Democrats gained control of the governor's office and both legislative chambers.
“Had we waited until after the forecast, we would have asked for more,” Moe told The Forum’s editorial board.
Input for the budget request came from listening sessions held statewide with college and university faculty, staff and students, as well as chambers of commerce, labor unions, trade organizations and employers.
To put the $350 million request in perspective, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system has a budget of roughly $2 billion. About half of its revenue comes through state appropriations and half from tuition, Malhotra said.
Blackhurst said while it is a “bold” request, she doesn’t want those words to imply that MSUM would be “rolling in money” if fully funded.
“Our state appropriation would increase by less than 10% and that state appropriation is only a portion of our university budget,” Blackhurst said, adding that inflation would “eat” that up.
Higher education institutions nationwide have suffered from declines in student enrollment in recent years. Brimhall said community and technical colleges have tried to stay on top of things by trimming wherever they can.
“I think we've been diligent every year about looking at investment and cuts,” she said.
The $350 million legislative request is divided into three general categories: $125 million for student support, $125 million for campus support and $100 million for workforce and economic development.
The focus of the student support request is on making education more affordable and accessible for all students.
“There were always equity gaps and inequities in both access and student success even before the pandemic, but the pandemic exacerbated that,” Malhotra said.
Of that $125 million, $77 million would go toward a freeze in tuition and expansion of free textbook offerings, $26 million would go toward mental health and other student supports on campus, and the rest for transfer scholarships and emergency grants.
The $125 million in campus support would go toward maintaining academic programs and recruiting and retaining faculty and staff.
The $100 million request for workforce and economic development would go toward upgrading equipment and learning environments on campuses, and increasing workforce development scholarships.
That workforce money wouldn’t be spent unless it was matched dollar for dollar by employers, which Moe said he was confident would happen.
Though the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities request might be considered aggressive, Moe said it’s also reasonable given the state’s budget situation.
“To put it in perspective, if you take the gross surplus, our ask is less than 2%,” he said.