Saturday, April 28, 2007

MnSCU v. Legislature: Setting tuition

Sorry for my week long absence. I have been paying attention to whats going on though!

The Strib editorial on MnSCU caught my eye this morning.

First of all, I do have some doubts that this will make it through the Senate as well, or at least those I have spoken to have indicated it may die in conference committee.
It's not the fault of the MnSCU Board -- or of system administrators -- that
tuition rose by double-digit leaps in four of the past six years. To identify
the culprit, legislators need only look in the mirror. In 2000, state
appropriations provided two-thirds of MnSCU budgets. Today, it's barely half.
Deep state funding cuts in 2002-03 and modest increases since left MnSCU's board
with only two options -- cut educational quality, or raise tuition.

That is true. A $193 million cut to the MnSCU system occurred in 02-03. Students picked up $179 million in tuition increases.

The MnSCU system when in collaboration with its union partners at IFO, MCF, AFSCME, MAPE and the student associations, MSUSA and MSCSA, makes it a force to be reckoned with at the capitol.

However, at times the composition of the MnSCU Board can create an adversarial relationship with these groups.

Governor Pawlenty has appointed the majority of MnSCU trustee's at this point. Last year saw the retirement of many strong advocates for higher education in the State of Minnesota. Trustee's like Dr. Will Antell, Lew Moran, Bob Hoffman, were level headed and open minded leaders, leaders who listened to the concerns of students and other advocates alike.

We have witnessed Governor Pawlenty call in his chips a few times with the MnSCU board, in an attempt to get one of his pet initiatives passed.

The infamous Winona State L21 plan, "Learning in the 21st Century" was an initiative pushed by then President Kreuger and the Governor's lackeys. It was highly popular amongst administrators as the additional 5% tuition increase would fund their technology initiatives.

However, they had not consulted students on these increases. They could not justify or even account for specifics behind the initiatives.

Students objected. We objected at WSU and MnSCU.

So, Governor Pawlenty and one of his lackeys, Susan Heegaard, started to call Trustee's the day of the vote, trying to influence this initiative.

It failed. Barely...after many of us lobbied Trustee's hard on the issue.

An amendment failed as well and this plan died...for now.

What the Strib piece fails to recognize is that the MnSCU Board is appointed by the Governor.

The 3 students who sit on the board are recommended by the student associations, although Governor Pawlenty is the only Governor in the states history to not follow the appointment recommendation of the student associations.

While I believe the system is the best thing for college students across this state, in my opinion, the Legislature was completely within it's right to force the system to hold the line on tuition.
Lawmakers gave the matter brief consideration. They heard no testimony from
anyone at MnSCU about the impact of a 15 percent cut in central office funds.
They had no chance to weigh alternative sources of funding for the freeze, or
hear whether trimming the central office's consolidated administrative services
would be counterproductive, resulting in higher costs and higher tuition in the
long run.

To say that the system had no opportunity to discuss this scenario is laughable at best and close to a down right lie. Rep Pelowski has had this club in his bag for years. We have all known it, ask any MnSCU lobbyist if they saw something like this coming...Pelowski has been doing this for years.

The bottomline, while the legislature is responsible for funding woes in higher education, the system itself is responsible for ensuring the billions of dollars this state provides, is spent in the most efficient manner possible.

While the MnSCU Board "did the right thing" a few years ago in casting Pawlenty's pet project aside, with the board now having a Pawlenty appointed majority, will this hold true over time?

The verdict is pending.

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