House and Senate higher education omnibus bills use different approaches to invest in students

Clark Biegler
May 01, 2015

With rising tuition costs, college is becoming more unaffordable for many Minnesota students. The House and Senate higher education omnibus budget proposals have different strategies for bringing down the cost of a college education and investing in the state’s future workforce.

Since the start of the recession in 2008, the average tuition at Minnesota’s four-year public colleges and universities increased by $1,700, or about 20 percent, at the same time that state funding for these institutions decreased by 24 percent per student.

A highly educated workforce has been one of the hallmarks of Minnesota’s economic success. And especially now, with a large share of the population aging out of the workforce, we can’t afford to leave anyone on the sidelines without access to education and training. High tuition costs also can block the path to the good jobs that higher education and training can bring, a path that should be open to all Minnesotans.

The Senate Plan

The Senate higher education omnibus budget bill (Senate File 5) provides both targeted financial aid and overall tuition relief at the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system through $205 million in increased state funding for FY 2016-17.

The Senate follows Governor Mark Dayton’s lead in increasing financial aid through improvements to the Minnesota State Grant program. As in the governor’s proposal, the Senate increases the maximum amount of financial aid to meet the cost of Minnesota’s public colleges and universities. The grant program also has a living allowance, which the Senate increases to match the federal poverty level. This would help Minnesota students better access all of our state’s public colleges and universities and help students meet their basic needs while in school.

The Senate also increases American Indian scholarship funding in an effort to reduce the waiting list.

Another Senate focus is tuition relief. Both the University of Minnesota and MnSCU are directed to minimize increases to tuition with this additional funding.

The House Plan

The House takes a less targeted approach with their much smaller proposal of $57 million in FY 2016-17, about one-fourth of what the Senate has proposed. Most of the funding in the House’s higher education omnibus budget bill (House File 845) goes to tuition relief at MnSCU. There is no similar proposal for University of Minnesota students.

These bills head next to conference committee to sort out their differences. We hope to see the final bill invest in our workforce by taking steps to make higher education affordable for all Minnesotans.

-Clark Biegler