Wednesday, May 09, 2007

T-Paw speaks on Higher Ed: "Underwhelming, uninspiring and devoid of reforms..."

This is how Governor Pawlenty describes the higher education bill that was passed in both the House and the Senate by large margins (44-21 in the Senate and 85-46 in the House).

Governor Pawlenty has threatened to veto this bill as well.

House and Senate conferee's already disposed of controversial "Dream Act" language to secure the Governor's vote.

Despite that, he chides the legislation as "underwhelming, uninspiring and devoid of reforms".

T-Paw, as we like to call him in the rural outposts here in Wright County, has never been a friend of higher education.

The two previous higher education bills under T-Paw's reign of terror have had an adverse impact on higher education.

Back in 2003, then Senator Steve Kelley and other DFL leaders had a vision for higher education, that would have still called for tuition increases, but significantly smaller than the GOP versions.

In the final versions, MnSCU was cut by more than $191 million. $178 million in tuition increases closed the gap with the remaining money getting cut from Student Life programs and Academics around the state.

At St Cloud State, we witnessed deep cuts at the Women's Center, Multi-Cultural Student Services, Public Safety, Student Health Services, and other student services.

The cuts in academics are still being felt. In some programs, cuts have resulted in significant backlogs in students access to classes they need to graduate. Demand exceeds supply significantly.

Republicans at the time defended their actions by pointing out that enrollment at MnSCU campuses was higher than usual and continuing to rise.

Well, when the economy sucks and jobs are hard to come by, people tend to go back to school to obtain more skills, making them more desirable in the competitive job market.

Besides, as I pointed out in testimony before House and Senate committees and the MnSCU Board of Trustee's, the numbers behind enrollment increases are deceiving.

While enrollment of students rose, actual number of credit hours decreased.

At St Cloud State, we have increased by 150 students.

Actual credit hours taken decreased by more than 2500 hours.

Students were feeling the burden of multiple 15% tuition increases under Governor Pawlenty's "inspiring" higher education plan.

As a compromise, the House and Senate moved $40 million back into the Minnesota Office of Higher Education budget, earmarked for the State Grant Program ($20 million for MnSCU and $20 million for the U of M).

The majority of that $40 million was taken back...

During the 2005 session, students across the state organized to combat the Governor's "inspiring" higher education plans. Students at the Minnesota State University Student Association (MSUSA) and Minnesota State College Student Association (MSCSA) combined forces with union partners and lobbied MnSCU and the legislature for a two year "Tuition Freeze".

This session Governor Pawlenty announced his initiatives for Rochester and "Centers of Excellence" in higher education. These centers would focus on areas which could place Minnesota in a better place strategically in the future, focusing on nursing, technology, engineering and other growing fields.

At the time, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development figures showed that Minnesota would experience deep shortages in many fields outside of the Governor's grand strategy, such as in both K-12 teaching and higher education. Our pleas were heard, but never addressed.

In concept, I supported these initiatives, with the caveat that core academic areas on our campuses would not be cut or impacted by these initiatives. While these initiatives are still moving forward, they are now embedded in MnSCU budgets and under the purview of their campuses and the system.

The 2005 session ended with the trend of high tuition increases continuing.

How high have tuition increases been?

For our 4 year schools, the 68% increases have ranked us as the 8th highest increases across the nation since 2002.

The state of our 2 year schools were worse off. These students witnessed nearly an 80% increase, or the third highest increases in the nation under this time.

Gotta love no new taxes.

So, what's at jeopardy with a Governor's veto?
Hold tuition increases to 3-4 percent for Minnesota State Colleges and
Universities system.

Out-of-state tuition eliminated at St. Cloud Technical College in work
force retention gambit.

$10 million for Minnesota GI Bill for $1,000/semester education benefits to
veterans, surviving spouses and children of those who served on or after Sept.
11, 2001, or Guard members with five or more years experience.

$500,000 for textbook disclosure, pricing and access pilot program in MnSCU

'Nuff said about tuition increases.

The Minnesota GI Bill is a great idea, that if vetoed and left out of the final version of a higher ed bill will have an adverse impact on generations of Veterans coming back to Minnesota.

Textbooks? We have opined on that before as well. IDHA has a great piece on it as well.

DJ would like to remind you that this same Governor wants to provide textbook publishers with tax incentives to "expand" in Minnesota.

Is Governor Pawlenty simply trying to protect the price gouging actions of his friends?

Governor Pawlenty campaigned on higher education issues. One of his solutions to high tuition was to provide the top 25% in high school classes with more aid.

Now I call that "underwhelming, uninspiring and completely devoid of reforms".

Want to help?

Email Governor Pawlenty

Discuss: There are two main points that must be covered in the emails; funding MnSCU to keep tuition low and funding HEAPR (Higher Education Asset Preservation and Restoration) projects. The reason for funding HEAPR is because if the state does not fund the projects, then funding for those projects could come from students. As you might have heard, Governor Pawlenty has already vetoed the public works bill, which contained the HEAPR projects.

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