Tuition at Winona State University and Southeast Technical College and all other state schools will be frozen for the next two years in a budget deal that also provides more financial aid and the first increase in spending on higher education in Minnesota in years.
The Minnesota higher education finance bill expected to be signed into law will spend $2.82 billion over the next two years and increases funding for state higher education by $250 million.
Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, said he was pleased with the outcome of the bill.
“We are controlling tuition costs,” Pelowski said. “By not raising tuition, students aren’t going to be paying more. They aren’t going to be borrowing more. This may be the first time we are going to see a stabilization or even a reduction in student debt.”
Pelowski chairs the Houses’s higher education finance and policy committee and was one of the lead architects of the bill. He made tackling tuition and student debt his priority throughout the session, as well as providing more stringent financial oversight for both the U of M and MnSCU.
He also regularly and roundly criticized MnSCU for costs like administrator bonuses, and the bill’s final language will eliminate those bonuses.
The original House version had $150 million more in funding, instead of $250 million. By comparison, the Senate bill called for $263 million in additional funding and no tuition freeze.
MnSCU will get $100 million in new funding over the next two years—more than what they requested but not for everything they requested it for.
MnSCU will get funding for system-wide initiatives like an internship program, faculty retention, and equipment purchasing program, though not at the full funding levels it hoped for. And it will lose revenue from projected 3-percent tuition increases each year.
MnSCU Chancellor Steven Rosenstone in a statement said the bill will “ensure that our colleges and universities remain affordable and within reach of students from all backgrounds.”
A measure supported by Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, is also in the bill, which will exempt tuition-free online courses, like massive open online courses, from state laws requiring legislative approval.
A more controversial Senate measure that made it into the final bill is the Prosperity Act, which provides in-state tuition, state grant aid, and private scholarships to students without lawful immigration status.
In order to be eligible, a student must have attended a high school in the state for at least three years and graduated, and complied with selective service requirements.
Those provisions led Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, to vote against the higher education bill even though he initially supported it and praised Pelowski for his work.
“Illegal aliens should not be here,” Davids said. “I could never support (it). It would give illegal aliens more support than we give our own residents.”
Recent WSU graduate and MnSCU state chair-elect Alexandra Griffin had high praise for the bill Monday afternoon, saying it was a historic day for students.
“With Gene Pelowski’s leadership and laser-like focus on reducing student costs, higher education has become a priority for Minnesota once again,” she said.
“Students are very proud of the work the Legislature did this year to make us a priority and recognize higher education’s contribution to the state.”