The gavel has yet to be hit, but the new legislative leaders in both the Minnesota House of Representatives and Senate have already begun to examine the issue of higher education affordability.
Last Tuesday, members of state legislative leadership appeared on Minnesota Public Radio’s “Midday” to discuss the possible initiatives in the upcoming legislative session.
When the discussion turned to higher education, Rep. Marty Seifert (R-Marshall) was quick to point out that a tuition freeze at the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, of which Winona State University is a member, was a possibility.
“There is a great opportunity to say we need to at least freeze tuition and allow families to catch up and take a breath without affecting the faculty or the great programs we have,” Seifert, soon-to-be House minority leader, said.
MnSCU has previously announced they would prefer a tuition increase capped at 4 percent. Seifert thinks there is a need for greater accountability at the MnSCU level.
“We (the legislature) are the ones knocking on doors and listening to the people so we're going to probably have to take a more direct role in some of these things,” he said.
Student leadership at Winona State is pleased that a tuition freeze is a possibility.
“It is refreshing that both sides are talking about a tuition freeze as a viable solution,” WSU Student Senate President Carl Soderberg said. “With this early dialogue the climate of our lobbying efforts should be friendlier.”
Recent tuition increases have frustrated and caused students and families hardship, says Rick Howden, legislative affairs chair of the WSU Student Senate.
“Our state was once committed to making public higher education accessible and affordable by funding 67 percent of the cost,” Howden said.
“The state has not followed through with this commitment, thus forcing the burden onto the students.” The Minnesota State University Student Association, which represents students at each of the seven state universities, has already passed a proposal calling for no increase.
One other proposal discussed on “Midday” includes one from Gov. Tim Pawlenty which would offer two years of free tuition to high achieving high school students, and was supported on the show by Sen. Dave Senjem (R-Rochester), Senate minority leader. Opinions differ on this proposal, however.
“My instinct tells me that the governor’s proposal is probably not going to fly,” Sen. Larry Pogemiller, incoming Senate majority leader said on the show. “I don’t think it’s fundamentally fair. We should focus on having stable and modestly increasing tuition.”
Winona State students are likely to be lobbying in full force on the issues of tuition and student debt once the session beings, Howden added.
“With the debt stories our students are willing to share, we can show the legislature the effects of increasing tuition,” he said.
I do not find it odd that Seifert would discuss a tuition freeze. Having lobbied him on higher ed issues the past couple of years, he has always been very open to our views and issues!
I do agree with Pogemiller in that the Governor's higher education initiative is going no where. To target the top 25%, a group that already receives a larger proportion of scholarships and such, would have less of an impact as other ideas in the higher ed community.
The idea of a tuition freeze is interesting! We lobbied for one 3 years ago now and were unsuccessful in appropriating enough money for it, but did fight MnSCU to keep tuition 2-5% lower than targeted, saving students across the state more than $3.5 million.
Keep up the good work WSU Senate, and why no love for Jared in the press release?