After the University of Minnesota received half of its two-year budget request, and much less than Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, regents are concerned about the growing disparities between the two higher education systems.
In the higher education omnibus bill passed last month, the University received about $180 million less for 2020 and 2021 than Minnesota State, continuing a trend of increasing imbalance between the schools dating back to 2014.
“The continued growth in the gap between Minnesota State and the University of Minnesota is troubling,” said Regent Darrin Rosha.
The state system received about $150 million more in funding than the University in the last biennium. In the funding bill for the institutions for 2016 and 2017, Minnesota State’s appropriation topped the University’s by about $90 million.
Regent Michael Hsu said the University getting half the increase it asked for is disappointing.
“Regardless of the amounts we asked for, we like to see the fact that the numbers overall are even,” Hsu said. “We’re losing the battle with respect to Minnesota State.”
Regent Steve Sviggum said Minnesota State has a “political advantage” over the University.
“They have more campuses in more districts of legislators,” Sviggum said. “Representatives and legislators want to make sure that their local communities are taken care of.”
Minnesota State has 54 campuses throughout the state, while the University has five. This “political advantage” is not new, as the state schools have outnumbered the University in terms of campuses and students before the disparity in funding began.
Mina Kian, the Minnesota Student Association president-elect, said she doesn’t think it should be viewed as the University and Minnesota State pitted against each other for funding, rather the two working to lobby for more higher education funding in general.
“Together we are responsible for creating the workforce of the future,” Kian said. “I don’t want them to lose out for us to gain more, I want us both to win in the end.”
At an October Board of Regents meeting, Rosha questioned whether the initial ask by the University was large enough, saying it seems the state awards funding on a percentage basis, and a large ask could return a larger allocation.
Minnesota State received an additional $81 million, about a third of its $246 million ask, which if granted in full, promised to freeze tuition. The University chose a different strategy, making what it considered a very reasonable request.
“I thought our request was needed and justified,” Sviggum said. “We didn’t ask for the sky.”
Pressure on tuition
The University’s Operations and Maintenance budget, primarily used for its education mission totaling about $1.6 billion, is funded entirely through state appropriation and tuition.
“When the state can’t invest at the levels we’ve asked for, it does put pressure on tuition,” said Brian Burnett, senior vice president for finance and operations.
When adjusting for inflation, the state provided the University the equivalent of $160 million more toward the Operations and Maintenance budget in 2007 than it will in 2020.
In 2007, the budget was funded by about half from each funding source, but this past year tuition shouldered 63 percent, or almost a billion dollars, of the total.
After receiving less than was requested from the state this session, President Eric Kaler has proposed a 2.5 percent increase on undergraduates on the Twin Cities campus, less than the 3 percent increase cap the state requested.
“It’s a little bit oxymoronic or ironic of the legislature to not fund our request … and then ask us to hold tuition to a certain level,” Sviggum said.
Hsu said he thinks raising tuition is the easy answer to budget shortfalls and feels the University needs to do more to make hard cuts.