Higher education: the Governor's Rodney Dangerfield?

After reading the Governor’s proposed budget for our state’s public colleges and universities, I have to say, ala Rodney Dangerfield, they just can’t get no respect! Unlike K-12 education, an area where the Governor has touted increased investment, higher education once again is whacked by the Governor’s budget-balancing axe.

Under the Governor’s proposal, state funding for higher education would drop $313 million from the base for FY 2010-11, or about a 10% cut. And that is just the tip of the iceberg…

It’s worse than you think: Just looking at this latest round of cuts would be understating the depth of the budget hole that our public institutions of higher learning face:

  • State general fund spending on higher education has dropped 16% from Fiscal Year 2000 to FY 2009. It’s even worse when you look at how far state resources go per student: Per full-time student funding has dropped 28% in that same time period.
  • We’ve gone from above average to below average among states in state funding for higher education – from 12th in 2001 to 35th in 2006. Our report The Lost Decade describes this trend in more detail, as well as the troubling consequences: double-digit increases in tuition and a greater student debt load.

Back to detailing the Governor’s proposals (I’ve tried to include links to his actual budget documents, where possible):

  • The University of Minnesota system and MnSCU would each see state funding cut 11% from the base budget. In dollar figures, that amounts to $151 million cut from the U of M and $146 million cut from MnSCU for the FY 2010-11 biennium. The Governor also recommends “firm” caps on tuition increases. And state money for several technology programs that support bandwidth for internet at campuses and access to books and online databases would be cut by 20% in the Governor’s FY 2010-11 budget.
  • The Governor would cut some state financial programs, but spares the largest financial aid program. He does not cut funding for the state grant program, the biggest state financial aid program for private and public college-goers (as far as I can tell). However, state work study, which currently funds 75% of the salaries of 11,900 students at colleges and universities, would be cut by 10% over the FY 2010-11 budget biennium, as would postsecondary child care grants and scholarships for low-income American Indian students.
  • The Governor would eliminate state funding for postsecondary enrollment for high school students at the University of Minnesota and Minnesota state colleges and universities. This does not necessarily eliminate the program, but postsecondary institutions and the Department of Education would have to fill in the gap to prevent reductions.
  • The Governor completely eliminates state funding for the TEACH program, which improves the quality of child care by providing scholarships for child care providers to obtain a degree in early education. The Governor’s budget proposal notes the Department of Human Services also funds this program, implying that they could make up the difference (it doesn’t appear that they do, see page 326).

What do the proposed cuts mean? Doug Belden reported in the Pioneer Press last week what the consequences might be for state colleges:

“To give an idea what a $146 million cut would mean for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, spokeswoman Melinda Voss said Tuesday, it could be accomplished all at once by doing one of the following: eliminating about 1,000 full-time-equivalent staff positions, cutting about 800 full-time professor jobs, increasing tuition 22 percent, closing down a large university and a large college, or shutting down 10 small colleges.”

I’m not saying that it’s unusual for the Governor to propose cutting higher education (again). Higher education has been a popular place for states to cut dollars during fiscal hard times. But it has consequences, not least of which is closing off the possibility of a college degree and thus denying Minnesota citizens a pathway to success.

-Katherine Blauvelt

About Katherine Blauvelt

Katherine Blauvelt served as the Minnesota Budget Project’s policy analyst from 2007 to 2009.
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